Romain Moulin, former BA Systems and General Electric, co-founded Exotec in 2015 with his former colleague Renaud Heitz. The start-up is one of the future unicorns identified by Challenges. He is the guest of the Club entrepreneurs Challenges – Grant Thornton.
Challenges – What do your robots do?
Romain Moulin – They do retail order preparation. When you order two items on the Internet, you have to find them in a huge stock to put them in the same box. Instead of having operators do it who walk an average of 15 kilometers a day, our system puts collaborative robots, the Skypods, at their service. They pick up the items and bring them back to the order pickers.
How do they work?
These are autonomous mobile robots that are located in the stock and can go anywhere. They are the only ones in the world who can grab the rack and climb up to 10 meters high to grab and drop a bin of items. They move very fast, up to four meters per second. Our system increases operator speed, improves ergonomics and increases density because you can store items up to the ceiling.
How many robots have you created?
We installed ten systems and produced 650 robots. More than a thousand more are currently in production at our factory in Croix, in the North. Our turnover reached 20 million euros last year, compared to 7 million in 2018. Cdiscount was the first to buy a Skypod for its warehouse in Bordeaux and gave a strong signal to the market by buying a second for its Réau site (Seine-et-Marne). We also work with crossroads, Leclerc, Showroomprivé and, abroad, Uniqlo in the Netherlands and soon in Japan.
What impact does containment have on your business?
The e-commerce activity of our customers has doubled. In the food warehouses, we have sent robots as reinforcements. This has relieved our customers, faced with human resource problems. The coronavirus crisis is accelerating the movement of warehouse automation that began a year ago. Our system increases the capacity of supply chains and improves flexibility and agility. If the turnover suddenly increases, just send in additional robots.
Is it a threat to employment?
No. We sell our robots to customers who have trouble finding order pickers. It’s a tough job. In Cdiscount, the preparer position on Skypod is the employees’ favorite, the most pleasant: they don’t break their backs. Our machines are for people, not the other way around. The system is there to bring the objects to the preparer and not to impose a rate on him.
Your plans for the future?
We want to conquer Europe, the United States, Japan and China, and expand our catalog: after the Skypod, which focuses on order preparation, the objective is to robotize other stages (storing the item in the box, put it in the truck…) with our new generation roboticist look.
Your dream of growth?
In our market, there are a few big players who make several billion in revenue. Our goal is to become one of them.