ABB buys Spanish robot maker in automation push

ZURICH (Reuters) - ABB has bought Spanish robot maker ASTI Mobile Robotics Group in the Swiss engineering company’s latest move to diversify its robotics business beyond its traditional automotive base.

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ABB’s robotics business has been targeting other industrial sectors amid a downturn in the auto sector, its biggest customer.

It announced on Tuesday the acquisition of ASTI, which makes autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), which can freely move around factory floors at up to 2 metres per second without following pre-installed tracks.

It gave no financial terms.

ASTI’s robots can tow and move boxes, and deliver components with payloads up to 2,000 kg.

“AMRs are the ultimate, flexible robots,” said Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation business. “They are enabling the factory of the future.”

“With the rise of e-commerce and 24-hour delivery from logistics centres there are many businesses which simply would not be able to operate without these machines,” ASTI CEO Veronica Pascual Boe told Reuters.

Customers include Nestle, L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble.

The global AMR market is growing at around 20% per year, according to ABB, and is expected to reach $14 billion by 2025.

“Our goal is to exceed the market growth,” Atiya said, adding further ABB acquisitions in robotics were possible.

ABB, which competes with Japan’s FANUC and Germany’s Kuka in the robots market, said it used ASTI’s robots at its own factories before it decided to buy the privately held company.

ASTI employs 300 and has seen sales grow 30% per year since 2015. The company targets sales of around $50 million this year.

Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields