By Scott Simmie
There’s some big news in the Canadian robotics world.
US-based Rockwell Automation, which describes itself as “the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and digital transformation” has announced it has signed an agreement to purchase Canadian company Clearpath Robotics.
Clearpath is known for its Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), many of which are designed to move heavy loads inside warehouses. In fact, Clearpath has an entire division – OTTO Motors – which specialises in AMRs, along with software for fleet management and navigation.
These are the kinds of vehicles we’re talking about – which can clearly aid in efficiency:
Word of the planned acquisition case in a September 5 news release from Rockwell Automation.
“Rockwell Automation, Inc. (NYSE: ROK)…today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Ontario, Canada-based Clearpath Robotics Inc., a leader in autonomous robotics for industrial applications. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are the next frontier in industrial automation and transformation, and this acquisition will supercharge Rockwell’s lead in bringing the Connected Enterprise to life.”
If you’ve been following the robotics world in the past few years, you’ll be aware that the use of robotics has gone far beyond industrial arms welding car frames or lifting parts into place. Robots have increasingly been deployed to warehouses and other industrial settings to increase efficiency and reduce repetitive and arduous manual labour for human beings. Moving, packing and tracking have become huge – and an increasingly integral part of the supply chain and inventory management. Rockwell Automation clearly sees OTTO Motors as part of its solution going forward:
“Transporting parts and materials to assembly lines and between manufacturing cells is one of the industry’s most complex and inefficient tasks, often resulting in production bottlenecks,” states the release.
“Autonomous production logistics will transform the workflow throughout a manufacturing plant, enabling substantial reductions in cost and greater operational efficiency…Combined with Rockwell’s strong continuing partnerships in fixed robotic arms, solutions such as Independent Cart Technology, and traditional leadership in programmable logic controllers (PLCs), the addition of OTTO Motors’ AMR capabilities will create a complete portfolio of advanced material handling solutions unmatched in the industry.”
The release seems to make it clear that Rockwell Automation sees OTTO Motors as the jewel in the crown. Here’s another look at some of the OTTO Motors AMR solutions:
A GROWING MARKET
The news release cites research from Interact Analysis, which points to strong growth in this field in the coming years. Demand for AMRs in manufacturing, says the release, is slated to grow at 30 per cent annually over the next five years, “with an estimated market size of $6.2 billion by 2027.”
“Rockwell and Clearpath together will simplify the difficult and labor-intensive task of moving materials and product through an orchestrated and safe system to optimize operations throughout the entire manufacturing facility,” said Blake Moret, Chairman and CEO, Rockwell Automation.
“The combination of autonomous robots and PLC-based line control has long been a dream of plant managers in industries as diverse as automotive and consumer packaged goods. With Clearpath, Rockwell is uniquely positioned to make that dream a reality across virtually all discrete and hybrid verticals, optimizing planning, operations, and the workforce.”
Clearpath is said to have about 300 employees, with the majority working within the OTTO Motors division. And, not surprisingly, is pleased with the news.
“Industrial customers are under ever-increasing pressure to do more with less. Autonomous production logistics is becoming a necessity to meet targets and stay competitive,” says Matt Rendall, co-founder and CEO of Clearpath.
“We are excited to join Rockwell and help expand their leadership position in advanced material handling. Together, we will create safer and more productive workplaces with autonomous technology.”
Indro Robotics Vice-President Peter King, who previously worked at Clearpath, has this to say about the acquisition.
“It’s a great opportunity for Rockwell to take on an industry leader in this space at a time when AMRs are about to become the norm,” says King. “Rockwell’s size and market penetration should bode well for global growth.”
The news release goes on to explain how the two companies are a natural fit:
“Data from Rockwell’s offerings and OTTO Motors’ AMRs will be harnessed in artificial intelligence-powered Software as a Service information management applications, such as those by Rockwell’s Plex and Fiix businesses,” it states.
“With this, Rockwell will deliver a unified solution for manufacturing, enabling autonomous execution and optimization to increase efficiency and allow for traceability and real-time adjustments.
There aren’t a whole lot of Canadian companies manufacturing robots – let alone with multiple offerings aimed at the warehouse/industrial sector. Clearpath was an early leader on the Canadian robotics scene, and its OTTO Motors division produces some impressive offerings.
“Clearpath got into ground robotics early – and over time really carved out a niche for itself, particularly with OTTO Motors,” says Indro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.
“Robotics is a highly competitive space these days. Rockwell Automation clearly sees some synergy here with its own products and clients. We congratulate Clearpath on this acquisition, and look forward to what we assume will be continued success in the AMR market.”
Clearpath Robotics was founded in 2009 and launched its OTTO Motors division in 2015. Rockwell Automation is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and employs 28,000 people serving clients in more than 100 countries.