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Rockwell buys Canadian AMR specialist Clearpath

06 September, 2023

Rockwell Automation is buying the Canadian autonomous robotics specialist Clearpath Robotics for an undisclosed sum. Rockwell believes that AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) are the next frontier in industrial automation, and predicts that the acquisition “will supercharge Rockwell’s lead in bringing the connected enterprise to life”.

Clearpath’s Otto Motors division offers AMRs and fleet management and navigation software which increase throughput and cut costs by ensuring that components and sub-assemblies are in the right place when needed, and by transporting finished goods to trucks or warehouses.

Rockwell argues that Otto Motors’ AMR capabilities, combined with its existing partnerships in fixed robot arms, and its strengths in PLCs and independent cart technologies, will create a portfolio of advanced material-handling systems “unmatched in the industry”. Rockwell expects the acquisition to contribute a percentage point to its revenue growth in 2024.

Data from Rockwell’s offerings and Otto Motors’ AMRs will be harnessed in AI-powered Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) information management applications, such as those from Rockwell’s Plex and Fiix businesses. This will allow Rockwell to deliver a unified package for manufacturing, enabling autonomous execution and optimisation to increase efficiency and supporting traceability and real-time adjustments. The combined technologies will also amplify the Kalypso production logistics consulting business that Rockwell acquired in 2020.

“Rockwell and Clearpath together will simplify the difficult and labour-intensive task of moving materials and product through an orchestrated and safe system to optimise operations throughout the entire manufacturing facility,” explains Rockwell’s chairman and CEO, Blake Moret. “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,” he adds, “Rockwell is uniquely positioned to make that dream a reality across virtually all discrete and hybrid verticals, optimising planning, operations, and the workforce.”

Clearpath, founded in 2009, initially offered robotics technologies for r&d applications. Headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario, it launched its Otto Motors division in 2015. Otto’s AMRs are claimed to reduce material-handling costs by up to 90%. Its customers include GE and Toyota

“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 Clearpath’s co-founder and CEO, Matt Rendall. “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.”

Rockwell is not the first automation supplier to show an interest in Clearpath. In 2021, Siemens Canada formed a partnership with Otto Motors aimed at breaking new ground in Industry 4.0 technologies.

And in May this year, Mitsubishi Electric made a strategic investment in Clearpath.

Clearpth claims that its Otto AMRs can cut material-handling costs by up to 90%

In 2021, ABB entered the AMR market by buying the Spanish-headquartered AMR manufacturer, Asti Mobile Robotics Group.

Transporting parts and materials to assembly lines and between manufacturing cells is one of industry’s most complex and inefficient tasks, often resulting in production bottlenecks. Rockwell believes that autonomous production logistics will transform the workflow throughout manufacturing plants, enabling substantial reductions in costs and higher operational efficiencies.

Interact Analysis predicts that the market for AMRs in manufacturing will grow by about 30% per year over the next five years, reaching an estimated value of $6.2bn by 2027.

“This acquisition is a further sign that AMRs have a big future as part of the industrial automation toolkit,” comments Interact’s senior research director for robotics and warehouse automation, Ash Sharma. “Currently, AMRs have tended to hit the headlines in relation to their role in warehouses, including both e-commerce and distribution warehouses. However a huge opportunity exists in production lines which is where Otto Motors has had success.

“Rockwell’s aims for Clearpath – and particularly for Otto Motors – are more wide-ranging than just warehouses, and they intend to expand deploying on factory floors,” he adds. “If AMR deployment takes off on factory floors in a big way, as I believe it will, then we will see major growth for AMRs in this area.

“I fully expect to see most major industrial automation companies either acquire or organically develop mobile robot companies in the next few years.”

The Clearpath acquisition is expected to close in the first quarter of Rockwell’s 2024 fiscal year. Clearpath will report to Rockwell’s Intelligent Devices business.

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