The market for autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, in manufacturing could grow about 30% per year over the next five years, reaching an estimated size of $6.2 billion by 2027, according to Interact Analysis. AMR vendors are continuing to consolidate, with Rockwell Automation Inc. saying on Sept. 5 that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Clearpath Robotics Inc.
“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,” said Rockwell. “Autonomous production logistics will transform the workflow throughout a manufacturing plant, enabling substantial reductions in cost and greater operational efficiency.”
“Autonomous mobile robots ... are the next frontier in industrial automation and transformation, and this acquisition will supercharge Rockwell’s lead in bringing the Connected Enterprise to life,” the company added.
Rockwell Automation pursues global leadership
Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation claimed to be “the world's largest company dedicated to industrial automation and digital transformation.” The company employs about 28,000 people in more than 100 countries.
“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,” stated Blake Moret, chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation.
“The combination of autonomous robots and PLC [programmable logic controllers] has long been a dream of plant managers in industries as diverse as automotive and consumer packaged goods,” he added. “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.”
Rockwell said it expects the Clearpath acquisition to contribute a percentage point to its fiscal 2024 revenue growth.
Clearpath Robotics, OTTO Motors recognized for innovation
Founded in 2009, Clearpath Robotics got its start offering technology to global research and development markets. In 2015, the Kitchener, Ontario-based company launched its OTTO Motors industrial division.
“Industrial customers are under ever-increasing pressure to do more with less,” said Matt Rendall, co-founder and CEO of Clearpath. “Autonomous production logistics is becoming a necessity to meet targets and stay competitive.”
“Together, we will create safer and more productive workplaces with autonomous technology,” he said.
OTTO Motors offers AMRs and navigation and fleet management software. It said they can increase throughput and reduce costs by ensuring that components and subassemblies are in place when needed and by transporting finished goods to a truck or warehouse upon completion.
In March, Fast Company named OTTO Motors as one of the Most Innovative Companies for 2023.
In May, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. invested an unspecified amount in Clearpath.
Partners build advanced materials handling portfolio
The companies said the combination of Rockwell’s partnerships in fixed robotic arms, systems such as Independent Cart Technology, and leadership in PLCs with OTTO Motors’ AMR capabilities will create a portfolio of advanced material handling offerings.
Data from Rockwell’s offerings and OTTO Motors’ AMRs will be used in artificial intelligence-powered software-as-a-service information management applications, such as those of Rockwell’s Plex and Fiix businesses. Rockwell said it will deliver a unified solution for manufacturing, enabling autonomous execution and optimization to increase efficiency and allow for traceability and real-time adjustments.
The combined technology will also amplify Kalypso’s production logistics consulting practice.
While the terms of the acquisition were not initially disclosed, it will be funded by a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Rockwell’s nearly $1 billion investment in PTC. Goldman Sachs & Co. served as Rockwell’s financial advisor.
The deal is subject to customary regulatory approval and is expected to close in the first quarter of Rockwell’s fiscal year 2024. At close, Clearpath will report to Rockwell’s Intelligent Devices operating segment.
Editor's note: Reports on Sept. 12 said that Rockwell paid up to $600 million for Clearpath, subject to certain financial performance conditions. According to The Globe and Mail, Rockwell put up a winning bid in comparison with competitors, and it expects Clearpath to generate about $90 million in revenue next year.
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