Industrial automation provider Rockwell Automation Inc. has announced plans to acquire Clearpath Robotics, a Canadian firm that sells autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) through its OTTO Motors arm.
According to Milwaukee-based Rockwell, the move will accelerate its end-to-end “autonomous production logistics” solutions, providing safer, more efficient manufacturing environments for customers. In Rockwell’s view, autonomous production logistics is the best way to streamline stubborn bottlenecks caused by transporting parts and materials to assembly lines and between manufacturing cells.
That problem can be solved by Clearpath’s OTTO Motors division, which offers AMRs and fleet management and navigation software, which together increase throughput and reduce costs by ensuring that components and subassemblies are in place when needed, and then transporting finished goods to a truck or warehouse upon completion. Rockwell plans to mesh OTTO Motors’ AMR capabilities with its existing capabilities such as fixed robotic arms, Independent Cart Technology, and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Together those parts will create a complete portfolio of advanced material handling solutions, Rockwell said.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Rockwell said the acquisition will be funded by a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Rockwell’s investment in PTC. In 2018, Rockwell made a $1 billion equity investment in PTC, the Massachusetts-based provider of digital 3D design tools and product lifecycle management (PLM) software. Rockwell sold that stake in August.
Clearpath is owned in part by Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp., which made a “strategic investment” in the company earlier in 2023. The new acquisition is expected to close in the first quarter of Rockwell’s fiscal year 2024, at which point Clearpath will report to Rockwell’s Intelligent Devices operating segment.
“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,” Blake Moret, chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation, said in a release. “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.”
According to industry analysts, the acquisition is a further sign that AMRs have a big future as part of the industrial automation toolkit, not only in warehouses but also in factories.
“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,” Ash Sharma, senior research director for robotics and warehouse automation at market intelligence firm Interact Analysis, said in an email. “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.”