The Mobile Robot Acquisition Trend Continues as Rockwell Automation Acquires Clearpath Robotics

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By Ryan Wiggin | 3Q 2023 | IN-7066

Rockwell Automation announced this week its acquisition of Canada-based Clearpath Robotics, adding Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) solutions to its extensive portfolio. The acquisition joins a growing trend of deals in the mobile robot space hinting at market consolidation, but industry and regional variance continues to expand the AMR market.

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Rockwell Extending Its Automation Portfolio


Rockwell Automation, one of the largest providers of industrial automation and digital transformation technologies in the world, announced this week its acquisition of Canada-based Clearpath Robotics, a leader in Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) solutions. Clearpath Robotics mostly develops AMRs for Research and Development (R&D), but its subsidiary OTTO Motors maintain a sole focus on delivering AMR solutions to manufacturers and warehouse operators. OTTO Motors has become a foremost player in the supply chain space with key advancements throughout 2023. In March, the company launched the OTTO 600, a midsize AMR to add to its range of AMRs and autonomous forklifts; at the end of April, it announced a formal expansion into the European market; and in May, Mitsubishi Electric announced a strategic investment in OTTO Motors to accelerate its offering.

Rockwell’s addition of Clearpath and OTTO’s AMR capabilities to its extensive automation portfolio is helping create a more complete material handling solution for its customers. Moving materials and products between manufacturing lines or storage locations is a continued pain point in the industry and mobile robots are helping to fill the gap that many end-to-end automation solutions require.

Rockwell Joins a Growing List of 2023 Acquisitions


The supply chain industries buzz around AMRs, cited in ABI Insight “ProMat Returns after a 4-Year Hiatus,” is not slowing down. Industrial solution providers are continuing to capitalize on the high growth and margins seen in the mobile automation sector that continues to grow as the technology matures. For companies in both manufacturing and logistics, flexible, mobile automation helps deliver Goods-to-Person (G2P) or Goods-to-Machine (G2M) solutions without the restrictions that can limit fixed automation solutions, such as Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems (ASRS). Advancements in Warehouse Execution Systems (WESs) has been a key driver behind this, providing orchestration that facilitates the more effective use of AMRs and, in turn, a more worthwhile Return on Investment (ROI) over manual inventory movements.

Rockwell’s acquisition of Clearpath joins a growing list of mobile robot acquisitions over the last couple of years, with other notable acquisitions in 2023 including:

  • Supply Chain Digitalization Provider Barcoding Inc. Acquired Fred Automation Inc. in January: Prior to the acquisition, Barcoding Inc. focused heavily on software and data capture. The acquisition brings Fred’s line of Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to its wider offering, helping deliver physical automation to customers.
  • Service Robot Provider United Robotics Group Acquired Robotnik in January: With a prior focus on providing robotics for the healthcare, hospitality, life sciences, and inspection/maintenance industries, the addition of Robotnik’s AMRs and mobile manipulators expands its industrial applications.
  • Grocery Technology Provider Ocado Group Acquired 6 River Systems (6RS) in May: Adding 6RS’s leading AMR solution, Chuck, to Ocado’s mostly fixed automation solution opens up broader opportunities for its grocery customers to automate picking.
  • Intralogistics Provider Jungheinrich Fully Acquired Magazino in August: The acquisition of Magazino brings both its manufacturing-focused and mobile picking AMRs into Jungheinrich’s extensive material handling solutions.

Such acquisitions have been executed for one of two reasons. The first is to incorporate mobile robotics into a wider portfolio of industry automation, helping to link disparate solutions and offer more fluid material handling. And the second reason has been to bring robotics providers into the manufacturing and logistics space, two industries that offer the highest potential for uptake of mobile robots.

Not Quite Market Consolidation


While the steady stream of acquisitions can hint at market consolidation in the mobile robot space, on closer inspection, this is certainly not the case just yet. Like Rockwell’s acquisition of Clearpath, the deals are mostly coming from companies wanting to expand into or enhance their wider portfolio with mobile robots, not from mobile robot companies swallowing each other up. New AMR vendors continue to emerge each year, and the growing investment in automation across the supply chain continues to bring new players to the field.

A big reason behind this is because of the high number of applications for AMRs and other mobile robots along the supply chain, highly varying across different facilities and industries. As a result, vendors are still able to differentiate themselves enough and add value in the market. For example, inVia Robotics is focusing on simplifying manual picking with its intuitive G2P Picker robots and PickerWall; OTTO Motors (as mentioned above) offers a variety of AMRs ranging in payload up to automated forklifts; Locus Robotics offers only three different AMRs, but has delivered extensive fleets at scale to become the industry’s first billion-dollar valuation; and Vecna Robotics has differentiated its offering by focusing on retrofitting equipment with cameras, sensors, and bumpers to enable automation and centralized orchestration through an accessible Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) model.

Expanding an already extensive portfolio of digital transformation solutions is a strong move by Rockwell Automation, made even better given that both Clearpath and OTTO’s offerings come with it. Other large system integrators like Dematic and Honeywell that have focused more on warehouse automation have seen high interest from large companies that would prefer to partner with one company that can offer a suite of solutions, rather than try and pick solutions separately from different vendors.

ABI Research expects companies like Rockwell Automation to continue their dominance in the material handling space, helping businesses move toward higher levels of automation through packages that have stitched together multiple solutions. But this will not come at the expense of focused vendors. Many companies will still only look for certain types of automation, such as AMRs, and prefer to take control over who they receive their technology from. The variety of companies operating across the supply chain leaves market space for both approaches, and both industry and regional variances are keeping the door open for mobile robot vendors to continue to emerge and thrive.