All that heavy lifting has paid off for Kitchener-based Clearpath Robotics.

The 15-year-old company and its industrial offering, OTTO Motors – which makes material-handling robots for manufacturing and warehouse settings – have been acquired by Rockwell Automation Inc., a Milwaukee-based global leader in industrial automation and digital transformation, with 28,000 employees operating in more than 100 countries.

The deal, completed Monday, is good for Clearpath and for the local tech ecosystem, says Clearpath CEO and co-founder Matt Rendall.

Rockwell and Clearpath “are perfectly aligned on our vision of the market and the market opportunity,” said Rendall, noting that the market intelligence firm Interact Analysis reports 30 per cent annual growth on a market expected to exceed $6 billion by 2027. 

Rockwell Automation is “giving us agency to execute our business,” he said. 

There won’t be many changes at Clearpath Robotics or OTTO Motors immediately, said Rendall. “We are planning to stay in K-W and we’re looking forward to continuing to call K-W home and grow a really amazing manufacturing business here.” 

Rendall and co-founders Ryan Gariepy, CTO, and Bryan Webb, President, will remain in their roles, as will their employees. 

The signs at their manufacturing facilities will eventually be changed to Clearpath Robotics by Rockwell Automation and OTTO Motors by Rockwell Automation. No word on future expansion of the facilities, but growth is clearly on Rendall’s mind.

“We’re locking arms with Rockwell to capture as much of that market opportunity as we can. This is much more a growth story than anything else. It’s too early to provide details on our hiring plans, but with a focus on growth and business continuity in our plan, I think it is going to be a positive story on the horizon.”

Rendall declined to comment on the financial terms of the acquisition.

Clearpath is one of the top manufacturing success stories of the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem. Founded in 2009 by grads from the first Mechatronics program at the University of Waterloo, Clearpath initially did just that: clear a path in places where it was unsafe or dangerous for humans to operate. By 2015, the material handling division, OTTO Motors, was created to use their automated mobile robots (AMRs) in manufacturing and warehousing applications. Clearpath has grown to become Canada’s largest maker of autonomous vehicles, delivering payloads of up to 1,500 kilograms in factories and warehouses in North America. 

In 2022, OTTO Motors was added to Communitech’s Team True North list of Canadian privately held tech companies with global potential. This year, it was named to Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative Robotics Companies.

In a news release, Blake Moret, Chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation said, “We are delighted to welcome the Clearpath Robotics and OTTO Motors teams to Rockwell. This acquisition marks a turning point for our customers around the world. Rockwell is simplifying and transforming the difficult yet critical function of material handling throughout the manufacturing plant with an end-to-end production logistics solution.”

OTTO Motors will be featured at Rockwell’s Automation Fair, the world’s premier industrial automation and digital transformation event, Nov. 6-9 in Boston.

Given Rockwell’s global presence, Rendall said “this is a great example of the opportunity to super-charge our execution capacity and our vision, taking our offering . . . and bringing it to a very sizable global customer base that Rockwell has been serving for many decades.”

Having said that, “There’s still a lot to do in North America, so I think we will continue executing on our strategy close to home, but then work in partnership with Rockwell as it makes sense to expand into the other geographies that they serve.”

Equally important, added Rendall, was making this a satisfying transition for the company and the people associated with it. “It was so important to us, in addition to doing right by our investors and shareholders, to find a forever home for our customers and our employees. Rockwell really presented the perfect long-term home for us. Rockwell has such an incredible 120-year history and we have the opportunity to help shape the next 120 years.”

And how does he feel about the deal? “It’s honestly a kind of surreal feeling. You hear the startup stories of all the entrepreneurs that have proceeded you and you hear about the mythical exit, so it’s been like this theoretical thing passed down through startup lore.” 

And how did he celebrate the inking of the deal on Monday? “I haven’t had a chance to slow down. If you want the honest answer, (Monday) after work, my wife and I put the kids (aged four and two) to bed and I fell asleep at 8:30 . . .”

Rendall said the deal with Rockwell is “a success not only for Clearpath Robotics and OTTO Motors, but for Communitech, the University of Waterloo, the Accelerator Centre and Kitchener-Waterloo in general. We are a product of our environment. . . We were grateful to be added to the Team True North list . . . and, hopefully, we’re one of many more successes to come from that list. . . I hope that what we do will continue to help put K-W on the world stage as it relates to technology-based entrepreneurship.

“More broadly to the community, I hope that our story will encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs to take the leap and do the hard, deep tech things. There’s such an amazing talent and resource pool in the Waterloo Region to support entrepreneurs . . .

“Fifteen years ago, we were the crazy guys doing what we were doing. And you fast-forward to today and autonomous mobile robots are one of the hottest categories there is. So, it does require a healthy dose of patience and perseverance . . . We are the 15-year ‘overnight’ success story.”

A few facts:

  • Clearpath Robotics has a robot on every continent, including Antarctica.
  • Every machine deployed by Clearpath has five million hours of production experience built into it.
  • Clearpath has a role in developing Canada’s first lunar rover, to be launched in 2026.
  • Rockwell Automation has another Waterloo tech ecosystem connection: In 2021, it acquired the maintenance management company Fiix, which began in KW and moved to Toronto.