American industrial automation giant Rockwell Automation Inc. ROK-N has agreed to buy Waterloo, Ont. autonomous robot maker Clearpath Robotics Inc., in a deal that could exceed US$600-million in value.
Rockwell announced the deal last week, and did not disclose the price. But four sources familiar with the matter said Rockwell is paying between US$550-million and US$600-million upfront, and that the total payout to shareholders could top US$600-million if Clearpath meets undisclosed performance targets. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Clearpath chief executive Matthew Rendall declined to comment on the deal. Rockwell declined to comment in detail, saying only that Clearpath would become part of the company’s intelligent devices division.
The deal, which is expected to close this year, resulted from a competitive process in which Rockwell significantly outbid other strategic buyers, two of the sources said. It is the culmination of a lengthy period dating to last year in which the Canadian company had pursued a range of options, including raising growth financing or selling all or part of the enterprise.
The deal is a big win for many Canadian investors that have financed 14-year-old Clearpath. Those include several Waterloo-region angel investors such as Larry Innanen and Mike Stork, who is a former Clearpath board member. The company’s other backers include Canadian funds Inovia Capital, Kensington Private Equity Fund, BMO Capital Partners, McRock Capital, Garage Capital, Export Development Canada and Laurence Capital. Among Clearpath’s foreign investors are Mitsubishi Electric Corp., RRE Ventures, Caterpillar Ventures and GE Ventures.
The deal is Inovia’s second money-making sale from its portfolio this year in the smart factory space, after Swedish enterprise technology giant IFS World Operations AB’s purchase of Quebec City-based Poka Inc., maker of a social-network platform for factory operations, for about US$200-million.
In a news release, Rockwell said Clearpath and its fast-growing subsidiary OTTO Motors are expected to contribute a percentage point to Rockwell’s revenue growth in the 2024 fiscal year. Rockwell has forecast it will generate about US$8.9-billion in revenue this year, which would translate into forecast sales of about US$90-million from Clearpath next year.
One of the sources said Clearpath is currently generating revenue at an annualized rate of US$50-million to US$75-million, based on the rapid growth of its eight-year-old OTTO division, which focuses on selling to the automotive, consumer packaged goods and home appliance manufacturing sectors. The division’s customers include global manufacturing giants General Electric, Toyota and Nestle.
OTTO’s strong demand and rapidly growing order book reflect broader trends. Manufacturers are shaking up their supply chains amid a reordering of the geopolitical environment, reshoring facilities to home markets, and, in the process, ramping up automation in response to labour shortages. Several vendors to manufacturers have prospered from that shift, including Clearpath, whose robots are seen as tools for cutting down on costs and increasing efficiencies, the source said.
Clearpath was founded in 2009 by four University of Waterloo mechatronics engineering grads: Mr. Rendall, Ryan Gariepy, Pat Martinson and Bryan Webb. The founders set out to create a company “dedicated to automating the world’s dullest, dirtiest, and deadliest jobs,” Clearpath says on its website. Initially it created technology to remove mines from war zones, then shifted in the early 2010s to making driverless vehicles to perform hazardous jobs in manufacturing and industrial plants.
The company shifted its strategy further in 2015, with the launch of OTTO. Clearpath raised more than US$88-million in funding prior to the Rockwell sale.