Waterloo Region – With the global economy slowing, business at Clearpath Robotics is poised to take off like never before.
That’s thanks to increased demand for the Kitchener-based company’s automated material handling technology for new plants, says co-founder and CEO Matt Rendall.
The ongoing pandemic has forced a massive reorganization of global supply chains, Rendall said, and for the first time in more than a generation, manufacturing is returning to the American Midwest.
“The pandemic has exposed the Achilles heel of global supply chains,” Rendall said.
Labor in North America is scarce, and it is much more expensive than in Asia, so there is record demand for technology that automates material handling in new US factories. And Clearpath has a division that does just that – OTTO vehicles.
“We are now at a point where the market is ready for what we have in a way we haven’t seen before,” Rendall said.
Beginning in 2016, Clearpath launched a brand of autonomous vehicles that moved parts around factory floors and production lines.
Demand for it has steadily increased, and now 80 percent of the company’s 350 workforce is focused on OTTO vehicles. It is trying to hire 50 people in different engineering jobs – electrical, mechanical, software and robotics – to work for the OTTO division. It is also aggressively expanding its sales and support teams.
“At a time when a lot of companies are pressing the brakes or worse, doing big layoffs, we are trying to grow the team very aggressively,” Rendall said.
During the pandemic, Clearpath OTTO expanded to Germany and Japan. Next year want to expand into Australia and New Zealand.
Before selling several OTTO vehicles in a new market, the company likes to build a strong service team there.
“Even (with) the most mature products and technologies, it’s not about knowing when something bad happened, it’s about when something bad happened. How quickly will your supplier respond to it, process it, and get you back to work?” Rendall said.
This kind of growth is the reason why Clearpath has been added to Communitech’s list of Canadian tech companies expected to generate $1 billion in annual revenue in the near future. Call True North Teamlisted companies enjoy growth rates comparable to the top one percent of companies worldwide.
Communitech says this list includes the best in Canadian technology. Clearpath is among 26 added to the list that started earlier this year. Rendall is happy about that.
“It elevates us and everyone else on that list to the minds of a broader audience of potential strategic partners and funders,” Rendall said.
Founded in 2009 by four University of Waterloo alumni – Clearpath Robotics makes self-driving vehicles and robots for the world’s most dangerous, dirty and monotonous jobs. She recently sold an independent car to a production company that is making a movie about emperor penguins in Antarctica. The camera will hold steady in the frigid Southern Ocean winds.
As the Vehicle Division OTTO dominated the company’s books, it began calling itself Clearpath OTTO to reflect the importance of the OTTO Division to the company.
“In the community, I think we will always be referred to as Clearpath,” Rendall said. “We have 350 people, 80 percent of them focus on OTTO Motors, all the venture capital we raised is focused on OTTO Motors, so there is a lot of momentum behind the OTTO Motors brand, and that momentum is built more in the industrial market as opposed to the community local, so it’s kind of like a story of two identities, and we’ve just evolved to accept that they are used interchangeably.”
It has four buildings in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.
The factory in Kitchener on Manitou Drive and Bleams Road makes seven different robots for Clearpath Robotics. Headquarters are nearby on Strasburg Street and Bleams.
The robotics facility is located at Northfield Drive and Weber Street North in Waterloo. A vehicle inspection facility is located in Cambridge near the Toyota plant. For years, Toyota has been publishing OTTO vehicles.
“The next 10 years will be the golden age of automation,” Rendall said. “It looks like we’re really well positioned for that, and we kind of find ourselves in the position of a 10-year success story overnight.”
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