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As warehousing and logistics facilities seek more efficiency from fewer workers, Tennant Co. is making a bigger investment in robotic floor cleaning equipment — which are essentially industrial Roombas.

The Eden Prairie-based company already works with San Diego company Brain Corp. to develop autonomous mobile robot (AMR) cleaners. It announced Thursday it would invest another $32 million in Brain and that its chief financial officer, Fay West, would become a board member.

"This partnership amplifies our commitment to innovation as well as Brain Corp's position as a pioneer in AI and automation applied to cleaning equipment," Dave Huml, Tennant's president and CEO, said in a news release.

Brain Corp. Chief Executive David Pinn said the automated machines provide "essential support" for companies that face staffing challenges.

Under a partnership that started in 2017, the two companies developed three floor cleaners that allowed operators to either drive them or put them in autonomous mode and work alongside them. Brain Corp. develops the artificial intelligence software that allows for the autonomous mode.

In January, Thomas Hayes, an industrial companies analyst with C.L. King & Associates, was impressed by a visit to see Tennant's existing AMR models. "In 2024, the biggest warehouse automation trends are expected to be centered around efficiency, service quality and employee satisfaction standards," Hayes wrote in a research note.

In the second quarter, Tennant will introduce the X4 ROVR, a new purpose-built AMR that addresses all those trends. The X4 ROVR features better obstacle detection and mobility for use in smaller spaces. The new model will require fewer human assists, increasing efficiency.

Tennant sold $200 million worth of the robotic cleaners since 2019, but they still make up a small part of total sales. Total revenue for Tennant in 2023 was $1.2 billion, up 14%.

The growing sector of autonomous cleaning equipment is competitive with companies like Brooklyn Park's Nilfisk, which also develop robots.

Under the new agreement, Brain will develop AI technology exclusively for Tennant's use in the floor cleaning industry.


Tennant on Thursday reported fourth quarter earnings and revenue that beat expectations.

"As we enter 2024, our strategic focus centers on our new enterprise strategy," Huml said in the earnings release. "We have already begun to activate specific growth initiatives in the areas of new product innovation, expanded go-to-market strategies and disciplined pricing."

Part of that growth strategy is accelerating the development of new autonomous products.