Unleashing the magic of robotic automation

28 June 2022

While the many benefits that robots can bring in manufacturing applications are widely understood, misconceptions around complexity have deterred many manufacturers from investing in robotic automation. Julian Ware looks at how developments in software are helping to address this issue – making robots as easy to use as possible.

While the benefits that robots can bring in manufacturing applications are widely understood, it would appear that the perceived complexity of robots has hampered their uptake. One reason for this is a lack of skilled programmers able to program and look after robots. Asked which factors had stopped them from investing in robots, 72% of UK respondents in an ABB survey identified a lack of experience and in-house technical staff to program and support robots.

For robot suppliers the challenge is therefore to help make robots as easy to use as possible, reducing the time and effort needed by end-users to be able to confidently deploy them on the factory floor.   

One way that ABB is addressing this is through the Wizard Easy Programming software – an intuitive and easy robot graphical programming interface that requires no programming skills or specialised training. Available for the single-arm YuMi, GoFa and SWIFTI collaborative robots and the IRB 1100 industrial robot, Wizard Easy Programming aims to enable first time users to program industrial robots and cobots in minutes without the need for coding skills. Key to its simplicity is the use of a drag and drop graphical user interface where standard commands can be arranged into an operating program that will instruct the robot. If additional commands are needed, customised blocks can also be created with a software creator tool.

This solution removes the need for programming specialist resources that has always hindered the uptake of robots. By removing the learning curve, the technology will lower the barriers to entry, allowing more business to make the switch to robots and enabling robot users to quickly create a robot application without major upfront investment in dedicated programmers, saving time and money. 

Software is also providing an answer for companies that don’t know where to start when it comes to introducing robots onto their factory floors. One example is ABBs RobotStudio offline programming tool, which enables complete robot solutions, from standalone robots through to complete cells, to be built in a virtual environment. The software enables users to model, test and refine complete applications to see how they would fit into a production environment and assess the potential benefits that could be derived by making a switch to robotic automation. Once the desired set up is achieved, it can then be used to guide the creation of the physical solution on the factory floor, including the necessary operating program or programs required for the application.

The benefits of this approach can be taken one step further with digital twinning software. Here, ABB can offer the  PickMaster Twin for picking and packing lines. It enables users can create a complete digital model of their application, including robots, conveyors and other equipment, which can be fed with real-time data from the physical application. The resulting model can be designed to visualize everything that the physical system can do, including complicated robotic manoeuvres for flow-wrapping, tray loading, case and carton packing and handling applications. 

This merging of the virtual and real world can provide numerous benefits. Commissioning times, for example, can be reduced from days to just a few hours, with all commissioning work able to be carried out digitally rather than on the factory floor. Using the digital model, users can test configuration settings, trial potential improvements and run potential problem scenarios in the digital twin version before committing them to the real installation. 

As well as being useful at the proposal and specification stages of a project, this can also help both to reduce time to market for new product lines and remove the risk of any nasty surprises once the physical system is built.

Another area where having a digital twin of an application can be useful is maintenance and problem-solving. Data from the model can be analysed to help where any issues are or may be occurring, allowing operators to take any necessary remedial steps with minimal downtime – either locally or via a remote connection.    

Developments in virtual and augmented reality technology are also providing new possibilities for visualising how a robotic solution could be integrated onto a factory floor. These solutions enable users to quickly visualise how and where a robot can fit into an existing process using a tablet or smartphone.   

Virtual training
Originally introduced in response to the restrictions on movement arising from Covid-19, ABBs virtual training courses are now a mainstay of many training program, extending the reach of established physical training courses. 

ABBs virtual training course covers the full scope of programming, operation and maintenance for industrial and collaborative robot – from basic to advanced level – the courses provide an accessible way of equipping companies with the skills needed to support an investment in robotic automation. 

Grow with robots
The advances covered in this article, together with the expanded range of robots for every application, provide a realistic opportunity for companies of all sizes and levels of experience to grow their capabilities with robotic automation. With the benefits of simplified operation combining with an expanding range of robot options ranging from portable cobots through to fast picking Delta robots and large industrial robots able to handle payloads up to 1,000kg, it is becoming easier than ever for manufactures to adopt robotic solutions to ensure they remain competitive. 

Julian Ware is sales manager at ABB Robotics UK & Ireland.

Contact Details and Archive...

Related Articles...

Print this page | E-mail this page