If it’s not virtual, it doesn’t exist

Offline, PC-based programming and simulation addresses a major new paradigm in robotics: ease of designing and commissioning new projects.

Have you thought about how we gradually get used to new paradigms and new ways of thinking? Take search engines for example: 10 years ago most people used the phone book when they were looking for a company or a service. I think I still have a phone book somewhere at home. But it might very well be three years old, if I haven’t thrown it away already.

Nowadays, I expect to find whatever it is that I’m looking for by searching the web. I just open the browser and start typing something. If I’m looking for a company, I take for granted they have a website. Otherwise, I just continue my search as if that company didn’t exist. While the phone book is one of the most glaring examples, similar kinds of transformations are happening in every industry—including robotics.

For instance, a few weeks ago I met one of our robotics customers in the machine building business. He told me his end-customers want to be able to simulate their products, otherwise they will turn elsewhere.

This particular machine building company uses the ABB IRC5 Controller for controlling their own unique robotics solutions. Now one of their end-customers is requesting support for simulation in RobotStudio—ABB’s virtual robot programming software. Times are definitely changing.

Equipment manufacturers have to think virtual to survive

Back in the days when people were still browsing thick phone books, robots were programmed differently. You either pulled or dragged the those zombies around by hand, or you entered obscure commands on some kind of device with 128 buttons, for which you had to read a really thick manual. And you had to wait for the robot to be delivered and then installed in a test cell before you could even think about programming and using it.

These days, automation engineers and robot programmers expect to be able to prototype and prepare their solution in a virtual environment before even thinking about buying anything. Buying new equipment without trying it in advance feels as awkward as contacting a company without a website that you can only find in the phone book. You will just move on to another company that can deliver virtual replicas of its products.

Think about what happened to the machine building company. The end-customer said: “You have an interesting product, but if we cannot simulate it we are not interested”.

You are not alone in the paradigm shift

Of course we want to meet our partners’ demands and make it possible for them to let their customers do simulations in RobotStudio. In the machine building-company case, the IRC5 Controller can easily be simulated in RobotStudio. To solve the problem, all we had to do was help them prepare the virtual 3D models of their machine.

We’re definitely moving towards a paradigm shift here. Be prepared and make sure to manufacture automation equipment that can be used in a simulation. Once you have the 3D models created, you can easily publish your virtual devices on RobotApps so that other RobotStudio users (and your end-customers) can easily access it.

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About the author

Niklas Skoglund

I’m a professional RobotStudio geek. I've been developing software for offline robot programming for more than a decade and today I work in developer relations, which spans from building our Developer Center site to working on new APIs with ABB Robotics' R&D team. Do I only think about APIs and robots all the time? Not exactly. I enjoy cooking, especially seafood. I also like to stay up to date on trends and developments in our society. And, I like to listen to music that most people would find strange. But, to be frank, I tend to play around with computer technology and gadgets at every opportunity—even when I should be doing other stuff.
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