A vision of our robotic future: program anytime, anywhere

One of the biggest barriers to adoption of robotics in any industry is the perceived complexity of robotic systems and programming.

At ABB Robotics we depend on our partnerships with System Integrators—simply referred to as Integrators—whose job it is to take our robotic products and help incorporate them into our end-users’ factories. Along the way these Integrators have developed their own specialties and equipment to help reduce these barriers. But even with the efforts of the Integrators, the skilled programming and operation barrier is one of the last and largest hurdles to what will soon become a robotics explosion.

In order to get at this problem, ABB was one of the first companies to develop a PC-based, 3D virtual programming tool. Called RobotStudio, it is now the industry gold standard for “offline” programming. At Schweissen & Schneiden 2013 – the world’s largest trade show devoted to welding and cutting happening this week in Essen, Germany – much of ABB Robotics software development team is on hand to show off the newest additions to RobotStudio as well as provide a glimpse into the future.

“RobotStudio is the new, better way of working with robots than what we used in the past,” says Bertil Thorvaldsson, Product Manager for RobotStudio. “In the traditional method of programming industrial robots, the programming is actually the last step after everything has been installed. In this method the programmer would move the robot from point to point with a joystick and program each point and activity. Now, with RobotStudio it literally takes seconds to do what would have taken a week using traditional programming and the programming becomes the first step in designing a robotic system. What this means is that you don’t have to make any costly installation mistakes to know that a certain system component needs to be reworked. Any mistakes and optimization happen in a virtual world and have few, if any, consequences. I think it’s clear why you would want to switch from the old method to the new one.”

Using RobotStudio presents no downsides and results in perfectly executed projects. “By using RobotStudio there are several clear benefits,” says Thorvaldsson. “The end-user gets a well-optimized solution because there was a much better understanding of what the system was capable of during the proposal stage. Also, for many reasons related to increased efficiency, as well as greatly reduced programming, installation and commissioning time, the up-front investment is also reduced. In the end a RobotStudio-programmed robot can operate at peak efficiency, higher productivity and produces higher quality work with less variance. In this scenario everybody is happier with the result.”

Now that RobotStudio has been around for more than a decade and has become a mature product, Thorvaldsson says that adoption rates have begun to skyrocket and his team is beginning to imagine what the future of RobotStudio and remote robot access will look like.

“RobotStudio is a tool that allows robot users to become more productive in general,” he says. “In the planning stage you can develop a common view with all stakeholders so that there are no surprises and the capabilities of the system are well known before significant investment is made. During the design stage the system can be easily verified in the virtual world. In the startup stage you can program the robots faster. Finally, in the production stage, you can continue to produce products in the real world while programs for any new products are written in the virtual world.”

“When we start to think about how this tool can help with all aspects of robot use, it becomes clear that it extends far beyond simply programming,” says Thorvaldsson. “Imagine being able to commission new robot programs using a tablet, or monitor the robots in real time using a smartphone. We can even begin to think about enabling users to create their own ‘apps’ to make robot use more efficient.”

Many of these things are on display at Schweissen & Schneiden, providing a rare look at future development products as well as unprecedented access to the programmers who are crafting them.

“Although I can’t give away exactly what we are working on in the ABB Robotics R&D department, suffice it to say that we have thought of all of these possibilities and are letting our passion for producing next generation products drive our thought process in this regard,” he concludes. “If you haven’t yet switched out of the stone age of robot programming, you should start now as it will only become more critical as time moves on.”



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About the author

Anne Waltenberger

I joined ABB Robotics Marketing Communications team in 2005 and have become passionate about both Robotics and Communications. I think I have the best job in the world. Being the Global Communications Manager for the most exciting product ABB has to offer and working with so many talented and skilled people from all over the world is a true pleasure. I have a degree in Linguistics, Psychology and Literature and benefit from them when trying to explain why robots can help to make this a better world.
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