TRENDS & TECHNOLOGY

As More Robots Take on Jobs, Software Controls Their Every Move

POSTED BY TURTLE & HUGHES INDUSTRIAL CONTROL & AUTOMATION DEPARTMENT BLOG IN PERSPECTIVES, PRODUCTS & TECHNOLOGY


 

Enterprises have long taken advantage of robots in their operations, but small businesses are ready to join the fray.

 

Integrating robots with software and using purpose-built applications to coordinate and configure robotic functions has lowered costs and increased productivity, which is helping to bring robotics to new markets.

 

“Collaborative and mobile robots are becoming mainstream because of accelerated ROI, usability and functional flexibility,” says Randy Roessle, Executive Vice President at Turtle & Hughes. “Innovations in robotic programming and control technology makes scalability practical in both manufacturing and logistics applications.”

 

Small businesses are increasingly finding ways for robots to take on warehouse and logistics jobs. As the number of robots increases, coordinating their activities and configuring them for an increasingly diverse set of roles gets more complex.

Keeping Control Over Robots

Industrial robots have relatively limited functions, so the interfaces used to control them can be as rudimentary as buttons that change direction or establish limits to their movements. Even when graphical user interfaces are employed, the focus is on local control of individual robots.

 

“Collaborative robots work with humans safely within the designated work space. This allows the human to perform a secondary manufacturing operation or quickly program the robot using hand-guided path teaching,” Roessle explains.

 

A teach pendant (a device used to remotely control a robot) allows technicians to program individual robots for specific tasks and enables them to perform maintenance and diagnostics.

But, keeping multiple robots active and coordinated becomes complex in a busy operation. Even in a warehouse where as few as two robots are assisting with picking and packing, the robots need to be aware of each other’s activities.

 

The next advance in managing robots is to connect them to centralized systems that are able to manage a company’s fleet of robots, whether that fleet is composed of two or 200 robots, “allowing mobile robots to move around a facility in a safe, effective and adaptive way,” says Roessle.

From Individual Connections to Centralized Management

One driving force for remote connectivity is in the logistics arena. Management applications like MiRFleet provide centralized control of robots, allowing management to coordinate robot activities. Sometimes that management needs to happen on the fly to respond to changing conditions and issues that need prompt attention.

 

Centralized software receives information from the robots and can alert workers on the factory floor through email or SMS so issues can be handled quickly. For example, workers may be notified when a parts delivery robot has arrived at a work station so a human can receive the actual parts.

 

Connectivity methods include wired Ethernet cables for fixed-location robots and WiFi for robots in motion. Cabling and wireless infrastructure is required to connect robots to management software and make management, control and interaction easier and more responsive.

 

Smaller facilities can benefit from starting their connectivity implementations while they only have a few robots to connect. To make the most of software systems that can integrate use of multiple robots, start with a site survey to determine the best options — and be sure to include plans for future expansion.

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