Industry Insights

3 Ways to Program Industrial and Collaborative Robots


Published 19 Oct 2021

All robots require specific programming that may seem daunting, especially for someone without a tech background. With investments from venture firms and the global robotics technology reaching 170.08 billion by 2027 [1], there will be a surge in demand for robot programmers in the coming years. This guide serves as an introduction to the types of robot programming methods in the industry and seeks advice on how to program your robot.

Robot Programming Methods: Top 3 Types

Robot programming has come a long way from coding instructions in a low-level language to high-level languages that have made it easy for end-users. These are the top 3 types of robot programming methods that are being used in the industry today. 

 1. The Teach Pendant

The most popular method of robot programming is the teach pendant, where over 90% of industrial robots are programmed using this method. The device comes with different buttons and a display to key in command inputs and edits the robot’s commands. It also has a large red button, which acts as an emergency button that stops robot operation immediately should a malfunction occurs, ensuring workers’ safety. A professional robot engineer or operator is needed to program a robot from point to point. They would have to use the buttons on the pendant to move it around and save each position individually. Once the robot motion has been programmed, the robot can play back the points at full speed.

 

ABB teach pendant, one of the devices used for robot programming

ABB teach pendant. Image by ABB

Advantages

Precision: Robots are programmed digitally using numerical coordinates, providing precise positioning.

Industry Standard: Most industrial robots come with a teach pendant, which many technicians would be familiar with.

Disadvantages

Requires technical expertise: The learning curve for this method is extremely high; different robot brands require a particular programming language. A lot of training is also needed to learn how to program a robot. It might be difficult for people who are unfamiliar with programming to learn.

Time-consuming: As this is a form of online programming, the robot must be put into “teach mode”, adding to the total time taken to program the robot. It is disruptive to the whole system due to robot downtime.

 

2. Teaching by Demonstration

Also known as lead-through programming, this method involves physically moving the robot arm to its desired position by an operator, using either a joystick attached to the end effector or manipulation of a force sensor. The positions of the robot arm are then recorded in the teach pendant. It is mainly used in applications that require a continuous path such as welding. Due to the size of traditional industrial robots, it is difficult for operators to move them. However,  this method has found popularity in programming lighter robots such as collaborative robots as they have joint breaks that when deactivated, allows for movement.

An employee demonstrating lead robot programmingUR16e can withstand a payload of up to a 16 kg (35 lbs) payload. Image by Universal Robots

Advantages

Simple programming: This method is quicker than the traditional teach pendant as it removes the need to key in instruction, allowing the operators to simply move the robot to the desired position.

Intuitive: Operators physically move the robot arm along the application path, similar to how a human would do the task. This method also requires no knowledge of coding and 3D CAD environments. Hence, it is easy to learn.

Disadvantages

Time-consuming: Similar to the teach pendant, this method requires the use of the physical robot to program its path, increasing its downtime. The robot has to be stopped before programming, leading to common delays. Furthermore, programming paths through this method can be time-consuming, taking days and even weeks for more complex applications.

Lack of precision: As robot positions are hand-guided, it is difficult to use this method for applications that require high precision or high mobility in different directions. Physically moving robots can increase human errors, leading to inaccuracies.

 

3. Offline Programming (OLP)

Offline Programming is the programming of robots in an external computer or software outside of the work cell. Operators need not be there physically as OLP allows for programs to be designed without needing the actual robot.

Offline simulation, an extension of OLP, allows operators to use software programs to program robots in a simulated environment. Most of these program simulators have 3D models of industrial robots, robotic work cells, and the surrounding work environment that allow operators to plan and program their robot paths without the need for the actual robot. Due to the nature of the method, operators can explore the use of different end effectors and applications that the robot can do. If they encounter mistakes or a bug, they are able to debug and repeat the process easily until they are satisfied, thereafter programming it into the actual robot.

RoboDK's user interface provides an interactive graphical simulation for robot programmingRoboDK’s user interface provides an interactive graphical simulation. Image by RoboDK 

Advantages

Robot agnostic: This method is able to program many different types of brands under one common interface.

Reduces programming time: As programming of the robot can be done anywhere, it saves time as accurate simulations can be made on the interface multiple times before deployment.

Disadvantages

Requires technical expertise: Software is restrictive and requires users to have coding experience for basic robot programming. Users of OLP software require in-depth knowledge of CAD/CAM environments and a deep understanding of robotics.

Limited by software and hardware: This method requires additional software to be learned and requires the purchase of hardware(computer) to work.

Requires CAD models: An accurate 3D representation of the working environment is required to use OLP softwares optimally. However, such 3D models are often not available or accurate to the real component to be used in robot simulation.

 

4. The Augmentus Advantage

Each programming method has its advantages and disadvantages. Before deciding which method to use, it is important to consult with robotic experts to understand which method would fit the working environment and application well. Learning any of these methods will require time and cost and it’s best to make an informed decision.

Augmentus AppAugmentus’ user interface provides a graphical simulation of your work cell. Image by Augmentus

At Augmentus, our team has personally experienced the advantages and disadvantages of the different ways to program robots and has come up with a solution that tackles the pitfalls in robot teaching.

Robot agnostic: Augmentus is able to program many different types of brands, such as ABB, Kuka, Nachi, UR, and Mitsubishi, under one common interface.

Digital twin creation through scanning: Augmentus eliminates the need for CAD files as users scan the robot cell using our pre-integrated 3D scanners, which have an accuracy of up to 0.1mm, to generate an interactive simulation environment in seconds.

No-code graphical interface: Being a tablet-based 3D interface, users are able to easily plot trajectory waypoints using a stylus while our software motion planning algorithms will auto plan the most optimized robot motion, checking for reachability, singularity, and collision constraints. With Augmentus, the entire robot planning process is done in an interactive simulation environment but users do not need to key in a single line of code and require no prior technical expertise to operate an industrial robot.

Automated calibration and robot path generation: Intelligent algorithms within the system automatically calibrates the robot to the virtual environment, creating accurate robot simulation in under 10 seconds. Our automated path generation algorithms allow users to generate complex robot path plannings for their desired application within a matter of minutes. As programming of the robot can be done anywhere, it saves time as accurate simulations can be made on the interface multiple times before deployment.

We have begun rolling out our system for clients early this year and we are glad to share some metrics that we have witnessed! Operators using Augmentus have successfully reduced robot programming times by up to 90% across a wide variety of applications, such as spraying, polishing, palletizing, and inspections.

If you are in need of an easier and faster way to program your robots, Book a demo today!

 

About Augmentus

Augmentus pioneers industry-leading robotic technologies that enable easy and rapid robotic automation, enabling anyone, even those with no robotic experience, to program dynamic industrial robots in minutes. Our proprietary technology incorporates algorithms to enable fully automated robot path generation and an intuitive graphical interface that eliminates the need for coding and CAD files in robot teaching. Companies using Augmentus have experienced up to 70% cost reduction and 17 times faster deployments across a wide variety of applications, such as spraying, palletizing, welding, and inspections. Augmentus ushers in a new era of human-machine interface, democratizing robotic automation.

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