Collaborative Robot Programming
Collaborative robots have revolutionized the robotics industry. Prior to the development of cobots, industrial robots and workers had to be kept separate from one another. With collaborative robots this is no longer the case. While cobots and industrial robots appear similar, they are actually quite different. Cobots feature a softer, rounder design with specialty force sensors throughout their robotic manipulator arm allowing for safe human and robot interactions. Cobots and humans can work simultaneously on the same application without any safety barriers. The FANUC CR-15ia is able to detect peripherals and people and can slow down or stop to prevent collisions.
Human and robot collaboration is not the only change cobots have brought about to the robotics field, they are also changing robot programming. Traditional robot programming methods use either a teach pendant or offline software. However, collaborative robot programming has been simplified compared to traditional programming methods with lead through technology.
Lead through programming methods involve programming collaborative robots through demonstration. Operators can program cobots by simply guiding the robotic arm through the desired waypoints of an application. The collaborative robot is able to store the application path to then recall the waypoints, replicating each step on its own over and over. Hand guidance really simplifies the programming process. Most collaborative robots on the market today feature some type of lead through programming method. FANUC’s entire CR cobot series features this programming technology. The FANUC 7ia-l can be hand guided through applications for automated assembly, machine tending, or material handling.
Collaborative robot programming with lead through technology is simple enough that anyone can program and operate a cobot regardless of previous robotics experience. Manufacturers do not have to spend time trying to find an experienced robot operator or train employees on complex programming methods. Users can program cobots quickly, decreasing downtime. With teach pendant methods each step of an application must be manually keyed in which can take several hours. Offline programming is faster than using a pendant, but usually requires testing through offline simulation and is a more complex method than hand guidance. Since most cobots are designed with lead through programming there is no added cost to the user, unlike with some programming methods that must be purchased separate from the articulated robot. Programming errors can be reduced with lead through methods. By manually guiding a cobot for programming it is less likely errors will be made as opposed to having to type in instructions. Operators may also catch mistakes while walking the cobot through the robotic application path since they are demonstrating the task in real time, improving the accuracy of the cobot’s operation.
Some collaborative robots do allow for other programming methods besides hand guidance. Universal’s cobots can be programmed through a touchscreen tablet in addition to manually demonstrating a task. This gives operators a couple different programming options for the Universal UR10. There are also offline software programs for collaborative robots, but they have become rarer since hand guidance programming was introduced. However, for those unable to take their cobot out of productions to program, offline software would be a good option.