For years, a large part of the feedback I’ve received from manufacturers has revolved around the need for a holistic, easy-to-use solution for robotic automation and robot programming, and with nearly 2 million jobs on the verge of going unfilled due to talent shortage1, the necessity has never been greater. Moreover, nearly 100% of the manufacturers I encounter stress the need for intuitive high-performance robotic technology with simplified programming methods for experienced and novice users alike.
While there are various reasons behind the push for easy automation tools inspired by Industry 4.0, the key motive company decision makers seem to share is for quick and easy implementation of a robot system. Traditional robot execution typically requires significant upfront investment, and many mid-sized manufacturers and job shops simply do not have the resources to dedicate to complex capital equipment that does not easily adapt to changing manufacturing requirements.
The secret to creating the next generation of robot programming was revealed through customer conversations and volunteer participation. It starts with addressing the ease-of-use factor and designing technology that goes beyond easy programming for both industrial and collaborative robot applications. For Yaskawa, this manifested in the form of the Smart Pendant, providing familiar and flexible robot programming features to accommodate a wider user group.
Intuitive, Tablet-based Interface
Most everyone today can pick up any brand of smartphone and operate it with ease. Thanks to the voice of the customer, this same concept is now being applied via the Smart Pendant. While intuitive touchscreen teach pendants are nothing new, the Smart Pendant takes industrial and collaborative robot programming to the next level with leading Human Machine Interface (HMI) features integrated with tools that make robot programming easier than ever.
A “click and program” approach using large and simple touchscreen buttons allows users to program robots via familiar programming commands like copy, cut, paste, undo and redo, providing a more intuitive experience for greater ease of use. Furthermore, consistent display and command information, as well as automatic programming feedback, reduces common programming errors. Other options, like the split screen feature or built-in help function, enable easy troubleshooting and adjustments as well.
Simplified, Yet Powerful, INFORM Programming
Customer demands are ever-changing, and the ability to bridge the gap for non-welding applications in a high-mix, low volume setting with easy-to-use automation is crucial. This fact, as well as the need for a fast, simple learning curve (compared to standard teach pendants) for robot programming is often shared by the manufacturers I encounter. Since a significant portion of the costs for robot system implementation are due to complex programming issues, creating a simpler time-friendly approach that maintained powerful YRC controller functionality was imperative for our Yaskawa experts to address, resulting in the following:
Descriptive Commands with no abbreviations to memorize
Favorites Bar for easy access to commonly used commands
Job Editing for convenient touch-to-edit functionality
Command Builder guides user to insert commands
Variables are easy to view, name and modify
I/O easy to set up and organize
While these features work together to reduce programming time for quick implementation of a robot system, they work in conjunction with built-in Smart Frame technology to optimize the programming process.
Smart Frame Robot Jogging
Smart Frame’s patented technology helps to jog a robot in human coordinates by determining the user’s orientation relative to the robot. This makes the user the frame of reference, utilizing intuitive natural language directions for easy command of the robot movement and eliminating the use of conventional coordinate (X, Y, Z) frames.
This technology operates within a frame of reference moving left-right, up-down or away- toward, allowing for easy robot teaching and error recovery. Not only does Smart Frame enable easy robot jogging for new robot programmers, but also it offers a choice with no trade-off in terms of capability for experienced operators.
Future-proof for Production Success
The ability for manufacturers to operate robots for a variety of inspection, machine tending and other handling applications in a high-mix, low volume production environment is now possible and cost-effective for most manufacturers, no matter the talent pool. Moreover, these convenient features and innovative tools embodied in the Smart Pendant demystify robot programming and provide a fast, simple learning curve with minimal upfront investment in training.
A key component that I see in leading companies is their ability to implement smart manufacturing technologies which equip robots to work more efficiently, flexibly and safely, addressing current automation needs while future-proofing operations to better withstand disruption. While many easy-to-use tools, like the Smart Pendant, are still being finessed for welding applications, companies looking to build a competitive edge would do well to utilize the intelligent technologies available for other tasks.
1 The Skills Gap in U.S.Manufacturing: 2015 and Beyond, The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 2015
Bernardo Mendez is a Senior Product Manager at Yaskawa Innovation, Inc.