The setup or programming of motions and sequences for an industrial robot is typically taught by linking the robot controller to a laptop, desktop computer or (internal or Internet) network.
A robot and a collection of machines or peripherals is referred to as a workcell, or cell. A typical cell might contain a parts feeder, a molding machine and a robot. The various machines are ‘integrated’ and controlled by a single computer or PLC. How the robot interacts with other machines in the cell must be programmed, both with regard to their positions in the cell and synchronizing with them.
Software: The computer is installed with corresponding interface software. The use of a computer greatly simplifies the programming process. Specialized robot software is run either in the robot controller or in the computer or both depending on the system design.
There are two basic entities that need to be taught (or programmed): positional data and procedure. For example in a task to move a screw from a feeder to a hole the positions of the feeder and the hole must first be taught or programmed. Secondly the procedure to get the screw from the feeder to the hole must be programmed along with any I/O involved, for example a signal to indicate when the screw is in the feeder ready to be picked up. The purpose of the robot software is to facilitate both these programming tasks.
Teaching the robot positions may be achieved a number of ways:
Positional commands The robot can be directed to the required position using a GUI or text based commands in which the required X-Y-Z position may be specified and edited.
Teach pendant: Robot positions can be taught via a teach pendant. This is a handheld control and programming unit. The common features of such units are the ability to manually send the robot to a desired position, or “inch” or “jog” to adjust a position. They also have a means to change the speed since a low speed is usually required for careful positioning, or while test-running through a new or modified routine. A large emergency stop button is usually included as well. Typically once the robot has been programmed there is no more use for the teach pendant.
Lead-by-the-nose is a technique offered by many robot manufacturers. In this method, one user holds the robot’s manipulator, while another person enters a command which de-energizes the robot causing it to go limp. The user then moves the robot by hand to the required positions and/or along a required path while the software logs these positions into memory. The program can later run the robot to these positions or along the taught path. This technique is popular for tasks such as paint spraying.
Offline programming is where the entire cell, the robot and all the machines or instruments in the workspace are mapped graphically. The robot can then be moved on screen and the process simulated. The technique has limited value because it relies on accurate measurement of the positions of the associated equipment and also relies on the positional accuracy the robot which may or may not conform to what is programmed.
In addition, machine operators often use user interface devices, typically touchscreen units, which serve as the operator control panel. The operator can switch from program to program, make adjustments within a program and also operate a host of peripheral devices that may be integrated within the same robotic system. These include end effectors, feeders that supply components to the robot, conveyor belts, emergency stop controls, machine vision systems, safety interlock systems, bar code printers and an almost infinite array of other industrial devices which are accessed and controlled via the operator control panel.
The teach pendant or PC is usually disconnected after programming and the robot then runs on the program that has been installed in its controller, however a computer is often used to ‘supervise’ the robot and any peripherals, or to provide additional storage for access to numerous complex paths and routines.