Intuitive Robot Programming

Germany ranks third worldwide in terms of the use of industrial robots, with only South Korea and Singapore ahead. However, robots are often only used for mass production because programming is time-consuming and cost-intensive. The drag&bot software enables hardware-independent and intuitive robot programming without developer knowledge – as easy as using a smartphone.

The number of industrial robots in Germany is growing steadily: last year, 322 robots were employed for every 10,000 people. So far, they have been used primarily for mass production, e.g. in the automotive industry, because their processes leave little room for flexible work steps. In short: once programmed, the robot often performs the same tasks over and over again for years. If the production conditions change, the industrial robot also has to be reprogrammed at great expense. But industry is in a process of transformation, and so the demands on robots are also changing. Medium-sized and small companies in particular are very interested in using robots in the long term not only for individual activities, but also to gain more flexibility in order to use industrial robots for different activities and more complex tasks. However, there is often no trained personnel available to coordinate the programming of the program sequences and the financial resources must also be used in the best possible way.

Robot programming via drag & drop
So how practical would it be to be able to program a robot as flexibly as possible? This is exactly what the company drag&bot, a spin-off of the Fraunhofer IPA in Stuttgart, makes possible: it has developed an operating system for robots that can be assembled from different building blocks using the drag&drop principle. This allows robots to be used flexibly and programmed individually, completely hardware-independent. The goal is to make robot programming as easy as smartphone operation. The drag&bot software achieves this with the help of various operating and input aids, so-called wizards and guides, which support the user in parameterizing the program sequence. For example, the position can be determined by the user moving the robot manually to the desired position and then using the wizard to determine and save the exact coordinates. Screw holes, parameters of a force-controlled movement or the localization of workpieces with the help of a camera and corresponding image processing are also typical applications of the Wizard. The program blocks, so-called function blocks, are then combined into executable applications according to the drag & drop principle. Via the cloud, the software can be networked internally with any number of robots. In this way, not only the skills, but entire programs can be used multiple times.

Application example: Programming of collaborating robots in the automotive industry
With the help of drag&bot, the automotive supplier Denso has automated a previously manual pre-assembly process. Since different processes are required for this, it is important in this case that the robots collaborate in the human workspace and that the work of the industrial robots can be coordinated. With the help of drag&bot, the robots can be instructed by technicians on site themselves through the intuitive interface. If a robot is to reach a certain position, the user guides the gripper arm to the corresponding position and confirms this in the software. So-called guides guide the user step by step through typical applications such as bolting, palletizing of parts or camera calibration. Extension modules also enable sensitive functions for adapting the behavior, should unforeseen situations arise in the production process or more complex robot movements are required, e.g. for assembly. With the Localization module, cameras for image processing are supported to determine the exact coordinates of a component, so that the robot movement still functions without errors even if the positions of the component are shifted. The advantage for the automotive supplier is not only the simple programming, which he can now carry out independently, but also the flexibility. With the simple and intuitive robot programming, the robots can be converted within a few minutes. Currently drag&bot supports hardware from Kuka, Denso, ABB, Fanuc and Universal Robots as well as all common robot grippers, other tools controlled via I/Os and various cameras. Currently, the software is used for industrial robots in production in applications that include processes such as machine loading and unloading, pick & place, joining and screwdriving. Especially for small and medium-sized companies that want to use industrial robots as flexibly as possible and have little or no experience with robots, the software offers a suitable solution.