The simple entry into flexible automation with a toolbox

Almost every manufacturing company has considered using robots to automate repetitive tasks. However, many – especially small companies – are hesitant to invest in automation because the flexibility and adaptability required is not given when buying a turnkey solution. Even for small changes to the robot program, the supplier has to be involved every time, as the companies or their employees are not able to do this themselves.

To change this, drag and bot GmbH, a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute for Production and Automation (IPA), offers a flexible, easy-to-use and cost-effective automation toolbox, the drag&bot Robot-Kit. The basis of the Robot-Kit is “drag&bot OS”, a software solution for robotics, which supports manufacturing companies in all steps from planning, simulation, integration, programming to fast retrofitting. In addition, depending on the customer’s wishes, there are cost-efficient robots, pre-integrated gripping systems, intelligent camera systems, standardized robot platforms and modular systems for parts supply and safety. In this way, even manufacturing companies without own robotics expertise can use robots simply, flexibly and economically, even for medium quantities, and changeover them themselves, e.g. in the case of many and/or changing variants of a product series.

Step #1: Plan robot solutions easily

The free cloud solution drag&bot SIMULATION, a drag&bot OS variant that can only be used for simulation, enables simple, iterative configuration and evaluation of automation ideas in a 3D environment as the basis for an investment decision.

In the first step, the application is modeled. For this purpose, drag&bot SIMULATION is used to select suitable robots, grippers, part provisioning solutions and other peripherals from the automation toolbox in a 3D environment and arrange them spatially. Additional elements, such as the machine tool to be tended, further devices or individually designed cell solutions can be uploaded and inserted as a CAD model to represent the planned application as accurately as possible.

In the second step, the robot is brought to life. For this purpose, program sequences are created in the graphical no-code programming environment of drag&bot. The created sequences can be simulated and adjusted until the behavior of the robot meets the requirements. If it turns out that the arrangement of e.g. robot and machine tool is not optimal or that it is better to use a larger robot, the arrangement can be adjusted in the 3D environment at any time.

The result of the planning is a specified robot solution tailored to the customer’s application with correctly selected core components (robot, gripper, part provisioning solution, platform) arranged in a working layout. Based on this specification drag&bot quickly creates an orderable offer in cooperation with its partners. In combination with the estimation of the cycle time resulting from the created sequence program, the profitability or ROI of the robot application can be determined and a realization decision can be made quickly and well-founded.

Step #2: Simple implementation of the robot solution

There are two options for implementing the planned robot solution, depending on the resources available in the company:

  1. The company implements the robot solution itself on the basis of a pre-integrated drag&bot bundle that works from day one.
  2. The company procures a flexibly adaptable complete solution from a drag&bot partner.

1. Do-It-Yourself automation with drag&bot

A drag&bot bundle consists of the components selected from the automation toolbox and drag&bot PRODUCTION, the variant of drag&bot OS for the realization of real robot solutions (training package included). A bundle is always characterized by the fact that all components are integrated in drag&bot OS and thus ready for use and usable without further integration effort. The associated training package is adapted to the previous knowledge of the customer’s employees, and enables the employees to realize the planned application themselves.

This is made possible thanks to the graphical no-code programming environment integrated in drag&bot OS – the drag&bot BUILDER – as well as application-specific customizable program templates. For machine tending, for example, there are program templates with functions for gripping from grids, for using single or double grippers, for NIO testing and for collision-free moves to a home position. These program templates can be further customized in the drag&bot BUILDER. New function blocks can be inserted via drag-and-drop if required. With the help of graphical wizards, e.g. robot movements can be taught and adapted, grids configured or I/O communication defined.

In this way, any personnel with a basic technical understanding, e.g. maintenance staff, CNC specialists, line supervisors, is able to adapt and modify program templates to implement specific applications after about one day of training. If help is still needed, drag&bot offers additional support via partners, e.g. for the implementation of the communication to a machine tool, for the programming of applications that cannot be mapped via program templates or for the preparation and execution of the CE certification.

2. Flexibly adaptable complete solution

Companies lacking the resources to implement a robot application themselves, e.g. because no suitable employees are available, can alternatively procure a complete solution based on drag&bot OS and thus flexibly adaptable to the results of the planning from a company in the drag&bot partner network. Again, after about one day of training, any staff with a basic technical understanding will be able to adapt and modify program templates to implement specific applications.

Step #3: Use robot solutions flexibly

Robot solutions implemented with drag&bot OS are easy to use and can be adapted to changing conditions by the manufacturing company itself. For this purpose drag&bot distinguishes between two user levels: Technician and Operator. While Technician users have all rights to create and modify applications with the drag&bot BUILDER as described above, the “OPERATOR COCKPIT” displayed on a touch panel is the central interaction element for operators to start and control the robot application, to monitor it and to intervene in case of errors. A large number of so-called widgets is available for this purpose, from which application- and operator-specific OPERATOR COCKPITs can be configured.

Examples of widgets are:

  • 3D visualization of the robot solution
  • Display of KPIs such as number of parts produced, number of NIO parts, …
  • Functions stored via buttons, e.g. stop after next cycle, collision-free basic position run, eject part, open/close gripper, …
  • Visualize and change I/O values
  • Display result of image processing e.g. localized objects in camera image
  • Display program sequence and current position in the sequence
  • Visualize and modify the occupancy state of a grid

In addition, operators can adapt robot applications to new requirements, such as changing part geometries or new part provisioning grids, using step-by-step instructions. The step-by-step instructions can be created by the commissioning engineer during the creation of the robot application from basic elements such as images and text in an application-specific way, so that the operator is given exactly the configuration options he needs, but other parameters, such as the limited maximum speed of the robot, cannot be accessed. If further changes to the robot application are required, the commissioning engineer can easily make any adjustments to the program flow, robot movements, I/O communication, etc., e.g. to integrate new processes, using the graphical no-code programming interface described above in conjunction with various wizards.

Possible applications

The drag&bot Robot-Kit is especially designed for any machine tending application, labeling, assembly or quality inspection in machines. These insertion tasks are still performed manually in many cases, although automation would be technically possible without any problems. The implementation usually fails due to the – due to high flexibility – lack of economic efficiency of classic automation solutions, which can only be adapted by experts.

This is where drag&bot comes in: the drag&bot Robot-Kit in combination with drag&bot OS as a software solution for the simple planning, commissioning and use of robot solutions allows manufacturing companies an entry into flexible automation adapted to the resources and competencies available in the company: companies without previous experience are taken by the hand during planning and receive a solution that can be operated and thus flexibly used by their own employees. Companies with their own resources can implement solutions themselves on the basis of a bundle and thus save costs as well as quickly and cost-effectively implement any adaptations required later, both in programming and in the hardware itself. In both cases, economic automation is thus possible with a high degree of flexibility.

Read the article in the atp magazine