New Software Rewrites the Future of Robot Programming
Robots are capable of so much more. Imagine if you could easily harness that power and flexibility. What if you could exploit the full capabilities of any robotic cell, no matter how many robots or axes are involved, regardless of the number or types of processes performed, or the variety of tooling? Envision the possibilities.
Now, picture a software with no limits. A software with unmatched flexibility and configurability. A software built from the ground up to eliminate the constraints of complex robot programming. Whether you are a first-time robot user or an experienced integrator, you get error-free results. Deployment happens in days, not months.
A revolution is in the making. It starts with Robotmaster V7 software. This is a task-based robot programming platform built around the user, for the user. Robotics expertise is no longer a prerequisite. Navigate complex part geometries and optimize robot paths while synchronizing movements and preventing collisions between one or more robots, parts, and tooling. Finally, a software engineered as brilliantly as the robots themselves is available.
This paradigm shift did not come easily.
The Making of a Revolution
It began as an ambitious goal, to bring robotics to the masses. Especially to the small- and mid-sized businesses that make up 90 percent of manufacturers — those that have yet to harness the full potential of robotic automation. This would be akin to how Microsoft BASIC helped propel the mainstream market for personal computers, and how modern-day apps simplify the use of everyday computing devices on our desks and in our pockets.
Robot programming can be complicated. Complexities such as singularity, reach issues, joint limits, and collisions can trip not only the novices up, but also the seasoned robot users.
The goal, withRobotmaster V7, was to create the ultimate software interface to optimize the programming of robotic tasks, to create an intuitive tool that anybody could use, with or without robotics expertise. It would cater to process experts, to make robot programming easy and intuitive even for first-time robot users.
To make robots practical for the everyday manufacturer and still productive for sophisticated users with complex robotic cells, the development team at Hypertherm Robotic Softwareknew the architecture would require a significant change.
The Robotmaster software was already renowned for its legendary ease of use. It was the platform’s optimization tools that put Robotmaster on the map in 2008. By creating software that enabled users to visualize and optimize robot trajectories, the developers were able to help demystify robot programming.
Today, Robotmaster software is used on robots drilling airplane fuselages at Boeing and Airbus, polishing automotive dies at Daimler, and adding value to the myriad of processes at family-owned job shops around the world. The developers knew the future still held far more promise.
Like other leading robotic offline programming tools of the day, the platform was built on early machining ideals and piggybacked on CAD/CAM software. This architecture assumed a basic understanding of robotics and CAD/CAM tools. It would take a major disruptive change to make robotics practical for more users.
The team watched thousands of hours of video footage on robotic applications, studying the different scenarios, and trying to understand all the different ways robots are currently used and may be used in the future.
The Robotmaster team found that the future is increasingly populated with multi-robot cells, where the robots are performing more than one type of task. It is often a combination of processes, including material removal, welding, and polishing. While the current software supported one robot for one task, the new robot programming software would need to support multiple tasks. It would need to support more than one robot, more than one tooling and process, in multiple types of settings, and with any number of tasks.
Until then, robot programming software was created from a purely robotics point of view. The Robotmaster team would instead focus their attention on the user’s perspective. The team focused on the user and neatly categorized all the different scenarios they were seeing in the videos until they had a good idea of the framework for the task-based approach.
With a clean slate, and having gathered information on everything that people told them they wanted to do with robots, the team recognized the need to create a brand-new architecture and rewrite the software line by line.
It was daunting, and they understood that working on a new architecture also meant they would need a new team. The existing Robotmaster team largely comprised mechanical and electrical engineers. Their vision for the new software would require other disciplines in order to create the user-centric interface integral to the new task-based programming solution.
One-Click Ease of Use
Seeing the need for an influx of new knowledge, know-how, and a new way of doing things, the Robotmaster team recruited experts from other disciplines, including those in mathematical optimization who understood AI and deep machine learning, and even simulation and game experts who were passionate about user interaction and wanted to apply their skills to the industrial space.
In order to achieve the one-click ease of Robotmaster V7, the team had to design an intuitive user interface, which included designing the on-screen menus with non-technical users in mind. CAD/CAM jargon is replaced with terms anyone can understand. With a CAD model of a part on the screen, one can simply hover the cursor close to an edge. The software understands what the user wants to do and displays all the relevant choices. The robot path is created with one click.
To round out their team, Robotmaster also sought out professional software engineers with a passion for robotics to ensure the application’s modularity, flexibility, and quality control. The new architecture is a reflection of this multi-disciplinary team that learned how to respect each other’s disciplines and work together in an agile manner.
Working in three-week sprints over a two-year period, the development team built a flexible framework that allows for additional modules to be released over time. The initial Robotmaster V7 software release will allow for welding and contouring, including trimming, cutting, and deburring. Subsequent modules will enable additional tasks, including assembly, surfacing, 3D milling, additive manufacturing, and inspection.
The framework allows additional modules to integrate seamlessly within the application, so users can inject menu options or items within the application, without the impression that this is an extension. There is a coordinated look, feel, and workflow.
Designing a software that is intuitive for first-time robot users, but still remains flexible enough to manage more complex processes and scenarios, is a challenging endeavor. When developers try to make software flexible enough to easily change features and add functionality, they often sacrifice robustness. The software becomes buggy. With Robotmaster V7, the multidisciplinary team was able to create a balanced product that achieves flexibility and maintains robustness.
“As fabricators move toward automation, there have been several challenges with welding applications,” shares Chahe Bakmazjian, Business Development Manager (Robotics Software), Hypertherm.
“Importing CAD models is where the challenge has begun, because creating the perfect trajectory for welding seams has been a tedious and highly iterative process of identifying programming problems, and subsequently correcting them. This was precisely the impetus for Robotmaster’s new V7 architecture. The new platform has successfully integrated offline programming, simulation, and error free path trajectories. The user downloads the program to the robot and runs it. No more finger-crossing and hoping that the many ‘bridges’ between the CAD models and programming deliver proof-outs that would work. With Robotmaster V7 architecture, a welding expert with no previous experience is empowered to deliver error-free results every time!”
With this new software architecture, Robotmaster V7 is able to exploit the full capabilities of robots, and maximize their flexibility and configurability for a variety of tasks. Its user-centric, task-based programming will propel the Robotmaster V7 software into the future. Subsequent software releases will add capabilities for programming multi-robot cells and seven-axis robots. Future additions will incorporate Industry 4.0 capability. Software bridges will allow existing users of Robotmaster software to leverage their own CAD/CAM tool of choice, or take advantage of the integrated CAD/CAM functionality of Robotmaster V7.
To bring robotics to the masses, robots need to be easier to use. They need to be practical for SMEs and large multinationals alike. With the Robotmaster V7, harnessing the true flexibility of robots is now anyone’s domain.
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