Reimaging robotics in a connected world
All businesses globally have been forced to deal with the realities of stay-at-home orders as we cope with COVID-19. Manufacturers that once relied on in-person meetings, face-to-face conversations, and hands-on troubleshooting are forced to rethink old practices. Fortunately, there are now easier ways for you to cloud connect your UR cobot!
It Seems Everything is Connected
The world is increasingly connected. Nearly 60% of the entire world population and more than 90% of the developed world is online. It’s hard to imagine life without the internet — no smartphone, no online banking, no streaming music or podcasts, no Netflix, no social media, no email. Connecting humans on the internet has dramatically expanded our individual reach, our capacity to sell globally, and our ability to help others wherever they are.
Consumer product makers are now connecting devices in your home and everyday life. From TVs to watches, to scales and even cars, an ever-increasing number of products are online and for good reason. Many of these devices can deliver richer, personalized content, tracking of personal data (e.g., weight, blood pressure, heart rate), and self-update when new features or fixes become available.
Manufacturers are beginning to realize the same benefits by cloud connecting their equipment and processes on the shop floor. Some of these benefits include real-time analytics, predictive maintenance, online support and diagnostics, cloud backups, and more. Robots are getting a lot of attention these days and cloud connecting them is a hot topic that deserves more discussion.
This case study from Processed Metal Innovators, shows how the Wisconsin-based weld shop uses the “Bot-X”, a cloud-connected UR cobot developed by Hirebotics, Red-D-Arc and Airgas
WHY CLOUD CONNECT YOUR COBOT
There are numerous benefits to connecting your cobots to the cloud, and they can be generalized into three primary categories.
There are two questions for which analytics are used to answer: “what happened?” and “what is going to happen?”
“What happened?” is answered by collecting machine data from your cobots so that you can understand historical production data, cycle time variations, sources/causes of downtime, and more. There are a number of solutions for collecting and visualizing machine data. Some of these solutions collect generic and basic information, similar to a stack light—red, yellow, green, to signify machine status—in order to aggregate data about your factory.
Other solutions focus on deeper integration with a particular piece of equipment, like a robot. Cobots, in particular, are sophisticated machines and have significantly more information available for advanced analysis. These software solutions can be particularly useful in tuning a robotic application for more throughput or to pinpoint hard to find programming issues.
“What is going to happen?” is answered by sophisticated software that leverages machine learning to gain a deeper understanding of a particular application and alert experts when there are trends that deviate from normal operation or anomalies are detected. Most of these solutions take advantage of cloud computing to build predictive models, which can also run in the cloud or sometimes on an edge device.
Programming a cobot in a production environment can take time to get right. And over time, changes are often made to a cobot program to accommodate new part numbers or changes in the environment. While you can typically take manual backups of your work to protect your investment, many businesses increasingly want to make sure their work is backed up to the cloud.
Backing up a cobot to the cloud provides both tremendous peace of mind and new capabilities. Cloud backups are often real-time and don’t require remembering to plug in the USB stick or trying to remember which version is saved where. Furthermore, if your cloud backups also track versions, you no longer have to remember to “version the file name” to track your changes (e.g. file names like Sprocket_v1.2.program, Sprocket_v1.2a.program).
Other critical files are often backed up, too, such as log files and other diagnostic and calibration files on the cobot. These files, while not needed day-to-day, are vital when trying to troubleshoot issues or in the unfortunate event of having to replace or rebuild a failed robot controller. Having these files safely in the cloud allows access when you need it most. And some backup solutions offer the ability to easily share these files with your cobot distributor, cobot integrator, or Universal Robots directly.
Cloud monitoring gives remote access to real-time I/O, variables, and logs from Universal Robot’s cobots, powered by Hirebotics’ cloud software.
Inevitably, when you have a sophisticated piece of equipment you’re going to either need to access support or you will be providing support to others at your company.
A cloud-connected cobot is easier to support. If you’re struggling with an application or running into issues, you can share your analytics, logs, I/O status and more with experts within your company or with your distributor, integrator, or the manufacturer directly. Without a connected cobot, these activities often require an onsite visit which delays resolution and is costly for all parties.
Some manufacturers have sophisticated analysis tools that can be used to diagnose hard to find issues. For example, Universal Robots has a software tool to analyze detailed, low-level robot data that can predict issues before they happen. But these tools need to ingest data and files from the cobot. A connected Universal Robot, for example, can have the data and files in the cloud for faster analysis and resolution.
CAN I CONNECT MY COBOT
Yes! All Universal Robots have an ethernet port on their controller.
Many traditional industrial robots require their customers to purchase add-ons or modules to take advantage of your data on your robot. Others only offer proprietary protocols and/or services that lead to vendor lock-in and a limited ecosystem of solutions for the market.
On the other end of the spectrum Universal Robots has an open, well-documented set of interfaces that encourages an active ecosystem of developers building solutions for the market. This includes offerings to collect analytics, remotely access your robots, and get support when you need it.
One example is Cloud Tools by Hirebotics, which is free for all cobots from Universal Robots. Hirebotics has cloud connected their cobots for many years and recently released some of their capabilities for free for the Universal Robots ecosystem.
Hirebotics’ mobile app and cloud software powers the new BotX welder, which is based on the Universal Robots UR10e platform.
COMMON CHALLENGES TO CLOUD CONNECTING ROBOTS
The benefits of cloud connecting robots are clear. But what holds companies back? It typically falls into one of two categories: cost/complexity or security fears.
GETTING BEYOND THE COST AND COMPLEXITY OF CONNECTING ROBOTS
Many solutions for cloud connecting robots require expensive, and sometimes, complicated hardware. Sometimes they require special network configuration and complex setup processes. Many also charge for a hardware client as well as a monthly subscription fee that can be hard to justify.
However, there are solutions that avoid both the cost and complexity. At Hirebotics we created cloud software designed for Universal Robots, running natively on the robot’s controller. No external hardware is required. And the Universal Robot is registered by scanning a QR code on the robot’s teach pendant using a mobile app. Further, the Hirebotics platform offers cloud capabilities at zero cost.
SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS WITH CLOUD-CONNECTED ROBOTS
Security is important to all of us which makes it one of the biggest concerns when cloud connecting any device. It is always recommended to leverage a firewall on your network allowing only trusted traffic. As an example, the Hirebotics' cloud software is designed to protect your data so you can gain the advantages of the cloud without the risk. This means leveraging certificates to securely connect with TLS mutual authentication ensuring that your data is protected in-transit. Once in the cloud, customer data is isolated and encrypted-at-rest for an extra layer of protection while still allowing you to access it securely, from anywhere.
The benefits of cloud connecting robots are clear, and the companies that exploit these capabilities will have a competitive advantage over companies that don’t, particular in this current “stay-at-home” environment. Cobot suppliers with open platforms, such as Universal Robots, cultivate a robust developer ecosystem. These types of open platforms get extended through the cloud far beyond what can be done with an isolated, offline system. It’s time to reimagine robotics in a connected world.