Recently, I had someone ask why Universal Robots and Rethink Robotics have made such an impact on the automation market. For those that have direct experience with the challenges of implementing industrial automation, the response would most certainly be the prospect of being able to use a robot without any external safety measures such as hard guarding or light curtains. While this is certainly a game change there is another more tangible aspect that these companies have brought to the market. Ease of use.
As someone who has been responsible for evaluating new robotic and motion control technologies for close to two decades, I have seen a lot of change. The one thing that has stayed very consistent is that it takes a well-trained person to properly program an industrial robotic or motion control solution. Every few years robot and motion manufacturers would tout how much easier to program their solution had become due to the addition of setup wizards, switching over to IEC61131, or some other shortcut. Granted, these improvements have simplified the lives of our customers and support engineers, but they still didn’t pass my litmus test:
Could someone with little to no training walk up to the controller and within minutes have a usable program written and running with minimal instruction?
Inevitably the answer was no.
For me, as a non-programmer, this is an easy determination. As I have learned over the past two decades, just the configuration requirements of traditional robotic and motion control solutions are enough for most non-programmers to “cry uncle”, much less successfully writing a functional program. Every time a vendor has come in to tell me how easy their new solution is to program, inevitably I would still need to go get one of our controls engineers to help.
For our customers, it has been no different. Regardless of the format or the programming language, if we sold a multi-axis motion solution or robot to someone who did not have any prior experience - much less someone who had no programming experience at all - we would either need to send in one of our engineers or the customer would have to go to factory training.