- By Justin Garski
- March 18, 2022
- Rockwell Automation
How integrating or unifying robot and machine control systems can help you achieve better productivity, insights and maintenance.
Robots are taking on a greater role in industries like CPG and life sciences as companies seek to deliver greater product variety, stay productive amid skills shortages and enhance safety. But if you want to unleash the true power of robotics in your operations, don’t overlook one critical factor: their integration with your plant architecture.
Put simply, today’s smarter and more capable robots can no longer exist as disparate systems. They need to be integrated into machine and line control systems, with the ability to connect to and share data with components like safety sensors, analytics software, simulation tools and ERP systems.
By using modern options for integrating robots into your plant architecture, you can improve coordination between robot and machine control systems, realize new possibilities in production and reduce unnecessary work for staff.
Historically, engineers have programmed machine and robot control systems separately. But this can be a cumbersome process and have ripple effects on production–from longer deployment times, to challenges in marrying the two systems’ data sources, to staff needing to learn two separate systems.
Modern robot integration options help address these challenges by taking robots off the periphery and bringing them into a holistic control and information strategy.
One option is to connect robot and machine control systems via EtherNet/IP. With this approach, the robot controller manages all aspects of the robot, but it can synchronize operations with the machine controller. Another option is to eliminate the robot control system. With this approach, known as unified robot control, the machine control system directly controls all aspects of the robot’s operation.
Both approaches can help you create smarter, more efficient and more agile operations with:
1. Faster deployments: Modern robot integration options allow engineers to use time-saving preconfigured code libraries. And by unifying robot and machine control into one system, engineers can program both in one place instead of in separate environments.
Using either EtherNet/IP-connected or unified robot control, engineers can also use simulation and emulation software to test and prove machine and robot controls together, and to virtually commission robot-enabled machines.
Altogether, these efforts can reduce design and configuration time by several weeks, so you can deploy machines sooner.
2. Greater flexibility: In today’s plants, it’s not enough to quickly deploy machines. You also need to be able to quickly reconfigure them for multiple products.
Better coordination between robot and machine systems can help you improve your flexibility by reducing the need for complex mechanical adjustments and equipment synchronization during changeovers.
This can give you a new level of flexibility and creativity in production, allowing you to finally say “yes” to sales and marketing inquiries about new product runs. And faster changeovers are especially valuable if you’re a co-manufacturer that frequently needs to repurpose machines and lines for different customers and products.
3. Improved productivity: Improved robot-machine coordination can also help your operations be more efficient and productive.
Consider high-speed applications like packaging and cartoning. When machine and robot control systems need to communicate with each other in these applications as they rapidly handle and move products through a process, a handshake occurs between the two systems. Each handshake can take several milliseconds and delay machine or robot operation for that time.
Milliseconds may not sound like a lot – but they add up to create appreciable lost production time when you’re making hundreds of products per minute.
Modern robot integration options reduce robot-machine handshakes and allow you to boost throughput in the production time that you get back.
4. Access to insights: When you use one control system for both robot and machine control, you get one unified source of information. This holistic view of your application simplifies visualization and reporting to help staff more easily monitor operations and uncover improvement opportunities.
A unified source of information is possible with EtherNet/IP-connected integration. But you need to use a tool, whether it’s an IoT platform, a CMMS or something else, to bring together the robot and machine information streams.
5. Simplified support:
Integrating robot and control systems into a single system makes life easier for maintenance teams.
Unified robot control simplifies the system, reducing the need for a dedicated robot controller and associated components. Inventory can be streamlined, with the same servo amplifier used to drive both the machine and the robot. Technicians also only need to be familiar with one system instead of two, which can ease troubleshooting and repairs. And if they need vendor support, they only have one number to call.
Better integration, better outcomes
Modern robot integration options offer a faster, simpler way to unleash the power of robots in production. And the outcomes that they can deliver–greater productivity, better visibility, simplified maintenance–are needed more than ever as SKU counts proliferate, demand to produce more increases and skilled workers remain difficult to find.
Did you enjoy this great article?
Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..Subscribe