Why no code & low code tools become indispensable in robotics
Using robots is almost always beneficial for companies. They can reduce labor costs, relieve labor, and make production more flexible – because batch sizes are required to be smaller and production processes more individualized. In addition, robots or cobots offer another major advantage: they can work without delays and fatigue, thereby increasing product quality and reducing waste.
With modern robotic systems, almost all processes can now be automated. Typically, robots take over simple, dirty, monotonous, physically demanding, or even dangerous tasks. However, with the right hardware and, most importantly, software, very complex or very demanding tasks, which are called „Advanced Robotics“ applications, can also be solved. Examples include the assembly of flexible, bendable components such as wires, cables, or hoses, or the processing of forcibly controlled surfaces.
Following the no-code/low-code trend, there are various software solution in the market that allows graphical programming and is therefore simplified and faster. The advantage is that no special programming skills are required. The portfolio ranges from manufacturer-specific solutions to independent offerings that can be used to program robots from different manufacturers with a single piece of software. Especially in the latter case, experts recommend using a tool that automatically generates native robot code for a specific robot controller instead of controlling the robot arm through a separate IPC.
In the first case, users remain flexible in terms of adjustments or optimizations during operation and avoid lock-in effects, as they can continue to program the robot in the traditional way using line codes even without using the software.
Whether by external engineering tools or barcodes, there are factors in the path of robot-based automation that users often underestimate and therefore pay little attention to. How to avoid the three most important stumbling blocks will be briefly described below.
FACTOR 1: PROGRAMMING EFFORTS
The time required to program applications is not usually underestimated, but there are other pitfalls in this phase: for example, process tolerances and variations that have not been accounted for or increased complexity when combining sensors or establishing communication between robots and PLCs. In addition, programming systems is often a tailor-made and complex solution that is difficult to adapt. In addition, programmers often have their own style, which can make the resulting code or programs difficult for other programmers to understand and modify. At this point, the market supports users with the aforementioned no-code/low-code solutions. For example, with predefined function blocks, programs can be built and structured in a way that is clear and understandable to others. Process tolerances and variances can also be compensated, analyzed and optimized automatically using the right software. When the corresponding interfaces are integrated, the effort required to connect sensors or set up PLC communication is also greatly reduced.
FACTOR 2: EFFORT DURING COMMISSIONING
A rule of thumb states that the cost of the robot itself is only about a third of the initial cost of the cell, and experience shows that about 45 percent of the cost is typically incurred during ramp-up. This is because users often underestimate the time required for commissioning. Even though the system is programmed offline and simulated first, differences between theory and practice are often apparent during commissioning.
Therefore, despite good preparation, the process can take significantly longer than planned, and adjustments and alterations can quickly become expensive. In addition, factors that were not visible during digital preparation now need to be addressed on the spot during commissioning. This makes this phase difficult to quantify. With consistent tools, ramp-up can be implemented in a controlled manner and without losing much time, so that this phase does not become a cost driver. It is important to combine simulation, programming, sensors and data analysis in one software package. In this way, the engineering chain is consistent without users having to compromise on functionality.
This makes changes and adjustments faster, more flexible and easier. With automatically generated robot code and the ability to transfer teaching points back from actual robots into software, such solutions are seamlessly and optimally integrated into existing commissioning and maintenance processes. It also offers the greatest flexibility when it comes to online and offline programming, allowing users to choose the best option and the easiest way for their respective tasks.
FACTOR 3: CHANGES DURING THE CELL’S LIFE CYCLE
Even when the robot is running, there are still dangers that often go unnoticed: During system runtime, many changes to the general state may occur that require programming adaptations.
These can be vibrations and shocks, for example caused by forklifts or other machinery, tool wear, replacement parts reacting differently from previous components, changes in workpiece batches, and available space in halls or changes in operating personnel. Changing lighting conditions and temperatures or differences between cold-started and heated-started robots can also have an impact.
Software which standardizes and simplifies programming allows the user to react simply, quickly, and flexibly to these and many other changes and to make the necessary adjustments in the program itself. If workers use tools that also make changes or the resulting consequences are visible from the start in terms of style, cycle time, or defects and quality, it’s easier to analyze and get optimization possibilities, which leaves users more prepared.
A guest article by ArtiMinds Robotics