A major hurdle noted by OEMs and CPGs is the need for a common programming language. “Suppliers need to open up the software platforms, so programming continues to get easier,” a mechanical robotic engineer at an OEM says. Some software vendors and machine builders recognize the necessity of accessible and compatible “open” platforms, moving away from “black boxes” that lock machine builders into a specific solution. A truly open platform can simplify the installation, programming, and operation of multiple robots on the same line, even when they originate from different vendors.
An engineering representative at an SME beverage company concurs, “programming has gotten easier and the software we use from different suppliers communicates well, but having a common language would be helpful.” While a universal language would be ideal, one national business development manager at a packaging segment OEM says the technology is “years away from reality.”
Another area for improvement is an easier user interface with a single point of data entry. As a lead engineer at a robotics manufacturer says, “Some of the new GUI based programming is great, but some of the old text-based programming is cumbersome… the challenge is knowing how to access certain commands and features.”
CPGs also have simpler interfaces on the mind. “We need simpler diagnostics and more visual software for less skilled operators,” a director of tech services at a large lawn and garden company says.
Other needed improvements noted by OEMs include faster deployment, more available programming support, and more advanced self-learning robots.
One in five surveyed CPGs avoided internal challenges with programming by outsourcing. “We always contract the programming out and who we use depends on the application and the supplier’s capabilities,” a director of process engineering at a large food manufacturer says.
One promising technology for robotics programming is cloud-based robotics. This technology enables robots to be programmed and monitored remotely, removing the onus of configuring robots from manufacturers and enabling them to access their robot data from virtually anywhere. It also has the benefit of connecting multiple robots to one “shared brain,” allowing robots to be controlled through one centralized system. Cloud-based solutions will continue to expand in the manufacturing industry as the technology improves and costs decline.
Some robot suppliers are also providing manufacturers with a “starter kit” equipped with all the software, cabling, communication modules, and instruction needed to successfully deploy a robotic solution. This is particularly true for components, such as EoAT additions. Simplifications like these are bringing the manufacturing industry closer to a true “plug and play” model of robot.