The 3 Basic Robot Programming Methods

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Programming an industrial robot is no longer just about coding instructions using a low-level programming language. As the technology behind robotics continues to evolve, new programming methods meant to make it easier for end-users have emerged. Today, three main methods are used to issue instructions to modern robots, namely:

1.     The Teach Method

This method involves using a teach pendant to guide the robot through a series of points and having it store them in memory. The process of guiding and recording these points or coordinates in space is called teaching in robotics.

A majority of modern industrial robots in the market today come with a teach pendant that allows even non-engineers to guide the robot and program it to perform a set of functions as desired. Modern teach pendants are just custom applications loaded into a special tablet or touchscreen device. It is the most intuitive and preferred way to program and reprogram industrial robots today.

Some of the reasons why this method is preferred to others include:

  • Precision- The operator can input very precise points or coordinates into the teaching pendant thus making it easier to ensure that the robot arm works as expected.
  • Safety- As a result of the precision, it’s easier to ensure that the robot arm and other moving parts will stay within a predefined space for safety purposes. This is especially important for robots that have safety stop or collision detection as a feature.
  • Intuitiveness- Modern tablet-operated teaching systems are quite intuitive that robotics engineers may not be required to program or reprogram the industrial robots.

Teaching pendants may have evolved but they have been around in different forms over the lifetime of industrial robots. This means operators have an easier time programming a modern industrial robot using the teaching method as compared to others.

The only downside to using the teaching method is the limited number of instructions you can issue to a robot. The method restricts you from teaching the robot a predefined set of movements and does not allow for additional instructions to improve efficiency or react to changing situations.

2.     Hand Guiding/Lead-Through Programming

Hand hiding or lead-through programming involves physically moving the robot arm over a series of points and axis to “teach” it how to perform a desired function. For instance, an operator can guide a robot on how to reach for a tool on a workstation and use it to do some operation. After the instructions have been recorded by the robot’s memory, it will continue following the same path on its own.

Hand guiding is especially preferred for smaller modern robots that are designed to work alongside human operators. These robots can be taught to do very complex tasks such as painting, sorting items, precision welding, engraving, etc.

Some of the advantages of lead-through or hand guiding include:

  • Intuitiveness
  • Safety
  • Collaboration
  • Great for complex tasks or movements

However, hand guiding fails as a programming method when precision is required. It is also not practical to use this method for large industrial robots that are not designed to work alongside humans. The method is the most preferred for modern collaborative robots used in smaller industrial setups.

3.     Offline Robot Programming

As the name suggests, this robot programming method involves writing instructions on a separate system and using virtual models of an industrial robot for testing. After the instructions have been written and tested, they are uploaded to the robot’s memory.  This method is preferred where a lot of instructions need to be written and tested before being deployed in real life.

Some of the advantages of offline programming include:

  • Allows for more complexity
  • Can lead to more efficient robot operation
  • Supports precision
  • Guarantees safety

Offline programming can be technical and therefore not suitable for non-engineers who do not understand low-level robotics programming or coding. All programming methods are very much in use today in most industries. The method you choose may come down to the type of robot you are programming and what you want to do with it.

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