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Robotic & Automation Software Development

Today’s manufacturing setups rely increasingly on technology. It is common to have all sources of equipment on the shop floor, commanded by industrial PCs or PLCs connected by an industrial network to other factory resources. Also, production systems are becoming more and more autonomous, requiring less operator intervention in everyday normal operation. This requires use of computers for control and supervision of production systems, industrial networks and distributed software architectures. It also requires design of application software that is distributed on the shop floor, taking advantage of the flexibility provided by using programmable equipment. Consequently, there is an extensive mixture of human and machine labour in actual manufacturing systems. That situation, while desirable because agility is a key issue for productivity and efficiency of actual companies, poses some difficulties to efficient cooperation between humans and machines. Human-machine interfaces (HMI) are consequently very important in taking advantage of the flexibility and capabilities of installed production machines in cooperation with their human operators.

The industrial production of many products poses numerous problems for industrial automation, especially if robots are to be used. Basically, these problems arise as a result of the characteristics of the production pieces, e.g., non-flat objects with high reflective surfaces, those very difficult to grasp and handle due to external configuration, heavy or fragile objects, pieces with extensive surfaces sensitive to damage, pieces with high demand for surface smoothness quality, etc. Additionally, production setups for these types of products require high quality and low cycle times, since large scale industries must maintain high production rates to remain competitive. Another restriction relates to the fact that most industries change products frequently due to fashion tendencies, competition, etc. Lastly, there is the already mentioned mixture of automatic and human labour production, which poses a difficult problem since HMI are very demanding and a key issue in modern industrial automation systems.

Robotics and industrial software are the keys to solving these problems.

Authored by J. Norberto Pires, Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Coimbra, Portugal.
Original article published 19 August 2005.  Used with permission.

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