Once motion control systems, robot systems, and logic control systems existed as if on two different planets. Technology developers slowly began integrating motion control into their PLC platforms until today no one would acquire a PLC that cannot integrate motion.

Several years ago Rockwell Automation announced a robot control platform integrated into its control platform. And ABB/B+R and several others. Many robot applications readily lend themselves to integration into overall machine control.

Samantha Mou writes for Interact Analysis, one of the few analyst firms I find interesting. Based in China, she has written a good piece about Siemens’ announcements around Hannover Messe.

Just before Hanover Messe, Siemens announced its cooperation with two collaborative robot vendors, UR and JAKA. This will enable Siemens PLCs to control robots from UR and JAKA through the TIA Portal using the ‘Standard Robot Command Interface (SRCI)’ function. Prior to this, Siemens was already working in cooperation with Comau, Stäubli, Kawasaki and Yaskawa in integrated robot control via SRCI. A series of other leading robot brands, such as ABB, KUKA, FANUC, Epson and Techman, are also scheduled to come on board, and some other well-known Japanese and Chinese suppliers are pending, including Yamaha and Estun.

This will mean that the most influential industrial robot and collaborative robot brands on the market will support integrated robot control, allowing their robots to be controlled by automation systems.

Currently, the integration of industrial or collaborative robots and machines generally uses communication networks. The robot and the machine utilize independent control platforms, and robot controllers are connected to the machine PLC via communication protocols to facilitate machine-robot coordination.

So, how do companies integrate the two?

The concept of machine-integrated robot control emerged in a bid to unify control of machines and robots. There are two main ways of doing this. One is to retain the robot-specific controller hardware. For example, Siemens’ method employs a PLC that supports SRCI functions to translate and merge the robots’ control instructions into the TIA Portal. This enables engineers to use Siemens’ development environment to control robots without using robot programming languages.

Another integration method is to eliminate the robot controller hardware and use an automation controller with motion control functions instead. Robot axes are regarded as components of the machine and can be controlled directly by the machine controller. Notable solutions using this method include Rockwell’s Unified Robot Control, B&R’s Machine-Centric Robotics, Schneider’s PacDrive, and Omron’s NJ501-R controller. In addition to robot mechanics coming from robot manufacturers, there are also many cases where machine builders or integrators build robot mechanics themselves.

Another example of labor shortage.

With the increasing adoption of robots and the continued shortage of experienced engineers, there is strong growth in the market’s interest in integrated robot control. Different types of relevant market players are trying to seize the opportunities and benefits offered by this technology.

You can read her complete analysis here.

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