Home Office for Robot Operators?

How shopfloor staff can work remote

Published 05/25/2020

Challenges open up unexpected opportunities. In the field of digital factory and robot software, many things in planning and engineering can already be done remotely and offline. But for those who are responsible for production execution, home office is almost impossible. Not at all? Well, disruptive times are also forcing us to take previously unimagined steps and work methods. This might open up our mind to envision new opportunities.

Home Office for Robot Operators?

White collars vs. blue collars?

We all experience disruptive times these days. Physical distancing and working from home is forcing us to change the way we work in a much faster way than we’ve ever imagined.

Of course there are many jobs that can easily be switched from office work to smart work. I can even imagine that we now experience a more efficient way of working in some areas. This is because you miss out on the permanent disturbance from your co-workers, you can better focus on your actual project. Also the team communication can be improved and democratized because you automatically involve more people into web conferences that you have left out in previous times when many things were informally discussed in inner circles during lunch breaks or at the coffee machine.

A bright new future for everyone? Smart working, agile networks everywhere? It might be partially true for the white collar workers, but what about the shop floor managers and robot operators? Reality is: there are many things you cannot do in your home office; building cars and airplanes, assembling machines and automation cells, maintenance services on production equipment, commissioning of new products and start of production.

But yet, in disruptive times like these, some things are possible that we couldn’t imagine before. Let me give you some examples from my perspective, working in the area of digital factory solutions and robotics simulation software.

Software evaluation – remotely

Testing and exploring new software solutions is a very obvious step. It might be that you were always thinking about using robot simulation software for process validation, for offline-programming and to support process commissioning tasks, but you’ve never had the time to carefully test and select the right software solution?

No matter if it is about a major software upgrade, about an extension of existing solutions including additional processes and robot cells, or about a completely new software installation; we have proven concepts at hand, which we can provide to you remotely, with a comprehensive test installation and all required support.

If you are curious: we will provide you with a FASTSUITE software installation and with a self-learn tutorial to get yourself acquainted with the functionality of the product. Then, we will set up a web session to help you install the software and license correctly, and we will also explain the tutorial concept for you to get started. The tutorial comes along with step-by-step instructions and self-explanatory exercises that can be directly recaptured by using training data. Then, in order to support your learning progress, we will arrange regular review sessions in which we can explain some aspects in more detail, or help you transfer the skills from sample parts into your real project data.

Even though we were always convinced that there is nothing better than a face-to-face training session, we are very much surprised how smoothly this remote learning works – even for complex robot functions and operations.

OLP implementation and robot cell calibration – remotely

A key factor for successful OLP integrations is a perfect match between the real robot cell and the virtual twin. Usually, our engineers show up on-site at customer installations to capture the robot cell layout, to design the virtual model and - last but not least - to carefully calibrate the base frames and reference objects, especially when external axis and positioners are involved.

Again, this is a typical activity that was only possible by going on-site, but to our surprise even this can be done remotely by using the tools that we all already have in our pockets. One of our engineers just recently told me that we have done a full robot cell calibration and commissioning project remotely, and only with a smartphone and a webcam as communication tools. The robot operator has simply shared the teach pendant via webcam, so we could directly see the base frame coordinates and all other information that we needed to adjust the virtual robot cell model, and we could see his every move as if we were right there next to him. The result: we could build the robot cell layout in our home office from start to finish, and we could customize the robot code output correctly, and last but not least, we have achieved a successful OLP implementation for a new robot cell.

Case studies - remotely

Being trapped in a home office situation also means less access to hardware and production equipment. Time to think about process improvements by using virtual equipment instead? It is a no-brainer that customers are using the robot simulation software to perform some robot cell design studies, to do reach studies, test and evaluate new automation concepts, and so on. Last but not least, the advantage of these virtual try-outs is that bad ideas can easily be discarded, while good ideas can be validated and brought to perfection with a few iteration steps.

Even if you are not yet using a simulation software, these case studies are possible. During the last weeks some of our customers have contacted us to support them with our own licenses, and we have done the simulation work as a service. Thanks to regular reviews via web-meeting, this kind of engineering work can be done very efficiently.

First steps towards virtual commissioning - remotely

Many robot manufacturers currently offer their teach-in software at no charge – why not use them as virtual controllers to take a first step into the area of virtual commissioning? Our FASTSUITE software provides standardized connectors to integrate the virtual controllers from many relevant robot manufacturers. The same applies to virtual PLC controllers. This enables you to build up a virtual robot cell or even a complete automation system, and to directly execute and validate the robot programs and PLC program definitions with this virtual cell.

Using the test licenses that are currently offered is a perfect opportunity to get a hands-on experience with virtual commissioning, and the benefits of a digital twin.

Maybe you have additional ideas on how to take advantage of this unexpected, unprecedented and most of all, disruptive time that we are all currently facing? Do you have a project in mind and want to get your free FASTSUITE test licenses to try it out? Feel free to contact me directly: jens.fetzer@cenit.com

This article was first published on the Linkedin Pulse blog of the author. 

Subscribe us now, let's keep in touch!