Wireless operation of industrial robots

Wireless robotic control: Wireless mobile devices are being used for data access, programming, and live manipulation of industrial robotics. This includes mobile apps for supervision, programming, commissioning, and operation of robots.


Wireless mobile devices are being used for data access, programming, and live manipulation of industrial robots. The old phrase "this is not your father's (fill in noun)" has never been more relevant than it is now — especially when that noun is "robot." This is true across all robot-based platforms, from LEGO Mindstorms educational robots to heavy-duty industrial robotics.

Simulation software

Figure 1 shows alerts in mobile software for robotics. Central and key to wireless robotic functionality is ABB’s RobotStudio simulation software. Several mobile apps have been developed by ABB that allow supervision, programming, commissioning, and operaCentral and key to this functionality is robotic simulation software. Several mobile apps have been developed that allow supervision, programming, commissioning, and operation of robots. Four such apps to manage, jog, adjust, and tune are now available for download from the Microsoft Windows store, and all run on a Windows 8.1 tablet and an industrial touchscreen panel.

Numerous other advantages also come into play when considering Internet-based, or cloud, computing. One example is application developers will begin using a robotic software development kit (SDK) to build applications that address very specific needs within an operation. These applications can be posted in forums or in the Microsoft Windows Store, very similar to the way the Willow Garage project did with the Robotic Operating System (ROS) software. Program modules from libraries can be downloaded and integrated into an overall software project, potentially saving many thousands of dollars in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), interface graphic user interface (GUI), and robot application development.

Wireless safety concerns

Figure 2 shows work object definition via a wireless interface. Application developers can use ABB RobotStudio SDK (software development toolkit) to build applications that address very specific needs within an operation. For security, ABB handles these cOn the subject of wireless access and operation of industrial robots, safety concerns are always at the top of the list for users and robot OEMs alike. These can generally be boiled down to the inviolable concept of single point of control. Blindly allowing program alterations, whether stored in memory or in real time, to make their way to a robot for unapproved execution is unconscionable in robotics. One way to handle these concerns is through a series of "mastership" activities that prevent writing logic, positional data, or jogging the robot without approval by a human standing at the robot. But access to data is allowed freely unless security measures are activated.

Wireless programming

Wireless technology for programming automated manufacturing systems is in its pre-embryonic stage. The seed has been planted through technology open houses, exhibitions, and seminars, but considerable validation and nurturing of the technology and safety methodologies must be accomplished before mainstream use in a factory environment. However, smaller companies, especially those owned and operated by the up-and-coming Generation Y, will be seminal to the acceptance of the new wireless robot control paradigm.

Nicholas J. Hunt is manager, product technology and support, ABB Robotics North America. Courtesy: ABB- Nicholas J. Hunt is manager, product technology and support, ABB Robotics North America. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

Key concepts

  • Wireless mobile devices are being used for data access, programming, and live manipulation of industrial robotics.
  • Mobile apps allow supervision, programming, commissioning, and operation of robots. 
  • Development tools and online sharing will help with wider use of apps.

Consider this

What robotic functions would you be comfortable allowing wirelessly at this point? Continue the discussion with this article online.

ONLINE extra

See related robotic articles below.

See also www.controleng.com/robotics.

C.G. , FL, United States, 06/27/14 11:17 AM:

First off, you don't "operate" a robot the same way you "operate" a power tool. You can "interact" with robots. You can "collaborate" with them. But, to be a true robot, it's got to be autonomous, which means it operates itself. UAV "drones" are not really robots.

I'm working on a novel that explores what happens when bad guys hack into a robot's operating system and try to wrest control. Depending on how you program the robot in the first place, the outcome can be very different from controlling a drone, wirelessly or otherwise.
Paul , NH, United States, 06/27/14 01:13 PM:

This is scary... What about the E-Stop buttons that are on Robot Pendants now? Can't do that with wireless.
Mark , IL, United States, 10/09/14 04:38 PM:

Paul - Specialized wireless HMIs do offer e-stop functions. I've seen ones for general purposes, for robots, cranes, and even for out-of-cab control of locomotives with a "dead-man" switch in case the operator has a grabber or trips. As for an emergency stop linked to smart phone interface or tablet computer, every time I hear someone say, "That won't happen," it does. Yes, security is a concern, C.G., and I'm sure that's being addressed, as well.
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
2015 Top Plant: Phoenix Contact, Middletown, Pa.; 2015 Best Practices: Automation, Electrical Safety, Electrical Systems, Pneumatics, Material Handling, Mechanical Systems
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Migrating industrial networks; Tracking HMI advances; Making the right automation changes
Understanding transfer switch operation; Coordinating protective devices; Analyzing NEC 2014 changes; Cooling data centers
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.