Robot integration ease of use a priority

The market for robots is growing rapidly. However, integrating them into the automation world can be very laborious and correspondingly slow. A new robot integration profile now provides a remedy.

By Xaver Schmidt August 22, 2022
Solution: A single manufacturer-independent library means programming the robot directly in the PLC. Courtesy: Profinet

Robotics Insights

  • Many companies are utilizing robot integration in their programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Researchers believe using a more automated process will reduce system complexity and system maintenance needs. With innovation, also comes new challenges. Integrating robots can be time-consuming, tedious and expensive.
  • A uniform interface gives manufacturers the ability to uniformly control and program robot systems through the integration and use of an integrated PLC. Programming a robot directly in the PLC is solution for future development and maintenance of a controller. A single robot library will enable engineers to access and control simple functions, and higher level functions that can be added later as needed.

New robot systems working group

Many medium-sized companies, whether in the food industry, the packaging industry or electronics suppliers, are increasingly turning to robot-assisted applications. However, there are some challenges to overcome when it comes to practical implementation. This is because every robot manufacturer today brings its own world of automation with it, including hardware and software, specific programming know-how, interfaces, controllers, operating devices, engineering systems, etc.

robot systems

Source: Profinet

The production line is typically controlled by a programmable logic controller (PLC), and the user programs the production line application via the PLC’s programming system. If a company wants to integrate a robot into a higher-level, mostly PLC-controlled process, this is often very tedious. Engineering and commissioning in particular are associated with a high level of complexity and a great deal of effort. The interface itself must first be defined, followed by the PLC program, and then the program must be integrated on the robot controller. The definition of the interfaces is not standardized and must therefore be created again and again. This work is time-consuming and is not the focus of a user.

Innovation shouldn’t slow down

problem robot integration

Problem: Different libraries for different manufacturers’ robots make integration extremely time consuming. Courtesy: Profinet

Even in later operation, the workload remains high: system maintenance, system updates, integration of a different type of robot and working with new manufacturers. To make matters worse, robot specialists are few and far between. Such work is usually outsourced to system integrators, which in turn means effort and expense. As a result, users of industrial robots usually have to decide early into which robot type and manufacturer they want to invest their effort. Innovative new solutions are therefore used less frequently.

Uniform interface for robots

There has long been a desire for users to be able to uniformly control and program the complete robot systems of different manufacturers integrated in a production line via the PLC programming system.

Leading robot manufacturers – ABB, Comau, Epson, Fanuc, Jaka, Kawasaki, Kuka, Nachi, Panasonic, Stäubli, TM Robot, Yamaha, Yaskawa – joined forces at the initiative of Siemens to develop a solution. Around 70 percent of the world’s robot manufacturers were on board. It took two years to find and develop the concept, which was anything but trivial. The engineering and the runtime systems in the respective robots were launched on the market decades ago in some cases and have been continuously developed over these years. To give one example: The same movements are currently represented differently in the engineering.

The joint work has paid off. A uniform data interface between the PLC and the robot controllers has been defined to make robot programming uniform – and thus more efficient – for PLC programmers and PLC suppliers. Via this data interface, robot programs can be written completely in the PLC by calling the robot functions and reporting the required robot state information back to the PLC. The development, elaboration and maintenance of the new data interface were placed in the hands of PI. For the development of this new robot profile, PI has set up a new “Robot Systems” working group and launched the “Standard Robot Command Interface.”

solution robot integration

Solution: A single manufacturer-independent library means programming the robot directly in the PLC. Courtesy: Profinet

On the robot side, the commands are converted into the local programming environment/language via the uniform interface. On the PLC side, templates or higher-level commands can also be created that combine several actions on the data interface.

A single robot library

Like other technologies, there will be different levels or classes in the robot interface. First, there will be a defined set of functions, which are necessary for simple functions. Higher-level functions can then be added as an option. However, the focus is still on handling functions. Functions such as jog mode, teaching of path points, creation and validation of a motion profile and changing configuration data are provided for this purpose. It is planned to integrate other applications in the future, such as those of welding robots.


Courtesy: Profinet

The PLC manufacturer only needs a single robot library that contains the function blocks for programming robots from different manufacturers. The robot manufacturer also only needs to implement a single interpreter for his robot control. Programming is carried out entirely by the PLC automation specialists.

Users and manufacturers are convinced that this will significantly reduce the complexity of service and maintenance in robot-based applications.

– Edited from a Profinet press release by Morgan Green, associate editor, CFE Media and Technology, Profinet is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Author Bio: Leader, PI “Industry 4.0” Working Group