Robot simulation software has changed a lot from its early beginnings. And today, it changes even quicker than before. But at the same time, many robot software users are happy with what they have. And this is mainly because users don’t know the new system capabilities and features, or they do not see the potential of advanced simulation software. For me it is like 10 years ago, when no one has missed a smartphone before the first iPhone was there. But when it suddenly arrived, it came along with a disruptive impact on many mobile phone vendors. I am very confident that robot simulation software is also facing a radical change. It will not be a tool anymore to only validate and program robot cells. In fact it has the potential to cover the complete process chain in automation of both, system integrators and end users.
Let's look back at robot simulation software!
It is just a few years ago that customers have been very satisfied with checking the robot reachability and validating the tooling of an automation cell. With these early digital mockups, integrators could detect mechanical issues and hidden collisions before they finally started to build, assemble and online-teach the real robot cell. Today, many robot simulation tools provide additional functions for robot offline programming and dynamic simulation. Some vendors just provide generic “CAD to path” functions, while others even add specific process integration layers into this picture to better support the different application technologies. Arc welding or painting are good examples for that. With these additional features, robot software evolved from a validation tool to offline-programming and simulation.
What comes next for robot simulation software?
Surely we are now on the threshold of a next evolution that will come along with the so-called digital twin. This digital twin, one of the concepts of Industry 4.0, provides an exact virtual copy of a real robot cell, enhancing the geometrical models with signals, sensors and especially with behavior models.
In conjunction with scalable simulation models – from simple geometries in the beginning of a project to cyberphysical models at the end – it will drastically extend the scope and the benefit of robot simulation software tools. The same robot simulation tool will be applicable along the entire system integration process - from concept and validation, detailing and offline-programming down to virtual commissioning* and production launch. In a consequence, these tools also help to close the gaps between different disciplines: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and software engineering.
One example is the PLC programmer that will be able to validate motion controls and PLC controls against the very same digital robot cell that the mechanical engineer is using for programming and simulation. Of course, this applies not only to the robots itself but to the complete PLC-driven auxillary equipment, such as endeffectors, grippers, sensors etc. And this validation will be possible at quite early project stages, even while the real cell is still disassembled and not available yet for commissioning.
Another example is the shopfloor manager that can truly rely on accurate robot programs due to the fact that the robot and workcell simulation runs with exactly the same motions, parameters and behaviors like the real robot cell – independent from the robot software, and across all application technologies.
* In case you look for more information regarding virtual commissioning, here is an excellent definition that I found on the website of ISG, a company with a vast experience in this domain.
Let's embrace the new options!
My conclusion is: Like cell phones have been rapidly replaced by smart phones, we will quickly see a new generation of robot simulation software. Software solutions that fully incorporates the digital twin concept, and that provide a scalable simulation model – from a mechanical system description in early concept and validation phases down to mechatronic and cyberphysical models. To ensure the exact simulation behavior of all resources in your virtual world. To enable controller validation and virtual commissioning. To reduce or remove program dry-runs thru a further increased simulation reliability and accuracy. To integrate with projects around Industry 4.0. Classic robot simulation software tools are representing the 3rd industrial revolution - let's be prepared for the 4th step!
RIA Guest Blog written by Jens Fetzer at CENIT North America.