New approach to Remote Robot Monitoring and Control transforms metalworking and fabrication applications

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The benefits of remote monitoring and control software include being able to restart production faster when failures occur, gaining access to robotics experts more quickly, and reducing troubleshooting costs. PHOTO Olis Robotics.

By Fredrik Ryden

Metalworking facilities are finely tuned operations that incorporate advanced technologies from CNC machines to industrial automation. Robots perform a wide range of crucial tasks from welding to machine tending and finishing, which enables metalworking shops to address labor shortages, improve consistency, and operate 24/7. 

It all works great until a robot cell fails in the middle of production, bringing output to a halt. For large automotive makers, every hour of downtime can cost millions of dollars. For SMEs, including metalworking shops, the costs can be measured in thousands -and tens of thousands- of dollars. For companies of all sizes, downtime is a disaster. 

Waiting for an expert to get onsite, diagnose the problem, and fix it can take days or weeks, even when the technical fix required is relatively small, such as simply adjusting a gripper to release a part and restarting the cell. 

The time and costs involved are a source of frustration for robot integrators too. Having to travel onsite adds costs and limits their ability to take on new business, especially when there is a shortage of robot integrators to manage all the robots used in metalworking shops. 

Remote Monitoring & Control 
One of the tools in the battle against downtime is remote monitoring. Social distancing restrictions implemented at the height of the Covid pandemic created a surge of interest in remote monitoring and control solutions for automation. The benefits of remote monitoring and control software include being able to restart production faster when failures occur, gaining access to robotics experts more quickly, and reducing troubleshooting costs. 

The global market for remote monitoring and control systems was estimated at US$23 billion in 2020. By 2026, it’s expected to reach US$31.7 billion at a CAGR of 5.4%. 

Not all remote monitoring and control systems are the same, however. Most provide a layer of analytics capabilities that allow companies to tweak their automation for better performance, using KPIs such as overall equipment effectiveness. Some systems provide only this remote monitoring functionality, which means that it will send out an alert when an automation cell fails, but it doesn’t bring integrators any closer to solving the problem.  

Meanwhile, technologies that enable computers to take remote control of robotic systems have been around for decades, but adoption has been muted due to the costs and complexities involved. Moreover, the idea of including a human in the loop when it comes to remote robot control has given rise to cybersecurity and safety concerns. 

Cybersecurity and Physical Safety 
Recognizing manufacturing companies’ fear of downtime, the sector has emerged as the number one target for cyberattacks, according to the IBM Security X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2023. In 2022, 30% of all cyber-extortion attacks were aimed at manufacturers, with ransomware accounting for 17% of the total and phishing being identified in 41% of incidents. In such an environment, metalworking companies are understandably reluctant to incorporate technologies that can potentially introduce additional cybersecurity risks. 

Similarly, allowing humans to remotely control robots has traditionally raised physical safety concerns: What if the remote operator sends an instruction that overrides onsite robot safety limits, damaging property or persons in the process?  

New Approach 
The recent emergence of a new human-centered remote monitoring and control system for industrial robots addresses these issues and provides a fresh take on remote robot connectivity and control. 

Consisting of several USB or IP cameras, a compute box, and software, the new, plug-and-play solution provides 24/7 low latency video and data access to any robot cell. As soon as secure remote access has been configured in a browser, automation can be monitored and managed remotely from any location and via any browser-capable device. When a robot error occurs, the system sends out an alert via secure connection, completely avoiding the cloud in the process. With video of the failure available, integrators and other technicians have the facts they need to quickly diagnose and fix robot issues. 

This new approach allows humans to safely control the robot because it’s designed to strictly prevent remote operators from violating the robot’s existing safety permissions and restrictions. Velocity, acceleration, and joint limit settings on the robot are always obeyed. 

Having a human remotely monitor and control your robot, it turns out, no longer has to be a cybersecurity or physical safety risk – leaving metalworking facilities free to enjoy all the cost-saving and productivity benefits of remote robot operation. SMT

Fredrik Ryden is the CEO of Olis Robotics.

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