When a plant experiences a downtime event, such as an outage in a robotic cell, the impact can be costly. An ability to provide rapid diagnostics in such situations is important to the process of making an accurate assessment of what caused the event and what the next move ought to be.
Decision-makers need tangible information before making a call on how to best manage the overall situation, argued Fredrik Ryden, CEO of Seattle-based Olis Robotics, which specializes in remote monitoring, control and error recovery technology for industrial robots.
“What they need are facts,” he said. “They need to know how bad the downtime event actually is so they can determine whether they need to send the whole shift home, or tell their trucks to turn around.”
There are benefits to giving experts, including the technician who installed the cell, remote access and an ability to view the cell. The plant benefits not only from their ability to assess what is went wrong, but also how long it might take to have the system up and running, said Ryden. They may even have insights into the lead time on parts needed. “If we can have facts faster, we can react faster,” said Ryden.
Remote Access Demo
In a live demonstration, Ryden shows how he can remotely access a working industrial robot and make adjustments.
The Olis’ plug & play device was installed at the demonstration facility and allows Ryden to securely access, monitor and manage the robot. Should a problem occur, an alert is sent to the user’s device via a secure connection without connecting to the cloud. The system is designed to give users remote access to perform error recovery actions, such as releasing the grip of a robot’s end-effector or repositioning the robot.
Typically, remote access can be via corporate VPN or an industrial router. During the interview, Ryden keyed the IP address and was immediately connected to a robotic cell located about 45 min. away from his office. He had full control of the demo program set up at a FANUC facility in Auburn, Wash.
The system allowed him to view the programs running on the robot and to switch between programs. “Maybe you have a diagnostics program that takes the gripper and pulls it up and shows it to the cameras,” said Ryden, by way of explanation. “Or we can stop and we can actually go in and take pure manual control.”
Ryden pointed out that the objective was not to habitually take over or intervene in the work of the robot. “We’re experts in remote controlling robots, and our job is to make sure that users remote control robots as little as possible,” he said. “But when you do, it needs to be secure from a cybersecurity standpoint and needs to be safe from a robot safety standpoint.”
Next, he teased the robot in a way that checked whether the safety systems were engaged. “If I were to violate a safety system by going outside of the zone where this robot is allowed to operate, the robot would shut off and I wouldn’t actually be able to restart it,” Ryden explained.
The safety protocols were designed to ensure that even in giving plants a very powerful remote capability, they would not be violating any safety regulations. Since the remote monitoring process remains compliant with existing safety regulations, the Olis module can be retrofitted, Ryden said.
The system works across robot brands. Olis Robotics currently provided support for robots from Universal Robots and FANUC, addressing about 20% of the operational stock of more than 3.5 million industrial robots deployed worldwide.
The company is adding support for additional robot brands representing more than half of all industrial robots. The funding will also help expand partnerships with robot system integrators in North America and develop new software products.