A base robot that costs less than a welder for a year would almost certainly have constraints on the number of applications it could serve. But for those applications where it fits, it would seem almost impossible to pass on, especially if it offers a long-reliable lifetime.
I like your "plant-as-a-video-game" image, Rob. This same trend has come into machine vision during the last few years. Development software for vision apps is usually sold with both types: a GUI and a "real" programmers' interface for writing your own code.
William, your description of programming robots by hand makes it sound excruciating, and even more demanding and tedious than coding a machine vision application. Although this package is for the low end of robotic welding applications and therefore would require simpler programming, as Chuck points out.
If anyone has any specific questions pertaining to robotic welding, programming or any other questions I am a robotic welding programmer for a large company in the Midwest. I use Panasonic, Fanuc, and ABB robots currently, and experience with Epson and Kawasaki material handling. Worked with Vision for a month, but do not have much knowledge on that other than all of the problems we had with it.
As to options for small companies who want to start up with a robotic department, a great solution is simple... BUY USED! Robot cells are like cars, as soon as they step off the car lot they lose half of their value. The robots I work with range from 2003 all the way back to 1993. The ABB was our oldest robot and ALL do what we want them to do. We actually just sold our ABB which I believe should be in a museum being that it was sooo old! To back up the programs I had to use Floppy disks! haha
I am leery of any software that claims to replace an experienced technician.
I have seen software that allowed a programmer to drive a CNC so hard that the tool melted the aluminum rather than cutting chips.
I also saw a CNC machine boring a 9/16' hole through a piece of 1/2" aluminum without a center drill or a pilot drill. An experienced tool maker or machinist would cringe at this description. I was called in because they wondered why the spindle bearings were sloppy.
And I have seen robotic welding applications programmed by 'computer geeks'.
Software cannot, in my experience, replace an experienced technician, but software can make an experienced technician more productive. It seems only a technician can appreciate the value of the skills of another technician.
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