What is offline robot programming?


Written by

Robert Graham

Robotic welding has a lot of advantages. But there is one potential downside that may make manufacturers think twice about moving forward with it. And that’s programming. 

Robots run automatically, following pre-programmed instructions. But most welding robots have to be shut down in order to be programmed on-line. This task is done on the robot cell, typically through a handheld, remote “teach pendant” device. 

Robot from Valk WeldingRobot from Valk Welding using offline programming

Depending on how often you need to change your robotic welding programs, this can result in a lot of downtime, usually days or even weeks. Also, it’s not uncommon to have robots from a variety of manufacturers on-site, each of which might need to be programmed in a slightly different way. It’s easy to see how all this extra work can eat into your expected productivity gains with robotic welding. 

That’s where offline robot programming comes in. Offline programming software, also called OLP, for robots allows manufacturers to write new programs in a separate application, or “offline.”  

Basically, the OLP software uses 3D CAD simulation to help the programmer create and evaluate the robot’s new welding movements. There is usually still an element of fine-tuning needed in the welding cell, but most troubleshooting – including collision detection – can be done offline as well. 

Manufacturers using OLP software can be confident the robot will perform as expected when the new program is uploaded. Best of all, the changeover from the old program to the new one happens without any excess downtime.  

What are the advantages of offline robot programming? 

The biggest advantage of offline robot programming is the time savings. Whether you’re installing a new robot or switching an existing robot to a new task, offline robot programming software allows this process to happen much faster. 

Less downtime for the robot means more uptime for your manufacturing line. In fact, you can use OLP to switch back and forth between two programs—such as programs for two different parts—enabling you to have a higher mix of jobs and transition more efficiently. 

Safety is another advantage of OLP. Some robotic welding applications may pose safety risks or create access issues if programming has to be done directly on the cell. But OLP can be done remotely through a laptop, without the need for a teach pendant. 

For manufacturers with multiple robot brands in house, OLP software has another advantage in that it is typically robot agnostic. In other words, you can use the same OLP environment to write programs and communicate with all of the robots in your factory.  

Are there any disadvantages to offline robot programming?

Offline robot programming software isn’t a perfect solution. The software can require significant expertise to use. That means manufacturers may need to hire OLP specialists who understand how to get the most out of the technology. 

As with any software application, technical support can be an issue. Manufacturers can’t afford downtime, so if an issue with the OLP software does crop up it needs to be resolved immediately. Not all OLP providers offer the same level of support, so this should be checked in advance.  

OLP software also suffers from a lack of sophistication. It's been around for 20 years or more, and its general workflow has remained unchanged. Unfortunately, this means programmers often have to use trial and error to find the most efficient movements for a new welding task. Each movement must be evaluated individually, one at a time, instead of systematically. This is not only tedious, but inefficient. 

What are the alternatives to offline robot programming? 

Oqton offers a different approach to robotic welding programming that leverages the power of its Manufacturing Operating System for Robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Together, these technologies allow the Oqton solution to suggest optimal welding parameters automatically becoming Automated Robotic Programming (ARP) 

This approach takes the concept of offline robot programming and augments it with AI to eliminate the “trial and error” aspect of conventional OLP.  

So what does that look like?  

The user uploads a CAD file of the part, then the Oqton software automatically suggests potential weld lines, generates collision-free robot motions, and applies optimal process parameters. All of this happens in just a quarter of the time taken using other programming software. At this point, the programmer can use their own expertise and experience to make any necessary adjustments. 

Offline robot programming

Oqton automated offline programming software in action  

It's important to note that the Oqton interface is built for welders, not programmers. That means it does not require any special knowledge about 3D geometry or programming and puts the welder in control of the weld. Over time the intelligent software learns a welder’s preferences and uses this to make more accurate suggestions to the weld lines and parameters.  

Like many robot programming software tools, Oqton’s solution is robot-agnostic and can create programs for welding robots and cobots from a wide range of brands. 

Most importantly, the combination of automation and overall simplicity makes it cost-efficient to run very small volumes or even batches of one. For manufacturers that thrive on high-mix, low-volume production, this kind of automated programming can deliver a significant competitive advantage. 

Explore the power of automated programming 

See how AI technology can automate the programming process and bring a new level of efficiency to your robotic welding operation.