What is Robot Offline Programming?

Offline Programming (OLP) is a method of generating robot programs in computer software based on 3D CAD data, independently of the actual robot cell. Once the robot program is generated and verified in the software, it can be downloaded to the physical robot for execution.

OLP allows robot tasks to be designed, simulated and optimized in a virtual environment. This is critical for pre-planning complex robot operations, ensuring efficiency and mitigating risk. Manufacturers using OLP software have reported an 80% reduction in robot programming time and a 95% increase in robot utilization.

Why use OLP?

OLP supports efficient robot and production operations and Design for Manufacturability (DFM).

Minimize Robot Downtime

Programming time can be reduced up to 80% and robot utilization increased by as much as 95%, boosting programmer productivity and cutting cell downtime. This is achieved through offline programming while machines are operational, ensuring continuous production.

Quick Set-Up Times

Less time is needed to launch a new product into production – programming happens concurrently rather than sequentially. This parallel approach enables faster response to market demands and reduces time to market.

Enhanced Workplace Safety

By minimizing direct human-robot interaction, OLP reduces the likelihood of accidents and injuries.

Consistent High-Quality Outputs

OLP ensures that products are made to the highest standards of quality consistently by optimizing robot movements and processes for peak efficiency and precision.

Compatibility With Different Robots and Processes

Advanced OLP solutions (such as Visual Components OLP software) are designed to be universally compatible with all robot brands and manufacturing processes.

Avoid Rework and Delays

OLP eliminates last-minute modifications to fixtures and tooling, ensuring a smooth production process without unexpected delays. You can thoroughly test and adjust virtual models of the production setup well in advance of actual production.

Why use OLP instead of manual programming?

Imagine programming a robot to weld a circular part on a metal workpiece. The robot needs to move the welding torch in a 3D arc around the circumference of the part, and at the same time maintain a precise orientation with respect to the surface.

You can do this by teaching points with a pendant, but you’ll need a lot of points, and it will take a long time. The gap between the torch will almost certainly vary, as will the orientation of the torch. What’s more, the robot cell won’t be available for production until you’ve finished programming. This stoppage might take from days to weeks.

With OLP, producing the robot program is much easier. Import a CAD file of the welding cell into the OLP software and show the path you want the torch to take. Once finished, the software generates the robot program and verifies the program for potential reachability and collision issues. Once verified, download the program into the robot controller, run once at a low speed to double check, and the cell is ready to resume work.

Today, there are two types of OLP. Most robot manufacturers offer a brand-specific programming package in addition to a teach pendant. The alternative option is an OLP product from an independent source. This has the advantage of being agnostic to the brand of the robot being programmed.

Is OLP accurate?

The effectiveness of OLP depends on how accurately the CAD model represents the work cell. To capture the real layout of the cell, not just what’s represented in CAD, users must perform a process known as robot cell calibration. This involves:

  1. Measuring a set of reference points within the cell.
  2. Recording the actual position of the robot’s Tool Center Point (TCP) and the locations of periphery equipment in OLP.
  3. Running specific calibration programs to align the model with the actual cell, perfecting the digital twin.

Measurements can be taken with the robot itself or with external devices such as 3D laser scanners.

What are the common misconceptions about OLP?

#1: OLP is only for large manufacturers

This stems from the assumption that high production volumes are needed to benefit from OLP. The reality is a slightly different story. OLP is especially beneficial when the production runs are short, setups or changeovers are frequent, and there’s a lot of variety in the tasks. Small and mid-sized manufacturers can greatly benefit from OLP if they are running small-batch production.

#2: OLP is difficult to use

Like any software, OLP requires some training and has a learning curve. Plus, there are probably some OLP products that are not particularly user-friendly. The best products though are intuitive, logical, and easy to use, letting novice users quickly become proficient. Furthermore, don’t underestimate the complexity of programming by robot teach pendant. Different robot brands have different commands and then additionally the systems can change from older to newer robot models. This makes it even more complicated to use manual programming.

#3: OLP is expensive

An OLP product is an additional purchase. However, it only needs buying once and can support whatever brands of robot a facility uses. (This also helps a facility avoid being locked into a single robot vendor.) OLP users report improved ROI from their robot cells, as downtime is reduced, and robot utilization increased. There’s evidence it can cut robot downtime due to programming by as much as 90% and can pay for itself on a single project.

#4: OLP eliminates the need for skilled programmers

OLP software speeds up program creation, reducing the time required for programming, but it does not eliminate the need for skilled programmers. Path planning and optimization, collision avoidance, and so on are all best done by an experienced programmer. However, OLP software can make them more productive, giving them time to work on more complex programming tasks and innovate in a safer work environment.

What are the best OLP use cases?

1. Welding

Access and orientation are particular challenges that OLP helps with, and complex weld beads can require large numbers of points.

2. Processing (Surface)

Applications like bead blasting and deburring often need long, complicated paths that require a lot of points.

3. Coating (Painting)

As with welding, orientation is important, and so too are unified paint thickness and standoff distance, plus ensuring all areas can be reached and painted optimally.

4. Assembly applications (jigless)

Grasping and insertion-type moves need precise control over gripper orientation, which is achieved at a higher level with OLP.

5. Cutting

Plasma or laser cutting or waterjet cutting may work for standard parts but for complex geometries, robots are needed with accurate cutting patterns that can be generated with OLP.

6. Dispensing

Many assembly operations require the deposition of long, complex adhesive beads: OLP helps to create the tool paths rapidly offline with consistent quality.

Robot Brand and Process Independent

We wanted the best technical solution and software that is compatible with as many robot brands as possible.

Erik Åstrand

Welding Optimization Specialist, Volvo CE

The biggest benefit is time-saving as programming can be done without stopping production and expensive machines. Offline programming also solves the problem if the welded piece is large or located in a place where it is difficult or unsafe to climb.

Janne Tuominen

Product Development Manager, HT Laser

Before, we had to make the necessary adjustments during the weekend before the production continued on Monday. Instead of the ten days that programming previously took, now the programming can be completed in just one day.

Asko Haataja

Head of Robotics Team, Ponsse

One of our fixtures would have taken a full 13 hours of programming to be ready for fabrication but with the software we can be up and running within 3 hours. That gives you a small glimpse into the labor saved not to mention the efficiency of how the program then runs.

Derrick Yoder

Aluminum Production Manager, Berlin Gardens

Our manual programming man work hours have been reduced by 80% and programming time reduced by 60%, we have increased our output of 8 bins a day to between 16 and 20 bins a day.

Gerhard van der Walt

Continuous Improvement Manager, Afrit

Without Visual Components OLP, we wouldn’t consider it to be efficient enough with the robot if we were to program it by hand on the controller.

D’Angelo Michael

Strategic Welding Solutions Manager, Bunorm Maschinenbau

Ready to unlock robot and production efficiency?

See for yourself how Visual Components OLP solutions can help you minimize robot downtime and maximize production output!