Universal Robots Now Supports Industry-Standard OPC UA ProtocolJune 26, 2020 by Akshay Kumar
Universal Robots provides UR+, a huge ecosystem of certified application kits and solutions integrated with their own robots.
Several independent developers and robotic application development companies contribute to this ecosystem by developing generic solutions for industrial applications and UR approves it for the general users. This has been a huge success for UR to commercialize and enhances the viability of their robots in different applications.
Among the several useful tools of the UR+ system, the Open Platforms Communication United Architecture (OPC UA) support allows the UR robots to interface with several compatible devices in the industry.
Universal Robots Plus
Universal Robots manufactures a huge variety of collaborative robots with different payloads and reach. UR3, UR5, UR10, and UR16 with payloads of 3, 5, 10, and 16 kilograms respectively are the most prominent robots it sells and has sold over 44,000 different units.
ActiNav Autonomous Motion Module (AMM) for autonomous bin picking. Image courtesy of Universal Robots.
The Versabuilt CNC Mill Application Kit. Image courtesy of Universal Robots.
Cobot Welding Application. Image courtesy of Universal Robots.
The UR+ ecosystem has application kits for various industrial tasks like dispensing, machine tending, automated bin-picking, assembly, quality inspection, and welding. The ecosystem also has various components like different end-of-arm-tools (EOATs) like electric and pneumatic grippers, computer vision solutions, and planning and simulation solutions for automated robot operation.
Open Platform Communication (OPC) UA Protocol
There are several industrial communication protocols like Ethercat, CAN, Modbus, and Profinet. OPC UA is a protocol for machine-to-machine as well as machine-to-computer communication for automation applications.
An illustration of machines and control centers work together. Image courtesy of Rocketfarm.
The protocol uses low compute resources, has the least latency, and uses a single TCP port for easy firewall handling or communication easing tunneling. It has garnered a lot of interest and attention as Industry 4.0 approaches. The protocol is meant to facilitate the seamless flow of data from the production environment to monitoring or business management layers of the industry. It is the protocol truly meant to move data around different sections of an industrial process navigating through firewalls, specialized platforms, and security barriers.
OPC UA Support in UR+ Ecosystem
The Norway-based company, Rocketfarm, developed an application that helps robots from Universal Robots to support OPC UA communication protocol. The company initially developed the solution for a local factory and with gradual improvements to make the support compliant with the industry standards with security features, they recently opened for the public. The company certifies hardware and software from the company to be readily available in the UR+ ecosystem. With Universal Robots’ approval, it is now available through the UR+ developer network.
OPC UA CLIENT/SERVER. Image courtesy of UR Website.
The support for UR robots is called OPC UA URCap, and can be obtained through Rocketfarm. It can be used to convert any information from the UR robots to OPC UA compatible information. This protocol can be configured in the server as well as client mode to move the robot information around to the control center or elsewhere.
Technical Details of OPC UA URCap
URCap is completely customizable and makes all UR robot parameters accessible and easily integrable. It enables the UR robots to accept different variables from multiple OPC UA devices by reducing the complexity and compatibility issues. The application can be configured as a server or a client. It can set up robot communication with the network using secure channels with encryption, authentication, and certificates. OPC UA URCap is compatible with all UR collaborative robots and software versions CB-series and E-series.
Rocketfarm offers a 30-day free trial for URCap which can be licensed through the company or UR+. It is currently priced at €990 per robot for a one-time license. Since it has been launched so recently, the robotics and automation community is yet to vet the product, its commercial viability, and ROI.