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Robotics or Motion Control? Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

Robotics or Motion Control? 10 Questions to Help Decide

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


Before deciding to install a robot or go with motion control components for your applic­ation, these are 10 questions to ask yourself.


1. Does a box-like or cylind­er-like shape fit your work area/ applic­ation better?
Robots tend to be centered around a base, giving them a cylind­rical or ball-like work envelope. Cartesian “robots” that break this mold do exist but they are in the minority. While genera­l-p­urpose motion contro­llers can be used for robots, they lean more towards modular and linear mechanics that result in XYZ box-like work envelopes, with the rotary axes being moved instead of statio­nary.

2. Does the solution need to satisfy multiple projects with highly different mechanical requir­ements?
Robots come in many shapes, sizes, and form factors. The controls can be signif­icantly different from project to project. Modular mechanics are great for mixing and matching axes to optimize perfor­mance for the given requir­ements, because motion contro­llers are well-s­uited for contro­lling many different types of axes.

3. Will you repurpose and reuse the equipment?
If your design happens to be a short-term project or a prototype, then having the flexib­ility of interc­han­geable, modular mechanics that can be swapped in and out can be a huge benefit. Singular pieces of motion control elements are easier to transfer among projects than fully-­ass­embled robotic elements.

4. Do the mechanics need to fit in a specific geometry?
With a project that is confined to specific dimens­ions, modular mechanics are more flexible to different combin­ations and custom­iza­tion. Robot types like Cartesian, six-axis and select­ive­-co­mpl­ian­ce-­art­icu­lated robot arms (SCARAs) are better suited for projects that have a more generic size and space to work within.

5. Do you have highly different requir­ements for the different directions of motion?
Sometimes the needs of the various axes of motion in a project are vastly different. For example, in an XYZ system, X may require fast and inaccurate motions, Y may require slow and highly accurate motions, and Z may not have requir­ements for either but focus on force alone. Modular solutions can come with config­urable and adaptable components to fit these requir­ements.

Questions 6 -10

6. Do you have a specific type of progra­mming language, form-f­actor or archit­ecture that you want to employ?
Genera­l-p­urpose motion contro­llers come with a dizzying array of capabi­lities, giving an almost unlimited selection of languages, form-f­actors and archit­ectures to choose from. The design of robot contro­llers tend to be more focused on the purpose of the robots they are paired with, simpli­fying the process of choosing one.

7. How many axes of motion are required for your applic­ation?
It is common to see robots with six degrees of freedom that allow them a wide range of motion. If you have an applic­ation that will require the use of those six degrees of freedom, robotic control is probably the better option. Designing a system of modular mechanics to use the same DoF as the robot is possible, but can be a challenge.

8. Will you ever want to add on more axes to increase functi­ona­lity?
Once you’ve implem­ented the robot, will you ever want to add on an extra axis or two? Robots are pre-en­gin­eered systems that do not offer much flexib­ility for adding on more axes later. Modular motion control, on the other hand, make that much easier to do. For example, an engineer could purchase an 8-axis controller and just two axes of mechanics. Later on, more axes could be added and later still, additional axes could be implem­ented again.

9. Are any other higher­-level functions required beyond the motion?
The implem­ent­ation of other important factors such as machine control, remote I/O and data collection should all be taken into consid­eration when designing for your process. Many motion contro­llers have the ability to become “machine” contro­llers, which means they have the capabi­lities and processing power to handle more than just the motion control at the heart of the applic­ation.

10. What are the enviro­nmental concerns?
Robots are easier to protect in extreme enviro­nments. Some even come predes­igned for specific requir­ements, like IP69K. While not impossible with modular mechanics, there are numerous hurdles to overcome if they will be exposed to harsh enviro­nments.