KUKA Brings Ease and Familiarity of Windows to Industrial Robotics

Performance and Expansion beyond Basic Control Functions

KUKA Robot Group, the third largest robotics manufacturer worldwide, pioneered the concept of PC-based controllers for robotics in a digital factory and reduced costs of controllers by 50 percent. Manufacturing productivity is significantly enhanced in the digital factory because robots are connected to Manufacturing Execution Systems and line operators can easily control robots by interacting with the familiar Microsoft Windows graphical user interface. KUKA’s vision of the digital factory is made possible by Windows Embedded technology, which provides an expandable, standards-based operating system that is open to future development, easy and quick to localize for international markets, and connects to virtually any network.

Situation:

In 1996 KUKA revolutionized the world of robotics when it introduced the first PC-based controller using Microsoft Windows Embedded NT 4.0. Compared with the costly, inflexible, proprietary controllers being offered by competitors at the time, KUKA’s PC-based Windows controller cost half as much, was more expandable, and delivered higher levels of performance.

“Moving from a propriety operating system to Windows Embedded allowed us to leapfrog the market with the first PC-based system, saving customers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and equally as important, giving them an easier way to program visually and interface graphically with robots,” says Michael Otto, Director of Marketing and Product Management – Real Time Products, KUKA Roboter. 

Today, KUKA is one of the top three global suppliers of robot controllers. Its customers include automobile manufacturers such as Daimler, BMW, Ford, and VW-Audi, as well as leading electronics, medical technology, logistics, and entertainment companies. But most of KUKA’s competitors now offer PC-based robot controllers, so the company is always looking for ways to stay ahead of the pack as well as meet evolving customer needs and priorities.

“When we started development of our newest generation of controllers, the KR-C2, we wanted an operating system with powerful programming tools for creating network applications,” recalls Heinrich Munz, Senior Product Manager – Real Time Products, KUKA Roboter. “Other requirements included a visual user environment that is immediately familiar and recognizable to virtually anyone and the ability to remotely service and reprogram controllers over the Internet.”

Solution: 

For its latest KR-C2 PC-based controller, KUKA selected Windows Embedded Standard 2009, the next generation of Windows XP Embedded. Windows Embedded Standard enables embedded devices to run thousands of existing Windows applications and drivers, and includes support for advanced technologies like .NET Framework 3.5, Windows Communication Foundation, and Microsoft Remote Desktop (RDP 6.1).

Real-time computing requirements are handled by virtualization software technology developed by KUKA and Acontis, a Windows Embedded Partner and industrial automation and embedded technology developer in Germany.

“The OS image development process was smooth and took less time than anticipated thanks to the powerful set of Windows Embedded development tools,” Munz states. “The software development team’s favorite tools were Target Designer for getting the OS up and running on our target hardware system and Windows Debugger for building peripheral drivers.”

Benefits:

KUKA’s decision to base its newest generation of PC-based controllers on Windows Embedded Standard brings mainstream desktop computer technology to robot operators. 

“Our customers want to minimize operator training costs, so giving them the widely accepted Microsoft Windows desktop experience saves these companies time and money,” says Otto. “Plant operators are immediately productive because they already know Windows inside and out.”

Otto continued: “Using the rich application development environment, which includes .NET, Visual Studio, C++, and C#, we can build ready-made software packages that also boost productivity on the shop floor with highly visual on-screen tools and pre-defined forms for faster input of commands. Utilization of the Win32 API means that experienced software programmers are readily available to both KUKA and our customers who want to add their own applications to the controller.”

Windows Embedded technology ensures that the KR-C2 controller is compatible with customer computing environments.  The device seamlessly integrates with high-level control structures, such as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) running on Windows Server 2008 and Windows SQL Servers. The MES can control the robot, and the robot can communicate back with vital manufacturing data about production run rates, quality control issues, and more.

For KUKA, which has 35 subsidiaries around the world, language and localization support provides a time-to-market advantage and is a key benefit of Windows Embedded. “Using Windows Embedded makes it extremely easy to internationalize the software, helping us quickly open up new markets,” affirms Otto. “For example, it took just three weeks to convert the entire software system to the Russian language last year. The KR-C2 control panel now offers more than 10 languages that operators can select the one they need with a mouse click. ”

In sum, Windows Embedded Standard 2009 delivers the following benefits to KUKA KR-C2 customers:

  • Ease of use/familiarity of Windows interface
  • Powerful application development tools
  • Connectivity over TCP/IP using network protocols like Web Services, SMB and Telnet
  • Remote diagnostics and reprogramming via RDP 6.1
  • Seamless integration with multiple technologies

For more information about other Microsoft customer success, please visit:

www.microsoft.com/casestudies

www.microsoft.com/embedded