Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg is a German mining and metallurgical academy, considered the oldest of its kind in the world. The academy supports students with a modern approach to resources and the environment, and conducts research for sustainable materials and energy management. It has large research facilities and many external sponsors and partners. It is a competent partner for industry in the area of developing new materials and manufacturing technologies. It makes important contributions to the optimization of existing materials and manufacturing technologies, enabling cost reductions and improved product quality. It supports industry development by providing experimental data and material models.
The client asked us to help with a project that is expected to revolutionize the metalworking industry. The goal of the project is a new way of processing metals without human intervention. The role of a "mechanical blacksmith" is to be performed by a system consisting of a robotic arm integrated with appropriate metallurgical equipment and tools. Control of this robotic-tool system will be realized by a novel system.
This is an academic project, carried out in cooperation with business. It was inspired by the needs of many companies that approached our client with specific needs for which there are no standard production technology solutions. The developed system is expected to allow more efficient implementation of such non-standard projects.
The university's students and staff began conceptual work on the system long before they contacted us. In the first stage, they developed command sets for each of the system's hardware components. This was to verify that with the defined set of commands it would be possible to communicate with and efficiently control individual devices. This allowed a preliminary assessment of the feasibility of the project. Then, based on the developed basic commands, a proprietary directing language was created: robotic arm, furnace, hydraulic presses, stepper motor scanner, thermal imaging cameras, 2D/3D profile scanners.
At this stage, the client asked us to help with the practical implementation of the developed control language and the necessary programming environment. The amount of programming work needed to develop the system required an experienced team of programmers.
The ImpiCode team began the work by identifying RoboDK, the official software of the robotic arm. RoboDK has an environment in which the researchers created programs responsible for, among other things, basic procedures such as opening/closing the furnace or moving the platform with scanners, which we then used in the code of the software under development.
Software-controlled devices are color-coded according to the key:
green color - frame,
brown color - fluid supply/discharge pipes,
blue color - power transmission,
pink color - the part that is very dangerous and can kill.
As a result of the work, the ImpiCode team has created software providing a development environment for the metalworking equipment system control language developed by the researchers.The result is a system in which human work is limited to providing high-level commands describing the desired transformations of the metal block being processed. The system itself determines, among other things, the appropriate way to coordinate all hardware components to effectively carry out the assumed modifications with established safety rules and full control by the operator. One of the key elements built into the system is the ability to stop the entire process in the event of a threat to the safety of the operator or a bystander. Another interesting functionality is the ability to acquire data during scanning to update the model of the solid being machined in real time.
The technology in which we realized the system was primarily Python. Certain modules of the whole system required the use of already existing components written in C++, so we additionally wrote a wrapper providing the functions contained in them. The biggest challenge we faced in the project was connecting all the processes together in such a way that the various devices were synchronized with each other.
Through the use of the software we realized, we were able to achieve the goal of creating an environment that would allow us to conduct automated transformations of an initial block of metal to a target part with specific characteristics. We are proud to have contributed to such an innovative solution for the industry. Technische Universität Bergakademie is very satisfied with the cooperation with ImpiCode and the solution received, as evidenced by the references provided.
The cooperation with ImpiCode was very professional and the programmers showed all competences needed in this challenging project. They have high qualifications, efficient management skills and good communication. ImpiCode is definitely a reliable partner who supported us with a programming solution in our specific development project.