What is an industrial robot controller?

June 4, 2024
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Industrial robot controller Explained

A robot controller is the "brain" of an industrial robot. It controls the robot's movements and allows it to function. Without a controller, a robot is just a hunk of metal that can't do much of anything.

How does the controller function? 

  • It receives instructions from a program or console and then translates that into the precise movements of the robot's joints and actuators.
  • The controller monitors feedback from the robot to ensure accurate positioning and movement.
  • It also handles emergency stops and safety mechanisms to avoid collisions or harm.

Key functions of an industrial robot controller

As the operator, the main functions you need to know are:

  • Programming: You'll program the controller with the robot's range of motion and task sequence. Whether it's welding, painting, or assembly, you determine the precise movements and timings.
  • Memory storage: The controller stores all programming for the robot's various tasks. It can then retrieve and execute programs on demand or in a predetermined sequence.
  • Motion control: The controller takes the programmed data and translates it into the precise movements and speeds required for the robot to perform its tasks. It controls the torque, velocity, and positioning of the robot arm.
  • Safety: Most controllers have built-in safety mechanisms to avoid collisions and errors. This includes powering down the robot if it encounters an obstacle or goes out of programmed range. 
  • Feedback: Sensors provide feedback to the controller about the robot's position and status. The controller then makes any necessary adjustments to guarantee smooth, accurate motion and task execution.
  • Communication: The controller can interface with other systems in an automated production line or manufacturing cell. It can receive start/stop signals and send status updates to keep the entire system running efficiently.

How robot controllers interface with robotic systems

Here’s how the controller interfaces with robotic systems: 

The controls

  • The controller sends signals to motors and actuators that physically move the robot.
  • It controls the speed, force, and range of motion for each joint and limb.

The feeling capabilities 

  • Controllers receive input from sensors that detect the robot’s environment.
  • Vision systems, proximity sensors, and tactile sensors feed information to the controller.
  • The controller then determines how the robot should respond based on its programming.

The programming side

  • Controllers run software that determines the robot’s behavior and actions.
  • Programmers write code to instruct the controller on how to operate the robot for specific tasks.
  • The controller translates the code into signals that the mechanical components can understand.

Programming and operation of robot controllers

Programming involves choosing what actions the robot will do and in what order. You can program the robot to do simple tasks or much more complex sequences of movements.

The robot controller also allows manual operation of the robot using a teach pendant — a handheld control device. With the teach pendant, you can manually move the robot into specific positions, and the robot records these movements to create a program it then stores as a line of code. 

Some cutting-edge robots have no-code frameworks that don’t require any programming knowledge whatsoever.

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Benefits of using robot controllers

Using a robot controller has some obvious benefits for manufacturers:

  • Cost-effective: Robot controllers automate processes, reducing the need for human workers. This cuts down on labor costs and increases productivity.
  • Superhuman precision and consistency: Robots perform repetitive tasks over and over with near-zero drops off in precision. They don’t get tired or bored or distracted, so they produce consistent results every time. Of course, this is as long as the robot is well-maintained, calibrated, and used according to its original specifications. 
  • Flexible: Although robots are programmed to perform specific tasks, robot controllers can be reprogrammed as needed to adapt to changes in the manufacturing process or production line. They can even work in dangerous areas! 
  • Scalable: You can add as many robots and controllers as needed to meet increased demand or higher output targets. More robots and controllers allow a manufacturing system to produce goods at a much higher volume — and faster rate. 

Challenges that may come up

Several issues could rear their ugly heads when programming a robotic controller. 


The robot controller has to work with your specific robot model and software. If it’s not compatible, then the robot won’t respond to commands from the controller. Double-check that the controller will interface properly with your robot before purchasing. Verify the software version requirements and that communication protocols match electrical interfaces.

Complex programming

Robot controllers allow you to program sophisticated movements and operations, but that also means the programming can get too complex for comfort. 

If you’re not experienced with robotics, the learning curve could be steep. Give some thought to hiring a robotics expert to help develop programs for your needs.

Safety risks

Industrial robots can be dangerous if not properly programmed and controlled. Make sure to implement safety measures like emergency stop buttons, restricted access areas, and protective barriers. 

Always test programs in a controlled setting before running the robot on the production floor. Safety should be a priority when working with industrial robotics. These are not toys. 

Applications of robot controllers in different industries

Robot controllers are very common across a wide range of industries: 

Car manufacturing

Auto manufacturing relies heavily on robot controllers: Robots handle dangerous and repetitive tasks like welding, painting, and assembly with precision. Robot controllers direct the arms to grip parts, move them into position, and perform actions.

High-quality food and drink production

Food and beverage companies use robot controllers for packaging: Robot arms pick up items from conveyor belts and stack them onto pallets. They move heavy sacks and bottles quickly and efficiently.

Pharmaceutical efficiency

Pharmaceutical companies use robot controllers to handle delicate materials: Robots can fill vials and syringes with extremely precise volumes of liquid under sterile conditions. They can also move materials in and out of clean rooms without contaminating the environment.

Bigger, better, faster warehousing

Warehouses use robot controllers to quickly move inventory around: For instance, mobile robots transport pallets and cases through warehouses. Robotic arms lift and organize goods for shipping and storage.

Summing up

In short, an industrial robot controller acts as the brains behind modern automation and makes your factories run 10x more efficiently.  

Controllers turn code into motion so robots can weld, paint, assemble, and more. But they need skilled teams behind them. With the right people, controllers enable automated factories that make modern-day manufacturing a force to be reckoned with. 

Next steps

Meet RO1 by Standard Bots, the state-of-the-art six-axis robotic arm, engineered for shop floors big and small. 

  • Budget-friendly brilliance: Get top-tier automation without breaking the bank — RO1 delivers incredible value at half the cost of similar models.
  • Speed, precision, and power: Experience lightning-fast operation, laser-focused accuracy, and an industry-leading 18 kg payload capacity to effortlessly handle your most demanding tasks.
  • Adapts and learns with you: Equipped with advanced AI on par with GPT-4, RO1 continuously evolves, ensuring its skills remain perfectly aligned with your growing business needs.
  • No programming skills required. With its revolutionary no-code framework, RO1 helps you access top-tier automation without needing an expensive team of programmers standing by. 
  • Safety is non-negotiable: RO1 seamlessly integrates with your team, prioritizing safety through state-of-the-art machine vision and cutting-edge sensors.

Reach out to us and schedule your free 30-day trial. We'll even provide expert guidance to help you smoothly integrate your first robot into your operations.

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