Industrial Robot Gets Open


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Oct 22, 2023

Industrial Robot Gets Open

Industrial robots are shockingly expensive when new, typically only affordable

Industrial robots are shockingly expensive when new, typically only affordable for those running factories of some sort. Once they’ve gone through their life cycle building widgets, they can be purchased for little more than scrap value, which is essentially free compared to their original sticker price. [Excessive Overkill] explains all of this in a video where he purchased one at this stage to try to revive, but it also shows us how to get some more life out of these robots if you can spend some time hunting for spare parts, installing open-source firmware, and also have the space for a robot that weighs well over a thousand kilograms.

This specific robot is a Fanuc R2000ia with six degrees of freedom and a reach of over two meters. Originally the plan was to patch together a system that could send modern gcode to the Fanuc controller, but this was eventually scrapped when [Excessive Overkill] realized the controller that shipped with this robot was for an entirely different machine and would never work. Attempts to find upgraded firmware were frustrated, and after a few other false starts a solution was found to get the robot working again using LinuxCNC and Mesa FPGA cards, which have built-in support for Fanuc devices like this.

More after the break…

After two years of trying various solutions to get the robot working properly, including suffering through the global chip shortage and trying to decode proprietary motor encoder information, [Excessive Overkill] has a fairly functional industrial-strength robot on his hands, albeit with a much slower speed than its original firmware supported. This isn't much of a problem, though, since it's not in an industrial setting anymore. There are some issues as well with the servo control and the PID settings, but this robot is still a work in progress. The hope is that eventually, the portable controller that was built for this robot would work on a large array of Fanuc robots. Building your own open-source controller has a number of benefits beyond getting old industrial robot arms back up and running too, like making sure to avoid a situation where an attacker has infiltrated and changed your robot.