Controlling a Meca500 robot with an Allen-Bradley PLC


Alexandre Pérusse is an Application Engineer at Mecademic Robotics specializing in PLC integration. In this blog post, he explains why programmers of Controllogix and CompactLogix PLCs, first-time robotics users, shouldn’t be intimidated by the Meca500. The Meca500 robot natively supports EtherNet/IP, and AOI are free of charge.



Meca500 robot arms and Allen-Bradley PLC



After completing my Engineering degree in Automated Production at ÉTS, I began working for an OEM in the packaging industry as a PLC programmer specializing in Allen-Bradley and B&R control systems. I worked there for four years.

During that time, I encountered the usual challenges machine builders face: integration of new equipment, custom, specific client requests, and, most importantly, the need to respect every project’s delivery timelines.

Before I started working for Mecademic Robotics, apart from some academic experience with ABB robots, I had never worked with industrial robots. To my surprise, understanding the Meca500’s functionalities was very straightforward. The simple commands you can test in the robot’s web interface and the absence of a proprietary programming language made it a breeze to get started. I was able to begin working with the robot within just a few hours.

Apart from its tiny footprint, the main difference between the Meca500 and other industrial robots is that the Meca500 is always a slave to a third-party controller (a PLC or a computer).

This means no complicated handshakes are needed. It’s more like directly controlling a combination of linear guides and rotary tables—only it’s easier and more intuitive since the robot’s embedded controller does all the complex kinematics and motion control. All instructions are sent from the third-party controller rather than stored on the robot itself. Also, the Meca500 doesn’t use a proprietary programming language, which makes it easy to create or modify your program directly on the PLC.

My first assignment at Mecademic was to write Add-On Instructions (AOI) for Allen-Bradley controllers to help PLC users get started on the Meca500 even faster. Based on my previous experience, I knew what a PLC programmer would need. My goal was to program something easy to use and understand while being flexible and modular enough to adapt to different use cases.

After the first version of the AOI was completed, we sent it to our beta users and asked them to test it with their programs. We then made improvements based on their feedback and comments. We are very grateful to these users for their input!

Finally, I remember that in my previous employment, every time I needed some feature or new functionality, the first question that my employer asked was: “How much will it cost?” I then had to figure out which license, hardware, and software options were needed to use a given feature. This research could take hours and usually cost thousands of dollars.

With Mecademic, such research isn’t needed since we do not charge for anything software-related. All our Add-On Instructions, APIs, and firmware upgrades (such as the recent addition of Ethernet/IP compatibility) are free.