Lathe automation: A quick how-to guide [2024]

August 31, 2023
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An overview of what you'll need for Lathe automation

To automate your Lathe, you'll need a few key components. Let’s take a look:

A robot arm

Unsurprisingly, the robot arm is the heart of your automated Lathe system. For Lathe automation, a Six-Axis articulated robot arm is typically used. These provide the range of motion needed for the various Lathe operations. When choosing a robot, consider the payload capacity, reach, number of axes, and IP rating, depending on your operating environment. For lathes, a payload above 12Kg, a minimum 1m reach, and IP54 or greater rating are good options.

End-of-arm tooling

The end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) attaches to the robot arm and holds/manipulates the item your Lathe will be processing. For lathes, you’ll want a robot with a gripper (a “hand” shaped end-effector) which can grasp your chosen part. This can be as simple as a two-jaw, parallel gripper, or a unique grasping mechanism such as a vacuum gripper which uses suction to gently hold a part.

Relays and programming software

Generally, the software you use to program your robot will be chosen by the manufacturer. Unless you have deep pockets or a robotics programmer on hand, you’ll want to opt for a “no-code” programming option which your team can use to control the robot. More importantly, you’ll want to select a robot with the appropriate relays to control your Lathe directly, rather than having the robot manually manipulate the machine’s controls or rely on human assistance. 

Safety equipment

Proper safety precautions are a must for any industrial automation. This includes emergency stops, light curtains, safety mats, and protective barriers. A risk assessment should be done to determine necessary safety controls based on your specific Lathe setup. If you want to save on costs or allow your team to work closely with the robot with fences in the way, consider a “Collaborative robot” which has built-in sensors for detecting and avoiding potential collisions with your staff or equipment.

Additional equipment

You may also need tool changers, conveyors, part positioners, and vision systems depending on your Lathe and the complexity of the parts being manufactured. Your chosen robot’s manufacturer will be able to make a recommendation. 

Assessing your current Lathe process for automation

Before you go out and buy a full automation solution, you first need to assess how ready your current process is for implementing a robot. The more manual your current Lathe operation is, the more potential there is for automation to streamline your workflow. However, more automation also means higher costs and longer implementation times.

Some things to consider:

  • How repetitive and consistent are your Lathe operations? Highly repetitive tasks with little variation are ideal for automation. Inconsistent or highly customized work may be challenging for a robot to handle. As a litmus test, if your Lathe can run unsupervised for at least an hour, it’s likely to be suitable and profitable to automate.
  • How much floor space do you have for a robot workcell? Larger lathes typically need more space for loading and unloading workpieces, which robots also require. Make sure you have enough room for the robot, safety devices and staging areas for both your blanks and finished parts.
  • What are your throughput and production goals? If you need to significantly increase production, automation may be the only way to meet demand while maintaining quality and consistency. For moderate increases, other options like additional shifts may work better at a lower cost.
  • Is your shop “high-mix”? Frequent changes in production may require significant changes to your robot’s placement or programming. This might not be an issue, but make sure you look for a robot with a portable base or a simple programming interface.

Once you've analyzed your current Lathe process and needs, you'll have a good sense of where automation could provide the biggest benefits and what kind of robot you’ll need to realize those.

Choosing the right robot for Lathe automation

When it comes to actually picking a robot arm to buy, there are a few key considerations. If you’re unsure about any aspect and how it relates to your own application, you can always speak to manufacturers or distributors directly.

With that said, here are the factors you’ll want to compare between various robot arms:

Weight, capacity and reach

Make sure the robot can handle the size and weight of your Lathe parts. Also, consider the robot’s reach—how far it can extend its arm. A robot with a longer reach will have an easier time accessing all areas of your Lathe bed and workpiece. Remember, the gripper you attach to your robot will be counted towards the robot’s payload. If your gripper is 10 kg and the parts are 2 kg, you’ll need a payload of at least 12 kg - but a higher payload for some margin is what we always recommend.

Number of axes

The more axes of motion, the more flexible and dexterous the robot will be. A Six-Axis robot, for example, will have a wrist with 3 rotational axes plus a shoulder, elbow and base axis—allowing it to manipulate parts from multiple angles. Five-Axis robots can also work well for many Lathe tasks. Fewer axes may limit the robot’s ability to handle intricate parts but do allow it to move faster and get by with less programming and setup.


Intuitive control software with features like built-in machining logic, support for force-control accessories and collision avoidance will make programming and operating the robot easier and safer. Look for a robot designed specifically for CNC machine tending and with proven success automating lathes.


Robot prices vary widely based on the factors above plus brand, model and optional equipment. In general, a Six-Axis robot suitable for automating a light to mid-sized Lathe will range from $30,000 to $200,000 or more for a premium brand or very heavy-load arm. Calculate your potential return on investment to determine an ideal budget. Some manufacturers offer robot rentals, leases and financing to help reduce upfront costs.

Safety certifications

For your own safety and liability, choose a robot with current certifications like CE marking and ISO 10218 (international robot safety standard). Some robots also meet standards specific to collaborative operation near humans. Always follow the robot and Lathe manufacturers’ guidelines for safe installation, programming and operation.

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Top manufacturers of robot arms for Lathes

When it comes to automating your Lathe, you have several reputable manufacturers to choose from for a robot arm. Here are a few options to choose from:

Standard Bots

Based out of Glen Cove, New York, Standard Bots manufacture RO1, a robot arm purpose-built for machine tending. RO1 stands out with an 18 kg payload, the heaviest in its competing class, along with faster joint speed, tighter precision, a no-code programming interface and direct integrations with various popular mills and lathes. 


ABB is a robotics company headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. ABB’s robotics division produces a wide range of robot arms well-suited for Lathe automation. Their IRB 6700 family in particular is a good match for Lathe tending applications.


FANUC is a Japanese multinational corporation that specializes in automation software, robotics, and computer numerical control equipment. Two of their most popular robot arms for lathes are the M-10 series and the M-20 series. The M-10 is more compact and affordable, while the M-20 is a larger, more powerful arm suitable for heavy-duty lathes. Both offer high speeds, accuracy, and reliability.

Next steps

By now you should feel equipped to assess if automation makes sense for your shop, find a robot that fits your needs and budget, and implement it safely and successfully. Automating a Lathe is no small feat, but with some planning and patience, you'll be well on your way to faster cycle times, improved quality, and higher throughput.

Not sure where to start? RO1 by Standard Bots is a great choice for machine shops large and small:

  1. Affordable: RO1 is the most affordable robotic arm in its class, starting at almost half the price of incumbent competitors. 
  2. Powerful: RO1 is faster and more precise than competitors, despite having the highest payload capacity in its class at 18 kg.
  3. Integrated: RO1 comes equipped with built-in relays to control almost any machine on the market, including plug-and-play integrations with Hass equipment.

Speak to our solutions team today to organize a free, 30-day onsite trial and get expert advice on everything you need to deploy your first robot.

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