How to choose the right Robot for polishing applications

July 13, 2023
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How to assess your robotic polishing needs

Before choosing a robot, it’s important to check your current setups to identify where and when you need a robot. You can start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you have a defined polishing process that is repetitive and consistent? Robots are best suited for repetitive, consistent polishing work and are less adaptable to high-mix polishing applications. For optimal results, you’ll want to leave the complex, variable polishing jobs to your experienced staff.
  • How much open space do you have for a robot work cell? Robotic Polishers require room to move freely and because of this, you'll need to ensure you have adequate space. You’ll also want to consider how parts will reach the robot for polishing, where (and how) parts will be transported after polishing, and if an employee will need space to maneuver around the robot to assist it.
  • What types of force and range of movement are required for your parts? You’ll want to consider the desired reach (or arm length) of your robot, plus the amount of force it can apply — especially if you intend to polish rougher materials. Precision, known in Robotics as “repeatability”, is an incredibly important factor if you’re polishing small or intricate parts.
  • How much do your polishers handle workpieces? The more a robot needs to grasp and manipulate a part, the more complex the end-of-arm tooling and programming need to be. Simple loading and unloading are the easiest to automate. 

Assessing these factors upfront will help determine how much modification and investment is needed to successfully implement robotic polishing in your facility. With some process changes, a robot can take over repetitive polishing tasks, freeing up your current employees to focus on more complex work. 

Types of Polishing robots: Cartesian, SCARA, Articulated, etc.

First thing first - choosing a Polishing robot, you’ll need to consider the type of polishing required and the surface area you need to polish. The major types of Polishing robots include:

  • Cartesian robots: Simple but versatile, Cartesian robots move along three linear axes (X, Y, Z). They’re often used for flat surface polishing over a wide area. Cartesian robots can utilize a range of end-effectors like buffing pads, sanding disks, and polishing wheels.
  • SCARA robots: With their articulated arm motion, SCARA (“Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm”) robots are ideal for fast, repetitive polishing tasks. They provide more flexibility than Cartesian robots but typically have a smaller range of motion and are thus appropriate only for small parts. SCARA robots are a popular choice for polishing curved or irregular surfaces.
  • Articulated robots: With multiple rotary joints, articulated robots can handle the most complex polishing applications. They offer a wide range of motion to polish hard-to-reach areas. However, articulated robots typically require more advanced programming and often have a higher cost. They are well-suited to handle various end-effectors for grinding, sanding, buffing and polishing.

When determining the best Polishing robot for your needs, consider the size and shape of the parts you need to polish, production volume, required finish quality, and available floor space. 

Polishing processes suited for robots: Buffing, Sanding, Grinding, etc.

When it comes to polishing, robots can handle a variety of processes to get your surfaces smooth and shiny. The most common options are:

  • Buffing: Gentle sanding using progressively finer abrasives to produce a smooth, glossy finish. Great for polishing metals like steel, aluminum or brass. Requires buffing wheels and compounds.
  • Sanding: Using sandpaper or sanding disks to smooth surfaces. Works on most materials including wood, metal, plastics and composites. Requires a spindle to hold the sanding media.
  • Grinding: For aggressive material removal using hard abrasives. Typically used on metals and requires either mounted stones or rotary cutting tools.
  • Lapping: Using loose abrasive particles suspended in a fluid to polish materials to an ultra-smooth finish. Requires lapping plates, abrasives like diamond slurries, and a mechanism to hold and move the workpieces (Like another robot!)

The type of polishing you need depends on your materials and the finish you want to achieve. Robots can handle most polishing tasks, but you’ll want to consider the robot’s payload capacity, number of axes, accuracy and available tooling to suit your needs. 

With the right robot and end-effector for your polishing application, you’ll be well on your way to super-smooth, high-quality finishes in no time. The future is automated and polished!

End-effectors and tooling for Polishing robots

The term ‘end-effector’ refers to the tool attached to a robot. You may also hear the colloquial term “gripper”. The end-effectors and tooling you choose for your Polishing robot are critical to achieving the results you need. The type of polishing media, pads, and abrasives you use will depend on the material and final surface finish you want.

In most polishing cases, you need an end-effector which can hold everything from the softest foam pads, through to harsh, abrasive sanding pads. One of the most versatile options on the market is the OnRobot Sander, which can take care of polishing, sanding and deburring applications.

This end-effector also comes with a grit-changer, allowing your robot to change its own abrasives mid-cycle. Features like these add weight, but reduce downtime and minimise the need for your human operators to interact with the robot.

Speaking of weight, it’s important to note the payload capacity of your robot. This term refers to the maximum weight your robot can handle, which includes any end-effector or accessories attached. If you’re attaching a vacuum or other suction device to catch debris, this tool and the associated cabling will also count towards your robot’s payload capacity.

Considerations when selecting a Polishing robot


The initial investment in a Polishing robot can be substantial. Prices range from $30,000 up to $500,000 or more for large, complex systems. Consider both the initial cost as well as ongoing operating costs like maintenance, repairs, and utilities. While robot polishers may have a higher upfront cost than manual polishing, they can save money in the long run through increased productivity and savings on abrasive materials (Robots tend to increase the lifespan of your abrasives by 30% or more).

Workpiece size and shape

Choose a robot that can handle the sizes and shapes of the parts you need to polish. Some robots are designed for small precision parts, while others can polish pieces up to several meters in size. Consider the reach, payload capacity, and number of axes of motion required. Robots with Six-Axes of motion provide the most flexibility to polish intricate shapes.

Polishing requirements

Consider the types of polishing your application require, such as buffing, grinding, sanding, or lapping. Some robots are equipped with interchangeable polishing spindles and tools to handle multiple needs. The hardness of the materials you need to polish will also determine the power and torque requirements of the robot. While most robots are electrically powered, for extremely large or tough materials, you may wish to specify an end-effector with pneumatic or hydraulic actuation.


Consider the environment the Polishing robot will operate in. Most standard robots cannot withstand harsh or hazardous environments. Choose an IP-rated robot for humid, dusty or wet areas. The operating temperature range is also important to consider based on your facility. Remember to check these requirements for both robot and the end-effector.

Control and programming

Look at the available control and programming options for the Polishing robots you’re considering. Easier to program robots will have intuitive touchscreen interfaces and may not require a high level of robotics expertise to operate. Some offer CAD/CAM programming based on your digital workpiece designs. EtherNet/IP and PROFINET connectivity allow for easy integration with existing production networks.

Major manufacturers of Polishing robots include FANUC, KUKA, ABB, Standard Bots and Comau. Comparing specifications and obtaining quotes from multiple suppliers will help you find a Polishing robot that meets both your technical requirements and budget.

Risk assessments and safeguarding for robotic polishing

Now that you know the things to consider when selecting a polishing robot, it’s important to safeguard your operations before buying one.  It goes without saying that robots can cause injury if mishandled or misprogrammed, and it’s not uncommon for robotics novices to be caught by surprise by the speed of these machines.

Conduct a risk assessment

A risk assessment helps identify any dangers related to implementing a robot. Walk through your entire polishing process and consider dangers like:

  • Places where body parts could get caught on an end-effector 
  • Heavy loads that require safe lifting equipment
  • Any hazards specific to your industry
  • Sharp edges and abrasives
  • Wiring or hoses
  • High voltages

Consider all of the possible interactions your staff will have with the robot, such as grit-changing, inspection of parts, robot maintenance, and loading and unloading. Can you minimize or remove the need for any of these interactions? One example could be purchasing a polishing end-effector with a built-in grit change, which minimizes the need for your staff to approach the robot.

Implement safeguards

If budget allows or your particular polishing requires your robot to work in proximity with your staff, then you may want to consider choosing a “Collaborative” Polishing robot. These “Cobots” come equipped with safety features, like advanced collision detection and built-in emergency stops. 

This alone may be enough to mitigate the risks in your particular application but keep in mind that you may still require additional safety measures. Here are some of the additional safety precautions you might want to consider:

Use barriers like fencing to restrict access to the robot. Pressure-sensitive pads or area scanners can detect when someone enters a restricted zone and automatically pause the robot.

Provide emergency stop buttons that immediately cut power to the robot. Place them in easily accessible locations around the work area.

Use caution signs to warn others when performing maintenance on an active robot. Lockout or tagout procedures ensure the robot cannot be restarted during service.

Train all of your workers on general robotic safety. Even if they aren’t directly tasked with working alongside the robot, any employee who spends time on your shop floor should have a good understanding of the robot’s capabilities and safety protocols.

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Major manufacturers of Polishing robots


ABB is a leading Swiss robotics company and a major manufacturer of industrial robots, including those for polishing applications. ABB Polishing robots are used for metal finishing across many industries like automotive, aerospace, medical equipment, and consumer electronics.


FANUC is a large Japanese robotics company that produces Polishing robots. Their Polishing robots are designed for high-speed polishing of complex metal parts. FANUC Polishing robots are used in the automotive, aerospace, medical, and other industries.


KUKA is a German robotics company that makes innovative industrial robots, including Polishing robots. KUKA Polishing robots are known for their precision and durability. They are used for polishing and surface finishing of metal parts, mainly in the automotive sector where their huge-capacity robots are most useful.

Standard Bots

Standard Bots are a US-based robotics manufacturer. Their RO1 six-axis robot is well-suited to most polishing applications and the company is well-known for its competitive pricing, advanced programming and vision systems and its US-based manufacturing facility. 

Other players

There are a few other companies that manufacture Polishing robots, though not quite as prominently as the major players discussed above. These include:

  • Comau - is an Italian company that makes Polishing robots for the automotive industry.
  • TM Robotics - a British company that produces Polishing robots for medical, aerospace and other industries.
  • Nachi Robotic Systems - a US-based company that makes Polishing robots, primarily for the automotive sector.


So now you have a good overview of the types of Polishing robots out there and what each is capable of. The key is to determine exactly what kind of polishing and finishing you need for your production process, what kind of end-effectors and tooling are required, how fast you need the robot to operate, and your budget. Do some research on the major robot manufacturers and check out videos of their Polishing robots in action. See what options they offer for leasing or financing too, as these industrial robots can be a major capital investment.

With some time invested upfront in evaluating your needs and the capabilities of the different robots, you'll find an automated polishing solution that will transform your production line and take your surface finishing to a whole new level. 

Next steps

Interested in bringing a Polishing robot to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is the best choice for factories 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. Collaborative: RO1 comes equipped with safety sensors and built-in collision detection, for safe operation anywhere on your shop floor.

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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