What are CNC robots? An easy guide [2024]

December 21, 2023
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CNC robots: The ABCs

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. Through skillful programming, these robots can precisely control machine tools. They operate based on digital 3D design data to cut, shape, and finish materials like metal, wood, foam, and plastic.

Some of the most common machines operated by CNC robots are: 

  • Lathes 
  • Mills
  • Routers
  • Grinders
  • Saws 

CNC robots allow manufacturers to access fast, easy, and precise automation capabilities. They can churn out thousands of parts with barely any human intervention. 

Further, they produce components that have tight tolerances, with little margin of error. The result? Components that fit together perfectly, and processes that work better than ever. 

Now, let’s take a look at how CNC robots work. 

How CNC Robots Work

As we’ve established above, CNC robots receive instructions from a computer program that specifies the movements required to carry out a task like cutting, drilling, or shaping materials. The program contains the coordinates that direct the robot arm to the right locations.

There are two main types of CNC robots:

  • Cartesian robots
  • Articulated arm robots

In Cartesian robots, motors power the robot arm to move along three axes (X, Y, and Z) to reach the intended target. 

Feedback devices like encoders monitor the arm's position and speed, allowing for precise control. After the robot reaches the specified coordinates, it can perform an action like grabbing an object, welding two materials together, or machining a part.

Conversely, articulated arm CNC robots also have rotary joints - similar to a human arm -  that provide additional flexibility and range of motion

In both types, the program can synchronize the movements of the arm and joints to manipulate objects or navigate obstacles. 

Moreover, gone are the days of CNC robots operating in cages or isolated from their human counterparts. Now, Collaborative robots (or Cobots) with built-in collision detection devices are making it easier than ever for humans and robots to work side-by-side.

Why are CNC robots so hot right now? 

In one simple word: automation, and forgetting the slow, error-filled grind of manual production. 

Here are our main reasons why everyone seems to be adopting CNC robots: 

  • Productivity, only 24/27: CNC robots can keep on churning out flawless parts with near-perfect accuracy. CNC robots make this a reality, operating tirelessly while human operators rest or work on more brain-power-intensive tasks. This relentless output will positively affect your bottom line. 
  • Safety first, always: Repetitive, hazardous tasks are no longer a matter of course for humans. CNC robots handle heavy materials, navigate dangerous environments, and wield cutting tools very accurately, keeping your human workforce safe and sound. Of course, this reduces the risk of injuries, downtime, and other pesky unintended consequences. 
  • Excellent cost savings down the line: Yes, the initial investment in a CNC robot may seem daunting, but it's a strategic move with long-term rewards. Reduced scrap, minimized downtime, and lower labor costs pave the way for significant cost savings that add up as you go along. In the long run, your profitability will skyrocket even if you break the bank at first. 
  • Adaptability, not rigidity: Rigid production lines can tank profits. Many CNC robots are supremely versatile, and easily reprogrammed for a wide range of tasks and materials. From delicate, minute electronics to heavy machinery components, these adaptable machines are perfect for many high-mix production environments.

What industries are using CNC robots?

CNC robots are used across the whole industrial gamut to improve productivity, quality, and safety. 

Some of the major industries benefiting from CNC robotics include:


CNC robots are ubiquitous in automotive manufacturing - and have been for a while. 

They handle many of the dauntingly high-volume tasks like welding, painting, and assembly, while also taking care of the more hazardous, heavy-duty tasks. 

It’s also worth noting that the auto industry has always been an early adopter of robotic automation, championing advances from as far back as the 1950s and staying on the bleeding edge.   


The aerospace industry relies heavily on CNC robots for assembling aircraft components with a high degree of precision and accuracy. 

CNC robots drill, rivet, and weld aircraft frames and engines. They also apply specialized aerospace coatings and composite materials. Moreover, they allow aerospace manufacturers to achieve tight tolerances and ensure consistent quality in an extremely regulated industry.


CNC robots shine in electronics manufacturing due to their pinpoint, micron-level accuracy.

Tasks like soldering, welding, and precision assembly of small components are absolutely no problem. CNC robots are often used in the high-volume production of electronics like mobile devices, televisions, and other consumer gadgets. 

They handle the small, intricate components and assemblies that not even a human with a 20/20 vision would be able to assemble. 


Even the healthcare industry is benefitting from CNC robotics, especially in the manufacture of medical devices, disposable products, and pharmaceuticals. 

They provide the sterile conditions and precision needed for these applications. CNC robots also reduce contamination risks by limiting human contact during the manufacturing process. 

They have become indispensable for high-volume, low-cost production of many healthcare products.

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Where do we go from here? 

The future of CNC robotics in manufacturing looks very, very bright, with no signs of slowing down. 

As technology continues to advance apace, CNC robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, affordable (even for smaller businesses), and widely implemented.

Let’s take a look at each item below. 

Automation is steadily increasing 

Manufacturers will likely continue increasing their use of CNC robots to automate more of the production process. 

As robots get more complex, the need for humans to work on these tasks decreases. This frees them up to pursue mission-critical tasks and other high-value jobs

In the medium and long term, more automation also means lower costs and higher productivity for manufacturers.

Even better AI developments

CNC robots will get "smarter" over time thanks to improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

As such, they will gain the ability to adapt to changes, make minor adjustments to their programming, detect defects or irregularities, and even predict potential issues before they rear their ugly heads. 

Eventually, they will be able to collaborate with human technicians and make on-the-spot recommendations on optimizing the manufacturing process.

Demand for skilled workers

Yes, CNC robots will significantly automate many factory jobs. 

But, the demand for highly skilled CNC technicians and programmers will remain strong. These jobs require both technical and soft skills that robots cannot easily replicate. CNC technicians maintain, program, and troubleshoot CNC robots and other automated equipment. 

There is strong growth expected in these fields, and also keep in mind that new, unexpected job positions will be created from automation.

Accessibility for everyone - Not just the bigshots

As CNC technology progresses, robotic systems are becoming more affordable, compact, and easier to implement. 

The main takeaway is that small manufacturers will have increased access to CNC robotics and the benefits of automation. 

In fact, even very small-scale producers are already finding CNC robots to be a viable and worthwhile investment. If anything, that trend will kick up in the coming years. 


So there you have it, a quick primer on CNC robots and how they're turning decades-old industrial trends on their heads. 

We've come a long way since the days of tedious manual machining and assembly lines staffed by hundreds of workers with aching fingers and even worse knees and backs. 

CNC robots may seem complex, but at their core, they're just highly advanced tools helping companies streamline production, reduce costs, and push the boundaries of innovation. 

Next steps

Want to bring the help of a top-level CNC robot arm into your shop floor? RO1 by Standard Bots is the best 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 support for Haas CNC milling machines.

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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