Cobot machine tending: Everything you need to know

February 21, 2024
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What is cobot machine tending?

Cobot machine tending refers to collaborative robots, or cobots, helping out human workers with automated machine loading and unloading. 

Instead of replacing human workers, cobots work side by side with them to handle repetitive, mundane tasks like feeding materials into CNC machines or removing finished parts.

  • Cobots are lightweight, flexible, and easy to program. As such, they can handle a broad range of machine tending applications, from loading and unloading conveyor belts to palletizing, bin picking, and machine feeding.
  • Also, cobots work safely alongside humans with no need for restrictive cages or barriers. They’re ideal for small-batch jobs where flexibility and fast changeovers are key.

    , though, that being safe doesn’t mean foolproof. Humans still need to follow appropriate safety measures when working alongside cobots. No putting your bare head near the robot arm!
  • Using cobots for machine tending helps address labor shortages while improving productivity and quality. Cobots handle the tedious parts of an operator's job, freeing them up to focus on higher-level tasks that require more brainpower or finesse. This makes their job more engaging and helps reduce errors and waste.

Cobots also have huge benefits for machine tending:

  • They can boost output and consistency, lower costs, and improve work conditions. 
  • On the human side, operators are less prone to injury and fatigue, reducing downtime — which makes production schedules more dependable.
  • For small and mid-sized manufacturers, cobots provide an affordable, user-friendly automation solution, a practical way to get started with automation without spending millions. 
  • Cobots range from $2,000 to $100,000+, and you can typically see ROI within 1-3 years

‍What kind of machines can cobots tend?

Cobots can tend to all kinds of manufacturing equipment, from CNC machines and injection molding machines to sheet metal presses and conveyor belts. 

  • Their flexible, lightweight design means they can work with almost any industrial equipment.
  • Cobots are especially great at tending CNC machines like lathes, mills, grinders, and machining centers. 
  • They can load and unload parts, swap cutting tools, and clear chips to keep the CNC running efficiently with near-zero downtime. Cobots can also tend to injection molding machines by removing finished parts and inserting unmolded materials to be formed.
  • In the case of assembly line work, cobots are *chef’s kiss* for machine tending tasks like feeding parts or materials to stations, unloading finished pieces, and transporting items between work cells. 
  • Their ability to adapt to many environments means cobots can work with legacy equipment and in tight spaces where traditional robots tend to struggle.

What’s the difference between cobots and traditional industrial robots for machine tending?

Traditional industrial robots and cobots both perform machine tending tasks, but there are some major differences in how they operate.

Industrial robots are large, heavy-duty machines installed in fenced or caged areas to isolate them from workers. They need expert-level programming to work, and can be dangerous if mishandled.

Cobots are lightweight, easy to program, and mostly safe to be around. 

For machine tending in particular, cobots offer several advantages over their industrial counterparts.

Cobots are: 

  • Much easier to use: Cobots don’t need specialized programming skills. Their user-friendly interfaces allow workers with basic technical skills to program and reprogram them as needed — some cobots don’t need programming at all!

    This makes cobots perfect for small-batch or frequently changing machine tending applications.
  • They’re super flexible: Cobots can be quickly and easily redeployed to different machines or tasks. Their portable, lightweight designs allow them to be moved between workstations without major setup or installation.

    This type of flexibility supports rebalancing labor as needed and optimizing cobot usage.
  • They’re much safer: Cobots are designed with built-in safety features like force-limited joints, rounded edges, and emergency stops that make them safe(r) to work around people.

    This virtually nixes the need for restrictive fencing required for industrial robots. Typically, operators and cobots can work side by side with no barriers between them.
  • They save you money: Although cobots have a higher upfront cost than some industrial automation options, they don’t need extra measures like fencing, specialized programming, or major facility modifications.

Their flexibility and ease of use can also reduce downtime for reprogramming and optimize labor allocation.

Top 3 cobots for machine tending

Ah, so many options, so little time. But we know what’s what, and we’ve taken the liberty of rounding up the best 3 so you don’t have to spend hours weighing your options. 

They are: 

Standard Bots’ RO1

Standard Bots' RO1 makes a strong case for being the best six-axis cobot for machine tending. 

  • For one, RO1 has the highest payload (18 kg), joint speed, and repeatability in its class, which translates to efficient, precise results. 
  • RO1 comes equipped with state-of-the-art AI comparable to GPT-4, vision capabilities, and an intuitive no-code interface, making it an excellent choice even without prior robot experience. 
  • Another big plus: Its plug-and-play design integrates seamlessly with existing setups, minimizing downtime – and costs. 
  • Safety is a huge priority, with factory calibration and built-in safety mechanisms for human interaction. 
  • RO1 is compatible with a wide variety of end-effectors, like OnRobot’s M4 4-pin and M4 8-pin connectors. 
  • And, the cherry on top: RO1 is an affordable six-axis robot, potentially democratizing cobot technology, starting at half the price of its closest competitors, and with a lease model starting at $5/hr.  


The FANUC CRX-10iA is a versatile cobot that combines a compact footprint with a robust payload capacity. Let's take a look at its key features:

  • With a reach of 1249mm and a payload of 10 kg, the CRX-10iA is well-suited for tasks like machine tending, palletizing, and assembly in various industries.
  • FANUC's user-friendly interface and intuitive drag-and-drop programming make it easy to train operators and quickly deploy the CRX-10iA, minimizing downtime and maximizing productivity.
  • Built-in safety features like collision detection and a soft, compliant exterior allow the CRX-10iA to work safely alongside humans without the need for extensive guarding.
  •  A selection of FANUC-approved grippers and end-effectors enhances the CRX-10iA's capabilities, enabling it to handle a diverse range of tasks.
  • The FANUC CRX-10iA typically starts around $45,000, with pricing variations depending on configurations and vendor.

Jaka Robotics

Jaka Robotics throws its hat into the ring with the Jaka Zu 12 — a small, compact six-axis cobot that still shines in machine tending tasks. 

Here's why the Jaka Zu 12 is a contender: 

  • Its 12 kg payload capacity and 1327mm reach are nothing to scoff at. It tackles heavy parts and covers wider workspaces, handling diverse tending tasks efficiently.
  • Its repeatability of ±0.03mm guarantees accurate movements, minimizing errors and maximizing production quality.
  • This six-axis robot is built to last, with a robust design and a durable construction ideal for industrial environments. The IP67 dust and water resistance adds further protection for harsh conditions.
  • Diverse end-effectors and grippers expand their potential to handle various parts and processes — a very versatile solution for most tending needs. 
  • Very easy to set up and program, even for non-specialized teams. 
  • Also has excellent safety mechanisms for maximum collaboration. 
  • Price: Approximately $30,000.
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Frequently asked questions

What types of machines can cobots tend?

Cobots can tend to a variety of machines like CNC machines, injection molding machines, assembly equipment, and packaging machines. Cobots are versatile and can handle tasks like:

  • Loading and unloading parts
  • Palletizing finished goods
  • Inspecting parts
  • Tightening screws

How are cobots different from industrial robots?

Industrial robots are large and powerful and often work in caged areas for safety. Cobots are collaborative robots designed to work side by side with humans. They are:

  • Smaller, lightweight, and easy to program
  • Equipped with safety features that stop operation upon contact
  • Flexible and can be redeployed quickly based on production needs

What are the main benefits of cobot machine tending?

Plenty! They are: 

  • Much more productive. Cobots can operate continuously without breaks, increasing output.
  • Skyrocketing quality. Automating repetitive tasks results in higher consistency and lower error rates.
  • Down go your costs. Cobots have a lower initial investment and operating cost than industrial robots.
  • They optimize labor. Employees can focus on higher-value tasks, and cobots provide a solution for labor shortages.
  • Extremely flexible. Cobots can easily be reprogrammed and redeployed to different machines or tasks as needed.

Summing up

With their flexible, safe, and affordable capabilities, cobots can enable operators of all skill levels to set up automation solutions that maximize productivity and quality.

We’re confident that any of these three excellent cobots can bring the benefits of automation to your shop floor at a budget-friendly cost.

Next steps

RO1 by Standard Bots comes with everything you need to automate your machine tending applications on popular mills from Haas, Mazak, and more.

  1. Affordable automation: RO1 is significantly more affordable than competing robots in its class and is available with both a 30-day on-site trial and ongoing leasing options.
  2. Class-leading capability: RO1 leads its class with an impressive 18 kg payload, boasts a joint speed that's over twice as fast as the competition at 435 degrees per second, and offers superior precision with a repeatability of +/- 0.025mm.
  3. Full machine tending solution: RO1 comes pre-packed with every accessory and gripper you need, alongside a simple configuration wizard and simulator — meaning your robot can be up and running within hours.

Speak with our solutions engineers today and get tailored advice on automating your machine shop with RO1.

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