How do robotic arms work? A comprehensive guide

September 28, 2023
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An introduction to robotic arms

First, what is a robotic arm? Think about your own arm. What can it do? It can bend, grasp objects (with the help of your hand), lift things, and move objects. The tasks performed by robot arms are not all that different, although they tend to be more efficient.

A robotic arm is a series of connected segments, rather than one solid arm. These segments are connected through "joints" or "axes". Each joint has a motor that acts like a muscle. The more joints or axes a robotic arm has, the more flexible it is.

One common type is the Six-Axis robotic arm, which looks and moves a lot like a human arm. It has segments resembling a shoulder, elbow, and wrist.

In the industrial world, robotic arms perform precise tasks. They have what is called a "work envelope", which is essentially their workspace.

Robotic arms also use an "end-effector", a specialized tool attached to their wrist for interacting with materials and completing tasks. It could be a gripper, welding torch, cutter, sprayer, or drill. What kind of end-effector the robotic arm will have will depend on the task.

But, robotic arms don't come pre-programmed with skills; they need to be taught. Typically, this is done through a controller and a "teaching pendant". Some robotic arms, like Collaborative robots, can be programmed by manually moving them.

Exploring the mechanics of robotic arms

The mechanics of a robotic arm are like the movements of a human arm but with added flexibility. These arms have parts that act like the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, working together to move and grab objects.

An Industrial robotic arm can be simplified into five main parts:

  1. Joints and actuators: These are the moving parts of the robot. Think of them as the robot's joints that can bend or turn. They are pushed or pulled by mechanisms called actuators, which can be powered by electricity, air (pneumatic), or liquids (hydraulic).
  2. Links: Links are the segments connecting the robot's joints. They are usually made of sturdy materials like metal tubes and determine how far the robot can reach and how stable it is.
  3. Internal sensors: Inside the robot, there are sensors that tell it where its joints are and how they're moving. It's similar to our sense of touch and awareness of our body's position.
  4. End of arm tool: Also called an end-effector, this acts as the robot's hand. It can grab things, and sometimes the wrist can turn to make the task easier.
  5. Digital I/O and controller: This is how the robot talks to its "brain", also known as the controller. Digital inputs and outputs are electronic signals that control the robot arm's joints. When you give the robot arm a job to do, the controller makes sure it does it with precise movements.

The various robot arm types

Robot arms, often called robotic manipulators, are a key part of Industrial robots. The term "robotic arms" is used to describe a diverse grouping of robotic mechanisms. While these robots share some commonalities, each has unique features making it more suited to certain tasks.

The different types of robotic arms you'll find include:

  1. Six-Axis arm
  2. Articulated arm
  3. Collaborative robot arm
  4. Cartesian arm
  5. SCARA arm
  6. Cylindrical arm
  7. Spherical/Polar arm
  8. Parallel/Delta arm
  9. Dual arm
  10. Anthropomorphic arm

Let's look at the most common types of robotic arms today:

Articulated arm

Picture a robot arm that's as flexible as your own; that's an Articulated arm. It's one of the most common types in industrial automation, featuring a single mechanical arm attached to a base with a twisting joint. These robots, often with four to six joints, are incredibly flexible and capable of tasks like arc welding, assembly, material handling, and more.

Cartesian arm

Cartesian robots, also known as linear or gantry robots, move in straight lines on three different axes - up and down, in and out, and side to side. Cartesian robotic arms offer precise control and are commonly used in CNC machining and 3D printing applications.


The SCARA robot, short for Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm, is a multitasker of sorts. It can move in three directions and twist around. It's lightning-fast and ideal for jobs like assembling things and stacking cases of products or goods on pallets.

Cylindrical arm

Imagine a robot with a single arm that can go up and down. This robotic arm has a rotary joint at the base and can extend its arm to reach for things. Cylindrical arms are compact and perfect for assembly operations and taking care of other machines.

Delta arm

Also called Parallel robots, Delta arms are known for their incredible speed and precision. They have three arms connected to one base and are perfect for high-speed tasks in industries like electronics, pharmaceuticals, and food processing.

Polar arm

Also known as Spherical robots, these robots have a base and an arm with one joint that moves back and forth, and two rotary joints that spin. This setup lets them work in a sphere-like work envelope. They're typically used in tasks like die casting, material handling, arc welding, and more.

The purpose and applications of robotic arms

Robotic arms are like the skilled hands of automation in various industries. They've fast become essential in modern times and have revolutionized various industries, making tasks quicker, more efficient, and safer.

You'll find robotic arms in manufacturing plants, automotive assembly lines, agriculture, and even space exploration.

Most Industrial robotic arms have a primary goal: handling repetitive and occasionally risky tasks that require perfect precision. From assembling intricate products to organizing our food, Industrial robot arms can be programmed to carry out a wide range of functions.

Robotic arms are commonly used in manufacturing applications, where they handle tasks like:

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The benefits of a robotic arm

In today's ever-changing industrial landscape, robotic arms have become indispensable in multiple sectors. Not only do they change the way we work, but they also bring plenty of benefits.

The role of robotics in the industrial sector is not to replace human workers, but rather to work alongside them. Although it may seem like this will create fewer jobs for humans, in practical terms robots free up human workers to focus on tasks that require more skill.

At the end of the day, the benefits that manufacturers reap from automating their processes clearly outweigh potential challenges.

Automating tedious tasks

Robotic arms are great for automating repetitive tasks, which means human workers can dedicate their time to more complex and creative projects. This not only makes work less monotonous but also cuts down on mistakes that often occur with routine, mundane tasks - human error, in other words.

Improving safety

By taking on hazardous tasks, robotic arms can safeguard human workers from potential injuries. A safer work environment not only protects the well-being of employees but also minimizes potential medical and compensation costs for employers.

Increasing productivity

Perhaps the greatest benefit of robotic arms is the fact that they're tireless workers, capable of maintaining high-speed and high-precision performance 24/7. Their efficiency means more work gets done in less time, increasing overall productivity and profits.

Enhancing precision

Getting a machine to be fast and accurate at the same time is tough, but robotic arm motors have mastered this balance. They use modern programming to operate quickly without making mistakes or sacrificing precision.

This can translate into consistent and top-notch product quality that not only boosts customer satisfaction but also reduces waste and rework.

Reduced downtime

Robotic arms are also incredibly reliable, hardly ever breaking down or stopping. This means operations can keep running smoothly without costly interruptions or delays.

Greater flexibility

Another useful feature of robotic arm motors is that you can change what they do fairly easily. They're not stuck doing the same thing all the time. Depending on what a manufacturer needs, they can be reprogrammed to perfect a different set of tasks.


How much does an Industrial robotic arm cost?

The cost of Industrial robotic arms can vary widely. The price can range from $25,000 to $400,000 but may increase significantly when specific features are added. Simpler Single-Axis robot arms can start at around $3,000, for example, while more advanced Articulated robots can exceed $500,000.

The total cost depends on the robot's type, capabilities, and any extras like controllers and software needed to make it work.

What controls an Industrial robotic arm?

An Industrial robotic arm is controlled using both hardware and software. It moves thanks to motors, like electric servo motors or hydraulic/pneumatic actuators. The robot controller sends signals to these motors, telling the arm how to move and where to go. In basic terms, it's like a remote control for the robotic arm, guiding its actions.

Next steps

Interested in stepping into the Collaborative robot arm world? RO1 by Standard Bots is the #1 for small-scale startups and established industrial giants

  • Cost-effective: RO1 is the leading robotic arm in its class, delivering even more value at half the price of the competition. 
  • Fast & strong: RO1 beats out the competition in speed and accuracy despite having the highest payload capacity in its class at 18 kg.
  • Truly collaborative: RO1 has built-in safety sensors and collision detection for safe, reliable operation on your shop floor.

Talk to our solutions team now to set up a free, 30-day onsite trial and receive specialized advice on everything you need to deploy RO1.


At their core, robots tackle repetitive, boring, and time-consuming tasks, all while feeding us essential data to make everything run even smoother.

In a nutshell, robotic arms have become indispensable tools in modern manufacturing. Taking cues from the flexibility and mechanics of human arms, the types of robotic arms are wide-ranging and incredibly versatile.

Whether it's the Cartesian arm for 3D printing or the Delta arm for food processing, there's no doubt how valuable robotic arms are in a world where automation is the key to productivity.

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