How to 10x your shop floor productivity with machine automation

December 21, 2023
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What is machine shop automation?

Machine automation in the context of manufacturing refers to using robotics with specialized, flexible software to handle repetitive, routine tasks. 

This could be anything from palletizing, pick and place, packaging, and inspecting parts, to operating CNC machines - the sky’s the limit! 

The ultimate goal? To increase productivity and accuracy, and to free up human workers so they can focus on higher-level tasks like programming, maintenance, quality control, and even more emerging job positions. 

But we’ll get into that below. 

Why go ahead with machine shop automation?

There are quite a few reasons you may want to think long and hard about machine automation for your business, and many are very straightforward. 

Here are the major benefits of automating your shop floor:

Productivity goes up really quickly

Automating repetitive, mundane tasks like loading/unloading, sorting, and packaging does more than free up workers; with robots handling the basic work, you can increase throughput significantly, because they work 24/7, non-stop, with no breaks and very low maintenance requirements. 

Quality also goes up 

Automated systems significantly reduce variability and human error. Robots are very good at precision, repeatability, and consistency. This results in higher, more uniform quality and overall accuracy. 

Also, they can perform real-time quality checks and inspections that go beyond the capabilities of even the most detail-oriented human.

And costs go way down

We’re not going to lie: the initial investment may be steep, but the long-term savings are worth it.

Robots don’t require salaries, benefits, or holidays. They also reduce waste, rework, and scrap costs. You’ll be happy to know that most automated systems have an ROI of just 1-3 years. Of course, depending on your business, that timeframe could be even shorter. 

All-around safer work environments

Automating dangerous tasks improves safety and health. Robots can handle dangerous jobs like welding, palletizing back-breaking heavy loads, and handling toxic chemicals. 

Moreover, this lowers the risk of workplace accidents and injuries. 


Modern automation systems are remarkably flexible. Robots and software can be reprogrammed quickly to handle new parts or changes in volume and mix - and not all of them require you to know how to code.  

This agility allows you to respond rapidly to shifts in customer demand or market conditions.

Methods and technologies for automating your shop floor

To automate your machine shop, you have several options to choose from. 

However, your method of choice will depend on your shop's needs, budget, and capabilities, and how far into the automation rabbit hole you want to go into. 

Let’s take a look at your options:

  • Robotics: Industrial robots are at the cutting edge of machine automation. Robotic arms can handle tasks like pick and place, welding, painting, assembly, and even machine tending. While they used to require a large upfront investment, programming, and maintenance, modern robots boast far reduced costs and upkeep requirements and even run on no-code frameworks.  
  • CNC machines: Computer numerical control (CNC) machines like lathes, mills, routers, etc. can run automatically based on digital designs. CNCs are very accurate, reduce waste, and improve productivity. They also require a significant capital investment and trained operators, although you can also train robots to operate them. 
  • Conveyor systems: Conveyors transport parts and materials between workstations automatically. They keep the workflow moving efficiently and free up workers from repetitive transport tasks. Basic conveyor systems are relatively affordable but may require reconfiguring your shop floor layout.
  • Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs): AGVs are driverless transport vehicles that can move materials and parts on a predetermined path. They provide flexibility and can integrate with conveyors, robots, and CNC machines. However, AGVs require a pretty sizable initial investment along with modifications to your facility.
  • Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS): AS/RS use robotic cranes and lifts to automatically store and retrieve parts, materials, and tools. They maximize storage space, keep inventory organized, and streamline retrieval. AS/RS also call for major facility modifications - and a hefty price tag. 

Using automation to increase productivity

Once you’ve decided that machine automation is the way to go, it’s time to put a plan in place. 

Here are the steps to a painless, productivity-enhancing process:

Make the Right Machine Automation Choice

Sit down, and spend a few afternoons doing your research on the types of robotics and automation tools that could benefit your specific shop processes. 

First, think about what tasks are repetitive, dangerous, or require extreme precision - those are the prime targets for automation.

Design an effective workflow

Carefully and extensively map out how automated equipment and human workers will interact. 

If you can integrate automation into existing assembly lines or cells, that will make the most impact. For that, you will have to look into collaborative machine automation options, also called Cobots (short for Collaborative robots). 

Additionally, look for ways to minimize wasted movement and excess handling of materials. A well-designed, streamlined workflow will lead to major productivity gains.

Train your team 

Your staff needs to be ready for what’s coming, so help them prepare for working with and monitoring automated systems.

If you’re implementing complex machine automation solutions, give solid consideration to partnering with the companies providing your automation tools for training. 

Reduce your employees’ apprehensiveness by informing them about how automation will benefit them. Make an emphasis on safety and removing repetitiveness. 

Make sure to address any concerns about job security and be transparent about how roles may evolve.

Start small, then scale up 

Baby steps! There’s no need to automate your entire shop floor all at once. Pick a single process or production line to start with, implement it, work out any kinks, and then move on to the next area. 

Starting off small allows you to prove the ROI of automation and gain buy-in from stakeholders before making a major investment. You can then build up gradually to get to your productivity goals in the long run.

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Machine automation: How much does it cost?

It may seem daunting to estimate the costs of machine automation, but it really isn’t - or it doesn’t have to be. 


Robotics prices vary depending on the number of axes (degrees of freedom), payload capacity, and programming complexity, ranging from just $2,000 to over $100,000.

A typical Six-Axis Welding robot starts at around $50,000 (although some highly advanced models with similar capabilities can go for half the price). 

More highly developed robotics with machine vision or collaborative capabilities will be on the higher end of the range, from $75,000 to $150,000.

CNC Machines

CNC machines range from $50,000 for a small vertical mill up to $500,000 or more for a high-end, multi-axis lathe. The price depends on the machine size, number of axes, and options like automatic tool changers.

Conveyor Systems

Basic conveyor systems start around $20,000 while AGVs typically range from $50,000 to $100,000 depending on their load capacity and battery life.


In short, machine automation of your shop floor can significantly boost your productivity and profits, while making your workers happier, safer, and focused on higher-level tasks. 

Yes, the initial investment can seem steep, but the long-term gains in efficiency, quality, and reduced costs will far outweigh any out-of-pocket expenses.

The results are absolutely worth it.

Next steps

Interested in bringing machine automation to your own 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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