Robot CNC Mill Tending: How to choose an automated CNC robot

July 13, 2023
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Why automate with a CNC Milling robot?

Why automate your CNC Milling machine with a robot? There are several benefits to adding an automated robot to your CNC Milling process:

  • Increased productivity: CNC Milling robots can operate 24/7 without breaks, increasing your shop's throughput. They're also faster and more precise than human operators.
  • Improved safety: Automating dangerous manual tasks like machine loading and unloading keeps your human operators away from heavy machinery and hazardous chip debris.
  • Lower costs: Although robotic CNC Milling has high upfront costs, it can lower operating costs in the long run through reduced scrappage, higher throughput, and lower labor costs.
  • Flexibility: Many CNC Milling robots are easy to reprogram for different parts and jobs. They can handle a variety of materials, part sizes, and milling operations - Perfect for high-mix shops.

When choosing a CNC Milling robot, consider the types of parts you produce, your shop's needs, and available floor space. Articulated arm robots are very flexible but require more space, while gantry-style robots save space but are less dexterous and adaptable. Either type should integrate easily with your existing CNC machines and CAD/CAM software.

Types of CNC Milling robots: Articulated vs. Cartesian

When choosing a CNC Milling robot, you'll need to decide between an articulated arm or a cartesian coordinate robot. Both have their pros and cons, so consider your needs carefully.

Articulated arm robots have jointed arms that can move freely, similar to a human arm. The most common type is a Six-Axis robotic arm. They’re very flexible and dexterous, able to handle complex parts and move them around any cell environment. However, they can require more programming to avoid collisions or navigate tricky machines. They also typically take up more space.

Cartesian coordinate robots move along three axes - X, Y and Z. They have a simple, rigid arm structure mounted to a table which slides along each axis. Cartesian robots are often more compact, faster, and more accurate than articulated types. However, they are less flexible and struggle to maneuver curved or complex parts.

You’ll also want to consider using a Collaborative Robot or “Cobot”. Unlike their uncollaborative counterparts, these robots come with built-in safety features, such as automated collision detection or the ability to immediately halt in an emergency. These robots are safer for your machine operators to work around, but importantly they require less external safety equipment, like safety fences, and thus require less operating space.

Key considerations when choosing a CNC Milling robot

Choosing an automated CNC Milling robot is a big decision that requires careful consideration of several factors. The robot you select will have a major impact on your shop’s productivity and bottom line.


CNC Milling robots vary widely in price based on the level of automation and features. Robots that handle the loading and unloading of parts tend to cost less than ones that can change tools and handle more complex milling operations autonomously. Consider your budget and how much you can invest to potentially reduce labor costs and improve efficiency. RO1 by Standard Bots start from $5/hour but some robots can easily be double or triple this price.

Software and programming

The robot’s software and programming options are important to evaluate. Some key things to consider are:

  • How intuitive and user-friendly is the interface for programming parts and tool paths? The more complex the programming, the steeper the learning curve for your team.
  • How much customization and flexibility does the software allow for unique and complex parts? Software that can generate paths for a wide range of part geometries will have the most utility.
  • Does the software integrate with your existing CNC mill? Seamless integration will minimize additional programming time and reduce the chance of errors. Most robots will have the relays necessary to control your machines, but you may want to look for a deeper, “plug and play” integration such as that of Standard Bots and Haas.
  • How much support does the robotics company offer for learning and troubleshooting the software? Ongoing support and training resources are valuable for quickly getting up to speed.


One important factor to consider is the weight of the parts you need your robot to handle. A robot’s “payload” is the total weight the robot can handle at any one time. You’ll need to attach an appropriate end-effector or “gripper” to your robot to ensure it can handle the part. The total payload your robot is lifting at any one time includes not only the weight of your parts or blanks but also the net weight of the end-effector.

By carefully evaluating the costs, software, payload and other factors that match your needs, you can find an automated CNC Milling robot that will improve productivity without breaking the bank. The time invested upfront in choosing the right robot will pay off through increased efficiency and part quality for years to come.

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Top CNC Milling robot manufacturers


FANUC, headquartered in Japan, is one of the largest manufacturers of Industrial robots, including those for CNC Milling applications. They offer a wide range of articulated arm and SCARA robots with different payload capacities, reaches, and mounting options to suit any machine shop's needs. Their robots are very reliable, fast, and precise, with most offering repeatability of ±0.1mm or better. However, FANUC robots do tend to be on the higher end of the price spectrum.


ABB is a leading Swiss robotics company that produces many CNC Milling robots. They are known for their Flexible Palletizing Robot (FPR) which can tend up to four CNC Milling machines at a time. ABB's robots are also very high-performance in terms of speed, accuracy and durability. While typically a bit more affordable than FANUC, ABB robots are still considered a premium product and investment.


KUKA specializes in producing robotic arms for industrial automation, including CNC Milling applications. They offer a range of 6-axis articulated arm robots at lower price points than FANUC or ABB. KUKA's robots may have slightly lower performance specifications in some areas like repeatability or payload capacity. However, for many standard CNC Milling jobs, a KUKA robot would work perfectly well at a more budget-friendly cost.

Standard Bots

Standard Bots are a US-based robotics company, manufacturing the RO1 six-axis robotic arm in New York. They specialize in CNC mill tending and their robots come with both a class-leading payload of 18 kg and direct plug-and-play integrations with Hass milling machines. Standard Bots are a relative newcomer to the market and lack some of the operating histories of incumbents like ABB and FANUC, but they’ve been able to move faster and adapt to the needs of CNC mill operators. 

In summary, there are many excellent robotic CNC Milling manufacturers to choose from. By assessing your needs, priorities and financial constraints, you can determine which company offers the best solution for automating your CNC Milling operations. The right robot can help maximize productivity, throughput, and profitability.

The future of robotic CNC Milling: What's next?

CNC Milling has come a long way in a relatively short period of time as newcomers to the market challenge incumbents and push the technology forward. As technology continues to advance, these automated machines will become smarter, faster, and more versatile.

Smarter software and AI

  • Robot programming software is becoming more intuitive, with AI which can take the legwork out of programming and routine-building.
  • Advancements in machine learning and computer vision will allow robots to detect defects or make adjustments on the fly during milling operations. Robots may eventually be able to check completed parts for precision and accuracy without human intervention.

Faster processing and machining

  • Robot controllers and motors are improving, enabling robots to move and mill at higher speeds with greater precision. 
  • Better software integrations are allowing robots to operate CNC Milling machines directly, reducing cycle times and allowing higher throughput without human intervention.

Increased versatility

  • The next generation of CNC Milling robots will likely be more adaptable, with arms that offer greater dexterity and more range of motion. Robots with dual arms or other advanced end-effectors will be able to handle a wider range of parts and perform additional tasks like sorting, polishing or assembly.
  • Standardized tool changers and modular components will make robots compatible with a variety of CNC machines and easy to reconfigure for different jobs.


So there you have it, the basics of what you need to know when shopping for your first CNC Milling robot. Now you're equipped to evaluate options with confidence and find a solution tailored to your shop's needs and budget. While the initial investment may seem steep, the long-term benefits to productivity and quality will make the ROI worthwhile. And as robotics continues to advance, these automated systems are becoming more affordable, user-friendly, and versatile.

The future is automated - so take that first step and start reaping the rewards of a robotic machine-tending solution in your shop today. The time savings and improved operational efficiency will have you wondering why you didn't make the switch sooner!

Next steps

Interested in bringing robotic machining to your own business? 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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