Should your machine shop adopt robot machining?

July 13, 2023
Standard Bots robot visualizer

The benefits of robot machining

Implementing robot machining in your machine shop can bring several tangible advantages. Let's explore some of the key benefits:

Increased efficiency and productivity

By automating machining tasks, robot machining significantly reduces cycle times and increases overall productivity. Robots can work without breaks, tirelessly performing operations round the clock. This helps your machine shop to meet tight deadlines and take on higher production volumes, ultimately leading to improved efficiency.

Contrary to popular belief, robot machining also offers enhanced flexibility. Robots can easily adapt to different machining processes and can be reprogrammed quickly to accommodate changes in production requirements. Some robots can even be programmed without any coding knowledge. This allows high-mix shops to reduce the downtime required for retooling.

With this level of efficiency, it is common for one operator to easily oversee several robots in a cell.

Improved accuracy and precision

Precision is paramount in the machining industry, and robots excel in delivering consistent results. With proper programming and their inherent high repeatability, robots can achieve tight tolerances and handle intricate geometries with ease. This level of precision not only enhances product quality but also reduces scrap and rework costs.

Furthermore, robot machining eliminates the potential for human error. Unlike human operators, robots do not experience fatigue or distractions, ensuring that each machining operation is executed with the utmost accuracy. This leads to a reduction in defects and improves overall customer satisfaction.

Enhanced safety measures

Machine shops can be hazardous environments, with many potential acute and/or long-term risks to human operators. Robot machining can reduce many of these safety concerns. By delegating potentially dangerous tasks to robots, such as handling sharp blanks, you can ensure the well-being of your employees. 

Additionally, robots are often equipped with sensors that can detect potential collisions and stop quickly, further mitigating the likelihood of accidents. These types of robots are known as “Cobots'' or Collaborative robots. Cobots can be programmed to follow strict safety protocols, such as maintaining a safe distance from human operators or shutting down in the event of an emergency. This level of safety control minimizes the risk of injuries and creates a safer working environment for everyone involved.

It is worth mentioning that the implementation of robot machining also contributes to sustainability efforts. Robots consume less energy per cycle compared to traditional machining methods, reducing the carbon footprint of your machine shop. This not only benefits the environment but also helps in achieving cost savings through lower energy consumption.

The challenges of implementing robot machining

While the benefits of robot machining are undeniable, there are drawbacks that machine shop owners must consider before adopting this technology. Before diving headfirst into implementing this technology, it is essential to understand and address the challenges that come with it.

Initial investment costs

Introducing robotics into your machine shop involves upfront costs. From purchasing the robotic system itself to integrating it with your existing setup, the initial investment can be significant. However, it's vital to assess these costs in terms of the long-term benefits and potential return on investment.

Costs will include installation, programming and necessary equipment like an end-effector purposely chosen for your chosen parts or task. Additional costs can include safety equipment specific to your application, or accessories like conveyors.

Robotic arms, the most common type of robot used to automate machining, typically start from over $40,000, although our RO1 robot starts from $5/hour. 

While the initial investment may seem daunting, it is important to consider the potential cost savings in the long run. Robot machining can reduce labor costs, minimize material waste, and optimize production processes, leading to increased profitability over time.

Training and skill requirements

Implementing robot machining requires a skilled workforce capable of programming and maintaining your robotic systems. Training your employees in robot programming and operation might be necessary, depending on their existing skill set. It's crucial to evaluate your team's capabilities and invest in training to ensure a smooth transition.

Some robots, including the RO1, can be programmed without the need for coding knowledge, thanks to visual, drag-and-drop routine builders. Choosing a robot with this capability can significantly cut down training and retooling times.

Maintenance and upkeep

Robotic systems, like any machinery, require regular maintenance to operate efficiently. This includes tasks such as lubrication, inspection, and replacing worn-out parts. It's important to factor in the cost and time associated with maintenance when considering robot machining adoption.

While maintenance may add additional costs and time to your operations, it is crucial for ensuring the longevity and optimal performance of your robotic systems. Implementing a well-defined maintenance schedule and investing in preventive maintenance can help minimize downtime and maximize productivity.

Some robot providers will include a maintenance contract as part of the sale. Pay attention to the number of operational hours the robot is expected to perform before equipment failure. Some manufacturers will offer free part replacement, which can save significant costs when a critical component fails.

Case studies of successful robot machining adoption

Examining real-life examples of successful robot machining adoption can provide valuable insight into its potential benefits. Let's explore two distinct case studies:

Large-scale manufacturing industries

Many large-scale manufacturing industries, such as automotive and aerospace, have embraced robot machining to optimize their production processes. These industries require high-volume machining with exceptional precision, often in a high-mix environment. By implementing robot machining, they have achieved substantial improvements in productivity, quality, and cost-efficiency.

One such example is a leading automotive manufacturer in the US which integrated robot machining into their assembly line. Before adopting this technology, they relied heavily on manual machining processes, which were time-consuming and prone to errors. By introducing robots to perform machining tasks, they were able to significantly increase their production output while maintaining consistent quality standards. The robots were programmed to execute complex machining operations with utmost precision, resulting in a higher level of accuracy compared to human operators.

Moreover, the implementation of robot machining allowed the automotive manufacturer to reduce their operating costs. With robots handling the machining tasks, there was a decrease in material waste and rework, leading to cost savings. Additionally, the robots operated continuously without the need for breaks or rest, further enhancing productivity and reducing the impact of the US labor shortage.

Similarly, the aerospace industry has also benefited from robot machining. A renowned aircraft manufacturer known for some of the largest airliners flying in the US incorporated collaborative robots into their machining processes to fabricate intricate components with tight tolerances. By utilizing robots, they achieved faster production cycles and reduced rework and scrappage. The cobots worked seamlessly alongside human operators in their cells, bringing consistency to the manufacturing process and repeatedly ensuring the highest level of precision.

Small and medium machine shops

Robot machining is not limited to large corporations; small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can also benefit. Machine shops which produce customized or low-volume parts have utilized robot machining to stay competitive. By automating certain machining operations, they have reduced lead times, increased flexibility, and improved product consistency.

For instance, a small engineering firm specializing in the production of customized parts for various industries implemented robot machining to enhance their manufacturing capabilities. Before adopting this technology, they faced challenges in meeting tight deadlines and maintaining consistent quality due to manual machining processes. By introducing robots, they were able to operate overnight without increasing operator shifts, resulting in reduced lead times and improved customer satisfaction.

The automation of machining operations also allowed the machine shop to handle a wider range of projects. The robots could be easily reprogrammed to accommodate different part designs and specifications, providing the necessary flexibility to meet diverse customer requirements. This adaptability gave the firm a competitive edge in the market, attracting more clients and expanding its business.

Making the decision: Is robot machining right for your shop?

Having explored the various aspects of robot machining adoption, it's time to determine whether it's the right fit for your machine shop. Let's consider a few key factors:

Assessing your shop's needs and capabilities

Every machine shop is unique, with specific requirements and limitations. Assessing your shop's needs, such as production volume, part complexity, and available floor space, is crucial. Additionally, evaluating your team's skills and readiness to adapt to robotics technology will help gauge the feasibility of implementation.

Cost-benefit analysis

Performing a thorough cost-benefit analysis is essential before making any significant investment. Consider the costs of implementing robot machining, including the initial investment, training, and maintenance, against the projected benefits, such as increased productivity, improved quality, and reduced labor costs. Ensure the time until you reach a return on investment is clear.

Future-proofing your business

Lastly, it's important to consider the future trajectory of the manufacturing industry. As the US labor shortage worsens and manufacturing demand continues to evolve, the need for automated solutions is expected to grow. Embracing robot machining now can position your machine shop as an industry leader and open up opportunities for future growth and diversification.

Adopting robot machining in your machine shop is a significant decision that requires careful consideration. By weighing the benefits, challenges, and case studies, you can make an informed choice that aligns with your business goals and positions you for success in the ever-evolving manufacturing landscape.

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.

Standard Bots routine editor
Standard Bots equipment manager
Standard Bots camera vision
Press contacts