The best providers to automate your CNC lathe

November 21, 2023
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What is a CNC lathe?

A CNC - or Computer Numerical Control - lathe is a sophisticated machine that shapes material into precise parts. It's like a traditional lathe, but smarter and more precise, thanks to its computer control.

Here's how it works:

  1. The material, your raw piece, is held firmly and spun around.
  2. Using various tools, the CNC lathe shapes this material into the part you need, giving you optimal precision.

When using a CNC lathe, it doesn't matter what raw material you're using - metal, plastic, or wood. The lathe can turn materials into anything from simple bolts to complex mechanical parts.

You can also have an automated CNC lathe. As the name suggests, these machines can run with very little input from a CNC operator. They follow detailed instructions to create parts that are exactly the same, every single time. This means less time is spent on manual adjustments and more time is spent producing high-quality parts.

In the hands of a skilled CNC operator, these machines become even more powerful. They can produce parts with intricate details and complex shapes, all while maintaining consistency.

Benefits of a CNC lathe machine

  • Accuracy and consistency: CNC lathes deliver precise and consistent results, ensuring each part has exact specifications.
  • Production efficiency: With automation, these machines can operate faster than manual lathes and significantly increase productivity.
  • Versatility: CNC lathes can work with a wide range of materials, from metals to plastics, making them suitable for various industries.
  • Flexibility in operations: A CNC lathe can be easily reprogrammed for different tasks, providing flexibility in production schedules and design changes.
  • Reduced operator fatigue: With a CNC lathe, operations can run for much longer and with less human intervention, reducing the physical strain on operators.
  • Complex designs: CNC lathes can produce complex shapes and designs that might be difficult or impossible to achieve with manual lathes.
  • Easy replication: Once you input a design, the same work can be replicated many times. This is highly beneficial for ensuring uniformity in mass production.
  • Less waste: The precision of CNC machining results in minimal material waste. This makes it a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly option.
  • Better safety: Automated operations reduce the risk of accidents, as the CNC operator isn't in direct contact with the tools.
  • Saving on labor costs: Automation means less manual intervention, which can ultimately lead to savings in labor costs over time.

Criteria to choose from

Choosing an automation system for your CNC lathe is a tricky business. To help you out, here are some criteria that can guide you to the best automation solution for your needs:

Ease of use

When choosing an automation system for your CNC lathe, the easier a system is to use, the better. Look for systems with easy-to-grasp interfaces and programming capabilities. This ensures that your CNC operator can quickly learn and manage the system.

User-friendly software reduces setup time and allows for faster adjustments, making switching between different tasks or designs a pain-free experience. This is particularly beneficial in machine shops where time is money. Ease of operation can significantly impact productivity, ensuring products can be machined in one operation.

Integration with your lathe

There's not much point in an automation system if it can't seamlessly connect to your existing lathe, including its lathe chuck. To ensure smooth operation, check for compatibility with your lathe's size, model, and brand.

Systems that offer flexible integration options can adapt to various lathe types, making them a versatile choice. When the automated process works in harmony with your lathe, it has been properly integrated.

Payload capacity

The payload capacity is simply the weight or load that a system can handle. It's another important point of consideration. It is particularly important to consider payload capacity if you have heavy or large raw materials that need to be handled.

The system should support the weight of your typical workpieces without compromising on performance. A higher payload capacity means the system can handle a wider range of jobs, be it light, delicate parts, or heavier components.

Choosing an automation system with the ideal payload capacity means being able to work on a wider range of projects or the option to diversify your operations in the future.

Joint speed

Joint speed refers to the speed at which the robotic components of a system move. Faster joint speeds mean operations can be completed much quicker, leading to increased throughput.

If you have a high-volume production environment, you will know how important time is. So, if you go for a system with a high joint speed, then you can drastically reduce cycle times. In short, more completed parts can be produced in a shorter amount of time. However, it's important to balance speed with precision so that you don't lose quality because of speed.


More often than not, you will have to reproduce the same completed part to the same specifications. To achieve this, you will need an automation system with the utmost precision. High repeatability ensures that every completed part is consistent with the last, so you can maintain quality standards. This is a key requirement in the aerospace and medical industries.

Look for systems that have high repeatability ratings to ensure the completed parts meet strict requirements, cycle after cycle.

Using Standard Bots RO1

The Standard Bots RO1 is a remarkable solution when it comes to CNC lathe automation. This robot system is specifically designed to enhance the efficiency and productivity of machining processes, making it a valuable asset for manufacturers. Its strong ability to handle raw materials with precision and consistency ensures high-quality production outcomes.

One of the key strengths of this robot is its versatility. It can adapt to both simple and complex tasks, providing flexibility in production schedules. Also, the RO1's integration into existing setups is straightforward, making it an ideal choice for businesses looking to upgrade their automation capabilities without complex overhauls.

It has a user-friendly interface that allows for easy configuration, operation, and adjustment, which reduces downtime and increases throughput. The affordability of the RO1, combined with its advanced features, offers a cost-effective solution for automating CNC lathes.

Many users have praised the RO1 for its ability to operate continuously, highlighting its reliability and durability. It should also be mentioned that the RO1 has market-leading speed and a robust payload capacity. This robot meets the current demands of CNC lathe automation and positions itself as a future-ready solution, adaptable to evolving production needs.

With Standard Bots' RO1, businesses can expect a significant improvement in their manufacturing efficiency and output quality.

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FANUC Robotics

FANUC Robotics is another trusted name in the field of CNC lathe automation, offering advanced solutions that enhance the efficiency and productivity of machining processes. Their automation systems are designed to handle a variety of tasks, from loading raw materials to executing precise machining operations.

A standout feature of FANUC's range is their ability to integrate somewhat effortlessly with existing machines, streamlining the automation process and minimizing disruption.

FANUC Robotics primarily focuses on Collaborative robots. These robots work alongside human operators, enhancing safety and efficiency. For example, their FastLOAD CX1000 and CX2000 models are equipped with collaborative robotic arms and can be easily moved and set up around the shop.

This mobility and flexibility make them ideal for manufacturers looking to quickly adapt to different production needs. To add to this, FANUC's robots are well known for their reliability, ensuring consistent production without needless stops. Continuous operation is crucial for meeting strict production targets.

The integration of FANUC robots into a CNC lathe setup not only streamlines the machining process but also boosts productivity, making them valuable for any manufacturing operation looking to optimize its processes and output.

KUKA Robotics

Many manufacturers know KUKA Robotics for their innovative approach to automation. Unsurprisingly, they offer a unique approach to CNC lathe automation. KUKA's automation systems are good at handling a variety of tasks, so integrating one of their devices is fairly easy.

Much like FANUC, they create highly efficient Collaborative robots. These Cobots, like the LBR iisy, are renowned for their flexibility and ease of use, making them ideal for machine shops of all sizes. They can perform repetitive tasks such as loading and unloading raw materials so that skilled workers can focus on more complex operations.

KUKA's automation solutions are also characterized by their adaptability. They can be quickly reconfigured for different tasks, making them suitable for dynamic production environments. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for companies that handle a wide range of machining jobs. Another huge bonus is their user-friendly interfaces, so you won't need extensive technical knowledge.


How much does a new CNC lathe cost?

A new CNC lathe can vary quite widely in cost. They usually range between $20,000 and $300,000. The price depends on factors like the machine's size, capabilities, and specific features. For example, smaller, less complex machines will be at the lower end of this price range.

On the other hand, larger, more advanced models with extra features, like higher precision and automation capabilities, can cost you a lot more.

How much does it cost to run a CNC lathe?

While it's hard to estimate labor and maintenance costs, electricity costs depend on a machine's power consumption and the rates in your area. For example, a machine consuming 20 kW running for 5 hours a day at an electricity rate of $0.10 per kWh would cost about $1 per day in electricity.

Regular maintenance and tooling can add several thousands of dollars annually, depending on usage. Labor costs can be significant but are usually reduced with automation.

What's the difference between a CNC lathe and a conventional lathe?

The main difference between a CNC lathe and a conventional lathe is automation. A CNC lathe is controlled by a computer, which allows for automated, precise movements. Whereas a conventional lathe requires manual operation for all movements.

Also, CNC lathes offer higher precision and speed compared to conventional lathes that rely heavily on an operator's skill to produce good results.

How difficult is it to integrate automation systems into existing CNC lathes?

These days, integrating automation systems into CNC lathes has become much easier. Although it involves considerations, like machine tool risk assessments and possibly the addition of features like fences or an automatic door, the overall process is manageable.

This is mainly because manufacturers are designing their systems to have simpler programming and better integration capabilities.

What kind of training is required for CNC operators to use automated systems?

For training on automated systems, CNC operators generally focus on understanding the automation technology and its integration with the CNC machine. This typically involves learning how to program and operate the automation equipment such as robots or loaders, as well as understanding safety protocols.

So, the training is more about overseeing and managing the automation system to keep operations running smoothly and to troubleshoot and fix issues as needed.

Final thoughts

Having a lathe automation system opens up numerous possibilities. Although FANUC and KUKA offer strong solutions, Standard Bots RO1 Collaborative robot remains a compelling choice for lathe tending, especially for those who want a nice balance between affordability and advanced features. Just have a look at the testimonials from users highlighting its efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Options and cost aside, remember that selecting the right automation system requires careful consideration of its usability, integration, payload capacity, joint speed, and repeatability.

As technology evolves, choosing the right automation system can significantly improve the efficiency of your operations and make growth much easier.

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