Machine tending with robots: How to enhance efficiency

July 28, 2023
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Types of machine tending robots

When choosing a machine tending robot, you have several options to consider based on your needs. 

The two main types used for this particular application are: 

Cobots are flexible, lightweight robots with built-in safety features allowing them to work safely side-by-side with humans. They typically have a payload capacity of less than 50 kg. Popular cobots for machine tending include RO1 from Standard Bots, which can handle payloads of up to 18 kg. These cobots are easy to program and can tend to a variety of machines.

For heavier parts and blanks, a traditional industrial robot is better suited. Five and six-axis articulated robot arms are commonly used, like the FANUC M-20 series, which can handle up to 35 kg. FANUC’s M-410 range can even handle extreme payloads with a class-topping 700 kg payload. However, these robots require safety fences and other pieces of equipment to operate within a machine shop.

Robots for machine tending applications

Beyond the safety level of your robot, the exact choice of robot arm you make will dictate the results of your machine tending automation. The most common types of robot arms used are Articulated, SCARA, and Gantry robots. 

Let’s take a more in-depth look: 

  • Articulated robots (such as the six-axis robot arm mentioned above) have rotary joints that provide a large range of motion. 
  • SCARA robots have 2 rotary joints and one linear joint, offering high speed and precision and are especially useful when loading or unloading parts in a circular area. 
  • Gantry robots, also known as Cartesian robots, work on a fixed track and make up for a lack of flexibility with swift movements and near-perfect repeatability. 

When selecting a robotic arm for machine tending, consider:

  • Payload and reach to handle your machine's parts
  • Speed and precision required for your application
  • Available floor space and environment 
  • How easy it will be to integrate the robot with your equipment
  • Cost based on the robot's capabilities and level of sophistication

All of these factors are important to consider not only to ensure your robot works effectively but also to ensure your solution is cost-effective and provides a return on investment. 

Grippers for machine tending

The end-effector, or gripper, on your machine tending robot are essentially its “hands.” They physically interact with and manipulate the parts and machines being tended to. 

There are a few common types of end-effectors used for machine tending applications:

  • Grippers, as the name suggests, grip onto and pick up parts, materials, and tools. They come in a variety of styles suitable for different materials, like vacuum grippers, magnetic grippers, and simple mechanical grippers.

    For machine tending, you’ll typically want a multi-fingered gripper that can grasp a variety of shapes and sizes. Pneumatically-actuated grippers that run on compressed air are a popular choice.
  • Tool changers allow your robot to automatically swap end-effectors. The tool changer attaches to the robot arm and holds multiple end-effectors that it can exchange on demand.

    This can maximize productivity since the robot doesn’t need to be retooled, work alongside other robots, or require any human intervention. The downside is that tool changers are heavy and can strain low-payload robot arms.

    When choosing end-effectors for your machine tending robot, there are a variety of items to consider.
  • Parts, materials, and tools: Do you need a suction gripper for glass? A needle gripper for fabric? Or just a 3-jaw gripper for a metal blank?
  • Weight: The weight of the end-effector equipped on the robot counts towards the maximum payload capacity. This includes any additional cables or connections required for power or actuation. In most circumstances, the end-effector is powered independently from the robot arm.
  • Ease of integration: Does your end-effector have “plug and play” integration with your chosen robot, or is some elbow grease required? Your robot’s manufacturer will be able to make compatible recommendations.
  • Durability: For intensive machine tending, select durable end-effectors that can withstand repetitive use and interaction with industrial machinery. Heavy lifting can quickly wear out unreliable grippers.
  • Additional features: Consider end-effectors with useful features like part detection sensors, vision systems for defect identification, or built-in blowing/vacuuming for automated part cleaning.

Considerations when selecting a machine tending robot

When choosing a machine tending robot, several factors will determine if it’s the right fit for your needs. Think about what's most important for your application to find a robot that checks all the boxes.


Some manufacturers will install a robot which can manually open and close machine doors and begin operations with a hand-like end-effector. While versatile, this is inefficient and the increased cycle times heavily reduce productivity. 

Instead, look for a robot arm that can connect to your chosen machine and control it directly. This may take the form of standard relay controls or a purpose-made integration for a particular machine. 

RO1 by Standard Bots has a plug-and-play integration with Haas CNC mills, allowing the robot to automatically open and close the doors and begin the milling process without needing any physical interaction.

Reach and range of motion

Consider the area the robot needs to access. Its reach refers to the maximum distance it can extend its arm. Look for a robot that can reach blanks and machines anywhere in your entire cell. 

Also consider the robot’s range of motion and number of axes, which determine how freely it can move and rotate. It's important to consider whether or not your robot will have to rotate or twist a part to load or unload it.

Speed and precision

Think about how quickly and accurately the robot needs to operate. Robot speed is measured in meters per second (m/s) or degrees per second (deg/s). Precision refers to how accurately the robot can repeat movements and positions. 

Higher speed and precision are better for high-volume, repetitive tasks that require meticulous positioning. In robotics, this is generally referred to as “repeatability.” Slower, less precise robots may suit simple machine loading or unloading.

Interface and programming

Consider how easy the robot will be to program and integrate into your operations. In a high-mix machine shop, look for a simple, intuitive interface with pre-programmed functions for common tasks like pick and place.

Some robots offer offline programming so you can program without disrupting production. Also, consider the experience of your staff in programming robots. Easier systems may have a shorter learning curve and reduce the retooling time needed when tending to new machines or handling new parts.


Robot prices vary widely based on the specifications. Basic robots can cost under $30,000, while high-payload robot solutions with advanced programming capabilities and peripherals like conveyors or vision systems can cost upwards of $200,000 or more. Analyze the total cost of ownership, including programming, installation, and maintenance. 

A higher upfront cost can be worth it for maximum efficiency and productivity over the lifetime of the robot.

Plus, robotic automation has a great ROI of just 1-3 years on average.

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Major manufacturers of machine tending robots

When choosing a machine tending robot, you have several major manufacturers to consider. Each offers various models suited for different needs.

Standard Bots

Standard Bots is a US-based manufacturer of six-axis robot arms. Their flagship RO1 model is specifically designed for machine tending, with a class-leading 18 kg payload and direct integrations with Haas mills and OnRobot grippers. Standard Bots has the most affordable solution on the market with a machine tending solution starting from $5/hour.


FANUC is one of the largest robotics companies, offering many machine tending models. Their M-10 series are compact, with a 10 kg payload, while the M-20 line handles up to 20 kg. 

For higher payloads up to 100 kg, their M-2000 series is a great choice. They offer pre-engineered solutions for CNC machines, injection molding, and press tending. FANUC is based in Japan and its robots are used worldwide.


ABB is a Swiss robotics leader, providing a range of industrial robot arms under its IRB brand. Their IRB 1200 model is a popular light-duty option, while the IRB 6700 line handles heavy loads up to 700 kg. 

ABB's Robotics Discrete Automation software helps simplify programming for machine tending.

Yaskawa Motoman

Yaskawa Motoman produces many effective machine tending robots, including their compact DX100 and FS100 lines, which handle 5-20 kg payloads. Their larger FS2000 and FS3000 models are well-suited for heavy machines tending up to 600 kg. 

Yaskawa's SmartSeries reduces risk by using pre-engineered packages for press tending, CNC load, unload, and injection molding.

Next steps

RO1 by Standard Bots comes with everything you need to automate your machine tending applications on popular mills from Haas, Mazak, and more.

  1. Affordable automation: RO1 is significantly more affordable than competing robots in its class and is available with both a 30-day on-site trial and ongoing leasing options.
  2. Class-leading capability: RO1 leads its class with an impressive 18 kg payload, boasts a joint speed that's over twice as fast as the competition at 435 degrees per second, and offers superior precision with a repeatability of +/- 0.025mm.
  3. Full machine tending solution: RO1 comes pre-packed with every accessory and gripper you need, alongside a simple configuration wizard and simulator — meaning your robot can be up and running within hours.

Speak with our solutions engineers today and get tailored advice on automating your machine shop with RO1.

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