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 safety features built-in which allow 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 the UR10e from Universal Robots or RO1 from Standard Bots, which can handle payloads of up to 20 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.
When determining the best robot for your needs, consider the types of machines you want to automate, the weight of your parts and the space available in your cell. Cobots tend to be more affordable and easier to implement but have lower payloads. Industrial robots can handle heavier payloads but take up more space and require deeper expertise to program.
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.
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.
For Machine Tending, you'll want an arm with a suitable payload and reach to handle your machine's parts. Consider the size, weight, and complexity of the parts. A robot with a higher payload and longer reach will have a larger footprint, so make sure you have enough floor space. You'll also need to choose an appropriate end-effector, such as a gripper, for grabbing parts.
When selecting a robotic arm for Machine Tending, consider:
All of these factors are important to consider not just to ensure your robot works effectively, but to ensure your solution is cost-effective and provides a return on investment.
With the right robotic arm handling Machine Tending tasks, you can increase productivity, improve quality, and reduce costs. Major manufacturers of robotic arms for Machine Tending include FANUC, ABB, Standard Bots, and Yaskawa Motoman. These manufactures offer a range of arm types to suit a variety of different needs and budgets.
The end-effector, or gripper, on your Machine Tending robot is its “hands”. They are what 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.
If your robot needs to perform various tasks during the machining process, like polishing or door closing, a tool changer allows it 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 and duct tape 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.
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 which 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.
The 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 the need for physical interaction.
Consider the area the robot needs to access. Its reach refers to the maximum distance it can extend its arm. Look for a robot with a reach 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.
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.
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.
When choosing a Machine Tending robot, you have several major manufacturers to consider. Each offering various models suited for different needs.
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 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.
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.
Whether you need a robot to load and unload parts, handle materials, or perform inspection and sorting, there are a variety of robot arms which can get the job done efficiently and cost-effectively. The key is determining exactly what tasks you need automated, the machines your robot will interact with, and the required speed, payload, and precision.
Interested in bringing robotic Machine Tending to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is the best choice for machine shops large and small:
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.