What are linear robots? How they work, pros & cons

June 12, 2024
Standard Bots robot visualizer

So, what is a linear robot?

Linear robots are automated machines that move in straight lines rather than rotating joints. 

They use a system of belts, pulleys, and actuators to maneuver a robotic arm or end-effector in a straight path. Some models also use ball screws, racks, and pinions to allow movement.

Core components of linear robots

Linear robots may sound simple, but they’re deceivingly complex.

Here are their main components: 

  • Linear robots move along a fixed path defined by guide rails. These rails provide precise guidance and support for the robot. These rails are typically made of hardened steel or aluminum.
  • The motor and drive mechanism propels the linear robot along the guide rails. Linear motors are commonly used, where the stator is fixed to the guide rail, and the rotor moves the robot. Belt or chain drives are also popular, where a motor turns a belt or chain attached to the robot.
  • Bearings allow the linear robot to slide smoothly along the guide rails without much friction. Bearings also help support the weight of the robot and any payload. Ball or roller bearings are very common. 
  • The controller coordinates the bot’s movement and actions. It controls the motor and drive mechanism to propel the robot to the correct position. The controller also handles any additional functions of the robot like picking and placing. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are used frequently. 
  • Other components like end-effectors, sensors, and tooling plates are often added to linear robots depending on the application. End-effectors like grippers allow the robot to grasp and manipulate objects. Sensors help guide and control the robot with precision. Tooling plates provide a mounting surface for the components used by the robot.

How do linear robots operate?

Their single degree of freedom means they can only move forward and backward, not side to side. 

Here’s how they operate: 

  • Like trains on a track: Linear robots move back and forth along a fixed path, similar to how a train follows its rails. This single direction of movement allows them to efficiently transport materials or complete tasks along a set route.
  • Powered by motors and gears: The robot's movement is driven by motors and mechanisms like ball screws, racks and pinions, or belts and pulleys. These work together to convert rotational motion from the motor into the linear motion of the robot.
  • A carriage for carrying: The robot itself is attached to a carriage that slides smoothly along the track. Think of it as the robot's personal vehicle for moving back and forth. This carriage picks up loads at one end, transports them along the track, and then drops them off at the other end.
  • Options for arms: To extend their reach and capabilities, some linear robots are equipped with articulated arms attached to the carriage. These arms can grab and manipulate objects, making the robot more versatile.
  • Upside-down or right-side up: Many linear robots are designed with an inverted rail system, where the track is mounted overhead. This clever design frees up valuable floor space and allows the robots to easily navigate over obstacles and work areas. The carriage hangs down from the underside of the track, carrying out its tasks efficiently. In the case of heavier loads, some systems opt for floor-mounted tracks for added stability.
Standard Bots routine editor

Applications of linear robots in various industries

Linear robots are very common in manufacturing and assembly. Here, we’ll explore some areas where they’re outshining their human peers: 

Putting things together 

On assembly lines, linear robots pick up components and place them quickly and accurately onto products as they move down the line. 

Things like installing computer chips onto circuit boards, placing caps on bottles, or attaching labels onto packages are all jobs linear robots are great at. 

Packing it in 

The packaging industry relies heavily on linear robots. 

They pick up items from a conveyor belt and place them into boxes, trays, or pallets at very high speeds. Once filled, the robots can then move the packages onto another conveyor for shipping.

“I’ll take a look” 

Linear robots can be fitted with cameras, sensors, and other inspection equipment to check products for quality as they move through the production process. 

The robots move along a path, scanning items to detect any flaws. They can then remove or flag any non-conforming products. Inspection helps ensure only top-shelf goods make it out to customers.

Advantages of using linear robots

Linear robots offer several benefits over other types of industrial robots: 

  • In it for the long haul: Linear robots have an impressive range of motion. They can access large work areas with ease, as long as the areas are on their defined linear path. This makes them perfect for tasks that require covering a lot of ground.
  • Easy to program and get working: Thanks to their simple design, linear robots are super-easy to program and integrate into your existing assembly line or manufacturing process. 
  • Productivity boost: Their speed, precision, and tireless “work ethic” make them far more productive than humans when it comes to repetitive tasks on the assembly line. 
  • Saving you money (in the long run): While there's an upfront investment, linear robots ultimately help you save money. They cut down on waste, improve quality control, and minimize costly errors and rejects. By taking over the more dangerous jobs, they also reduce the risk of worker injuries, which can lead to significant savings on medical bills and lost time. 
  • Quality you can count on: Linear robots are all about consistency and quality. They are great at precise, repetitive tasks where attention to detail is crucial. They don't get tired or distracted, always performing at their best. With vision systems or other sensors, their performance gets even better. 

Limitations of linear robots

Great? Yes. Perfect? No. Linear robots, like any other type, have limitations.

Linear robots are: 

  • Not the best multitaskers: Linear robots can only move back and forth along a straight line. This limits them to tasks that require linear motion, not more complex or varied movements.
  • Limited range of motion: Think of them as having a short leash — their movement is confined to the length of their track, which might only be a few meters long. So, they're not the best choice if you need a robot to cover a large area or work in a wide space.
  • Can be pricey: Investing in a linear robot is a bit like buying a luxury car — it'll cost you a pretty penny upfront. The guide mechanisms, rails, and other components needed for linear motion can be expensive to install and maintain. While they can pay off in the long run for high-volume operations, smaller businesses might find the initial cost a bit too steep. 
  • Not as flexible as other robots: Compared to their articulated counterparts, which have multiple joints and can move in various directions, linear robots are a bit simpler. This simplicity has its advantages, like speed, precision, and reliability, but it also means they're not as versatile. Articulated robots can be reprogrammed for a wider range of tasks, while linear robots are usually designed for one specific job.

Comparison with other types of robotic systems

Robotic arms have joints that allow movement in multiple directions — kind of like a human arm. 

Linear robots, on the other hand (pun intended) are a bit more limited.

If you've seen a manufacturing assembly line, you've probably seen linear robots in action. For companies focused on mass production, linear robots are ideal.

In contrast, articulated robotic arms offer more skill and range of motion. They can perform tasks that require movement in multiple directions or orientations. Robotic arms are well suited for smaller-batch production, where frequent changeovers are the norm. 

But, for many companies, a combination of linear robots and robotic arms provides the most benefit.

Linear robots dominate the highly repetitive conveyance tasks. Meanwhile, robotic arms handle more intricate assembly jobs downstream. 

Together, this automated workforce can be more than the sum of its parts

Summing up 

A linear robot may not be the fanciest machine out there, but it gets the job done. Keep its advantages and limitations in mind when considering a linear robot for your shop floor.

Remember, if you need a bit of an upgrade, then a robotic arm with more axes of motion may be in order! 

Next steps 

Achieve new productive heights with RO1 from Standard Bots, a state-of-the-art, six-axis robot arm engineered for businesses of all scales with:

  • Affordable automation: Embrace cutting-edge automation technology at 50% of the cost of comparable options.
  • Unrivaled performance: RO1's 18 kg payload capacity and remarkable speed surpass similar robots.
  • Adaptability redefined: Utilizing advanced AI on par with GPT-4, RO1 continually refines its performance by learning and adapting to your specific processes, all within a user-friendly, no-code environment.
  • Safety and collaboration: Designed to work alongside your team, RO1 prioritizes safety through cutting-edge vision and sensor capabilities.

Discover how RO1 can supercharge your operations with a 30-day risk-free trial. Connect with us today to book a demo.

Standard Bots equipment manager
Standard Bots camera vision
Press contacts