What is a CNC robot router and how to choose one for your factory floor

August 24, 2023
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What is a CNC robot router?

A CNC (“computer numerical control”) robot router is an automated cutting machine guided by a computer to precisely cut materials like wood, plastics, and light metals. Unlike a traditional CNC machine where a part is inserted and milled, a CNC robot router can freely move across a part to perform milling tasks.

CNC robot routers use a spinning cutter, called an end-effector or “end mill”, attached to a robotic arm to cut shapes and patterns into material. An operator designs the cutting path on a computer, then the robot arm guides the end-effector along that path. The end-effector spins at high speeds, shaving away the material to create the desired shape with extreme accuracy.

CNC robot routers are generally stationary, Articulated arms with an end-effector attached. Parts are brought to the robot, which can then reach across or around it to perform the appropriate cuts. Gantry (or “Cartesian”) robot routers can move along a ceiling track and mill large pieces or travel across multiple areas of a factory floor to perform milling tasks. 

For less industrialized environments, there exists wheeled, Portable CNC robot routers. These robots are much smaller than their Articulated or Cartesian counterparts, but come equipped with wheels and can freely move across a part. They’re a decent choice for high-mix shops that prioritize flexibility, but where they really shine are for small shops or site-based cutting where installing a permanent or semi-permanent robot is impractical. 

Key considerations when choosing a CNC robot router

No matter which type of robot you go for, there are some common themes you’ll want to consider across each of them:

  • Work envelope: The work envelope indicates the extent of the machine’s reach and determines the largest size of the workpiece it can handle. The ability to mill extremely large parts is one of the primary benefits of using a CNC robot router in the first place, so it’s important to make sure your robot has the reach you need to make it a sound investment.
  • Number of axes: The number of axes corresponds to the robot’s range of motion. More axes enable intricate cutting patterns and complex shapes but can slow down cycle times and increase the upfront cost of the robot. We recommend a minimum of 4 axes, but most manufacturers choose a six-axis robot.
  • Precision: Precision, known as “repeatability” in the robotics industry, is crucial for achieving accurate and detailed cuts. Unlike a CNC machine, different robots can have wildly different levels of repeatability tolerances and this can be further influenced by your choice of end-effector and the payload capacity of the robot. 
  • Software: Robotics software is different from the CNC software you might be used to. Opt for a CNC robot router that offers user-friendly and intuitive software, allowing you to efficiently translate your ideas into precise machining instructions. Otherwise, you may need to rely on hiring programmers or outside consultants to keep your robot on task.

End-effectors of a CNC robot router

The end-effector, also known as the end-of-arm tooling, is a critical component of a CNC robot router that directly interacts with the workpiece. This choice greatly influences the machine's capabilities, precision, and versatility. 

Different end-effectors are designed to perform specific tasks and accommodate various materials. Here are some common types of end-effectors used with CNC robot routers:

Router spindle: A router spindle is one of the most common and versatile end-effectors for CNC robot routers. It features a rotating cutting tool, such as a router bit or an end mill, which is used for cutting, carving, engraving, and shaping materials like wood, plastic, and metal. Router spindles come in various sizes and power ratings to accommodate different cutting requirements.

Drag knife: A drag knife end-effector is used for cutting thin, flexible materials like vinyl, fabric, and paper. It operates by dragging small blades across the material’s surface, producing precise and intricate cuts. Drag knives are commonly used in industries such as sign-making, textiles, and packaging. 

Unlike a CNC machine, your robot isn’t enclosed, so you’ll need to consider the safety implications of having a robot swinging a knife around and put in place appropriate mitigations like safety fencing and emergency stop buttons.

Rotary chuck: A rotary chuck end-effector is designed for holding and rotating cylindrical or irregularly shaped workpieces. It is often used for tasks such as engraving, cylindrical carving, and sculpting. The chuck can secure the workpiece while the router spindle or other cutting tools create intricate patterns. 

The choice of an end-effector depends on the specific requirements of the task, the type of material being processed, and the desired outcome. As opposed to a traditional CNC machine, a CNC robot router system often offers flexibility to interchange or customize end-effectors, allowing you to adapt the machine to any application.

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Top CNC robot router manufacturers

When it comes to CNC robot routers, there are several major manufacturers you’ll want to consider. These companies are industry leaders, producing high-quality, reliable equipment for manufacturing environments.


KUKA is a distinguished German robotics company that produces a wide range of CNC robot routers and other automation equipment. Their KR C4 series offers 6-Axis robots suitable for milling, drilling, cutting, and other routing applications. KUKA’s robots are known for precision, speed, and durability.


ABB is one of the largest Swiss industrial robotics companies. Their robot router offerings include the IRB series, with models that can handle payloads up to 900 kg. ABB’s robot routers provide flexibility, accuracy and smooth path performance for demanding 24/7 milling and cutting operations.

Standard Bots

Standard Bots is a robotics manufacturer headquartered in the United States. Their RO1 Six-Axis robot is the most affordable option in its competing class, yet has the highest payload, most precise repeatability and fastest joint speeds among its peers. A simple no-code programming interface also makes RO1 an easy robot to get started with.


A relative newcomer to the robotics industry, Italy-based Goliath manufactures a Portable CNC robot router. Their wheeled robot can cover any size of a surface and excels in milling softer materials like wood, soft plastics and sheet metals. If you operate a very small shop with lots of human oversight, Goliath is a great choice. 

Next steps

These automated systems can revolutionize your production line and open up a whole new world of manufacturing capabilities. Do some research on the options from major brands to determine what's the best fit for your needs and budget. Compare specs, talk to other business owners, and check reviews so you can make an informed decision. 

Interested in bringing a CNC robot router to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is a great 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.

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