What is a machine tending robot? The easy guide

October 25, 2023
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What is a machine tending robot?

In simple terms, a machine tending robot is a complex automated machine that can operate complex machinery. This could range from placing a raw metal piece into a CNC machine for cutting to taking a freshly molded plastic part out of an injection molding machine.

How machine tending robots work

Understanding the mechanics of machine tending robots helps clarify why they’re a smart choice for many manufacturers. Let's take a closer look at the main components, the software that runs them, and the typical workflow involved.

Main components

  • Robot arm: This is the "muscle" of the system. Robot arms vary in size and capability but are generally designed to mimic human movements.
  • End-effector: Think of this as the robot's "hand." It's the part that interacts directly with the material or machine, whether gripping, cutting, or moving items.
  • Sensors: These are the "eyes and ears" that help the robot understand its environment. Sensors can detect the size and position of materials, ensuring accurate and efficient operation.
  • Controller: The "brain" that coordinates all the actions. Usually a computer interface, the controller uses software to manage the robot's tasks.


  • User interface: Usually a touchscreen or computer program, the UI is where operators input instructions and monitor performance.
  • Machine learning algorithms: Advanced systems employ machine learning to improve efficiency over time, learning from past operations to optimize future tasks.


  1. The system starts with predefined settings or learns the initial state of the workspace using sensors.
  2. Based on the input from the operator or a pre-set program, the robot arm moves to execute the task. This could involve picking up material, placing it into a machine, operating the machine via connected relays, and then removing the finished product.
  3. Some systems include a step where the robot or an additional sensor - such as a camera - checks the quality of the output. If something's off, it goes back to the operator for adjustment.
  4. Once the task is complete, the robot either moves on to the next job in the queue or returns to its home position, ready for the next cycle.

By automating these steps, robotic machine tending brings in a level of precision and efficiency hard to achieve with manual labor. Plus, you've got the added bonus of data tracking, helping you understand your production process better.

Types of machine tending robots

Machine tending robots come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s take a look at the most popular types: 

  • Articulated robots. These robots have rotary joints that can range from simple two-joint structures to complex ten-joint structures, allowing them to mimic human arm movements.

    Articulated robots are super versatile and can be used in a variety of applications, including CNC machine tending, where their flexibility allows them to handle complex tasks and work in tight spaces.
  • Cartesian robots. Known for their linear movement, Cartesian robots operate along three orthogonal axes and are highly precise. They’re commonly used in applications that require straight-line motion, such as picking and placing parts in injection molding and precise positioning in CNC operations.
  • SCARA robots. Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm (SCARA) robots are perfect for fast, precise, and repeatable horizontal movements. They’re often used in assembly processes that require high-speed pick-and-place tasks, such as small part handling and packing.
  • Delta robots. These robots have spider-like arms, which are connected to a common base. Delta robots are extremely fast and very precise, making them perfect for situations where items need to be quickly picked and placed, such as in packing and palletizing tasks within manufacturing lines.
  • Collaborative robots (cobots). Cobots are designed to be safely with humans and are equipped with high-end features that allow them to do so. They’re versatile and can be easily integrated into existing production environments without the need for significant reconfiguration.

    Cobots are used in a variety of machine tending applications, including loading and unloading parts in CNC machines and conducting initial quality inspections.

Real-world applications of machine tending robots

There are many applications for machine tending robots, from CNC machine tending robots to packing and palletizing bots. 

Let’s get into a bit more detail: 

CNC machine tending

One of the most common applications is getting a CNC machine tending robot. Robots are used to load raw materials into computer-controlled cutting or milling machines and then retrieve the finished products. This automation not only streamlines the production process but also reduces the workload on human operators, increasing efficiency and decreasing the likelihood of errors.

Injection molding

In the field of injection molding, robots play a crucial role by adding plastic pellets to molds and then removing the final products once they have solidified. This process benefits significantly from robotic intervention, which pretty much guarantees superhuman consistency and speed. 

By handling repetitive tasks, robots can help maintain a steady pace and uniform quality in the production of plastic components — in short, making the operation far more reliable and efficient. 

Quality inspection

While not their primary function, some robotic tenders are equipped to perform basic quality inspections during the manufacturing process. These robots can quickly identify and remove defective items from the production line.

This capability helps keep quality standards sky-high by making sure that only products that meet specific criteria proceed to the next stage of manufacturing or packaging.

Packing and palletizing

Robots are increasingly being used for end-of-line tasks such as packing and palletizing. Machine-tending robots can place machined products into boxes or stack them on pallets, tasks that are often tedious and physically demanding for human workers. 

The use of robots in these roles helps improve the all-around speed and accuracy of packaging operations, reduces labor costs, and minimizes the physical strain on employees, leading to a safer workplace environment.

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How to choose the right machine tending robot

Deciding to adopt robotic machine tending is a big step, and choosing the right system can make all the difference. Several factors should guide your decision, each contributing to how well the technology will fit into your existing operations.

Type of machinery to be tended

Firstly, consider compatibility and task complexity — not all robotic tenders can work with all types of machines. Your existing machinery will dictate what type of robotic system you can implement. 

Make sure the robot you're eyeing is capable of performing the specific tasks required — whether it is simple loading and unloading or more intricate operations like quality inspection.

Some robotic systems excel at straightforward, repetitive tasks, while others are designed for more complex operations. Choose based on the specific requirements of your manufacturing process.


Budget is often a major factor. While robotic systems require an upfront investment, the key is to look at long-term ROI. Weigh the initial costs against the benefits — like labor savings and increased efficiency — to get a clearer picture of the financial impact.

The upfront investment varies significantly depending on the features, brand, and level of customization. You’ll also need to factor in potential changes to your factory layout, new safety equipment, and training costs. 

Give some thought to how long it will take to recoup your investment through labor savings, increased efficiency, and other benefits. With most machine tending robots, ROI is typically just 1-3 years.

Operational requirements

Space and energy needs are also operational considerations. Robotic systems take up physical space. Ensure your facility can accommodate the system without hampering other operations.

Keep in mind that while robots might take up floor space, their energy consumption can also impact utility costs. Different robots have different power requirements, so you’ll want to make sure your facility can meet these needs without excessive energy costs.

Ease of use

A system that is difficult to use can offset some of the efficiency gains. Go for systems with intuitive user interfaces. Think about how much time and effort will be required to train your staff to operate and maintain the new system.

Vendor support and maintenance

Never underestimate the value of good vendor support. From warranties and technical support to software updates, vendor services can make or break your experience with robotic machine tending. 

Check if the vendor offers robust customer service and technical support, as this will be crucial when facing operational issues.

Regular software updates can also extend the system's longevity and improve its functionality over time. Make sure the vendor provides this support.

Summing up

Robotic machine tending is making a tangible impact on the manufacturing sector. From handling materials and operating machinery to adding a layer of precision and efficiency, these robotic systems are hard at work modernizing factories.

While the benefits are compelling — increased safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness — it's vital to approach implementation with a thorough understanding of both its strengths and limitations. 

The challenges are real, but with careful planning and the right system choice, many of these can be mitigated.

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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