Why you should buy a robot arm instead of a CNC machine

September 6, 2023
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Robot CNC: What’s the difference?

Before we get into whether you should invest in a robotic arm, let's look at how robot arms compare to CNC machines.

The basics of both systems

Both robots and CNC machines have played essential roles at the heart of the manufacturing industry. While CNC machines have long been the go-to for precision milling tasks, the modern robotic system, especially Articulated robots, offers a fresh approach to CNC machining.

Robots in milling

A robotic arm - be it Cartesian robots, Gantry robots, or the more agile SCARA robots - can directly mill just like a CNC machine. This means that these robots can carve, shape, and create parts with precision. There are also Collaborative robots (referred to as "Cobots") that are designed to work alongside humans, with built-in sensors that stop the robot well before any potential collisions and injuries.

The difference

Although robots and CNC machines can achieve similar end results, their approach and mechanics are what really differ. For example, CNC machines are usually stationary, focusing on the piece they're working on. However, a robot arm has the mobility and flexibility to move around, offering diverse angles, larger work surfaces and new approaches to the milling process.

In short, there's an overlap in the functions of both systems, but their operational dynamics set them apart.

How it works

Combining software and hardware

At the core of this technological marvel is CNC software, which has evolved to heights beyond just controlling traditional CNC machines. This software can now seamlessly integrate with a robot, allowing it to dictate every movement and action of the robot, much like how it controls a CNC machine.

Mimicking the human arm

Think about the dexterity and versatility of human arms. A Six-Axis robot arm, when equipped with the right end-effector (the “tool” of the robot), can replicate this adaptability. End-effectors, which are specifically designed for milling, can be attached to the robot, transforming it into an effective milling machine.

The robotic arm's multiple axes can rotate, pivot, and move in ways that even the most advanced CNC machines might find challenging. This gives it an edge in accessing hard-to-reach areas and performing intricate milling tasks.

Becoming the CNC machine

Once the milling end-effector(s) are in place and the CNC software is integrated, the robot pretty much becomes the CNC machine. It can carve, shape, drill, and perform all the tasks you'd expect from a traditional CNC machine. The difference? It does this with the added flexibility and range of motion that only a robotic arm can offer.

The benefits: Why you should buy a robot arm instead of a CNC machine

Here are some of the reasons why a robot arm can serve you better than a CNC machine:

  • Versatility across industries: Robot arms are not confined to a single industry. Their adaptability means that they can be implemented to meet the demands of various industries and high-mix shops, from automotive to electronics, ensuring a wider range of applications.
  • Increased productivity: With the ability to work around the clock without fatigue, robotic arms can significantly boost production rates. Their precision and speed ensure tasks are completed efficiently, leading to better productivity. CNC robots can be paired with another robot to load and unload parts for milling, 24/7.
  • Multitasking capabilities: While a CNC machine is designed for specific operations, a robot arm can be programmed to handle other tasks simultaneously, from milling to pick-and-place to quality checks, making it a handy tool for multitasking.
  • Cost-effective solution: Over time, the initial cost of robot arms can lead to substantial savings. Their durability, versatility across multiple applications, reduced need for manual labor, and relatively efficient energy consumption make them a cost-effective solution for long-term manufacturing needs.
  • Seamless automation: In an era where automation is king, robot arms fit right in. They can be seamlessly integrated into existing production lines, enhancing automation and reducing the need for manual intervention.

Effective solution for complex tasks: For detailed tasks that require lots of precision and flexibility, robot arms emerge as the effective solution, outshining traditional CNC machines in complexity and adaptability.

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Is your application suitable for robotic CNC?

Intricate designs

For designs that require detail and precision, a robot arm can take your operations to the next level. Unlike your typical CNC machines, which may be limited in their range of motion, a robot arm can access hard-to-reach areas and make sure that every detail is carved without flaw.

Volume production

If you're looking at mass production, a robotic CNC is the way to go. They can work continuously without breaks and require minimal supervision. This means that your skilled operators can oversee greater tasks, while products are churned out at a much faster rate.

Large-scale production

CNC machines can get expensive quickly when scaling up to larger machines for larger parts. Robot arms, on the other hand, are able to easily reach across large surface areas and machine parts from any angle, making them perfect for applications in construction, automotive and other industries where large parts require milling.

Repetitive tasks

CNC robotics excel when it comes to repeating the same task. If your CNC machining operations involve doing the same action over and over, a robot arm can do it with consistent precision. This eliminates human error and ensures uniformity in every product.

Complex materials

Certain materials can create challenges for CNC machines, which is where CNC robotics can come in handy. Because of their adaptability, they can be equipped with specialized end-effectors to handle a variety of materials, like metals and ceramics, ensuring the best results.

Customized products

For products that require customization or unique detailing, a robotic CNC can make a difference. Operators can program the robot to cater to specific design requirements, ensuring each product meets the exact specifications.

Next steps: Buying a robot arm for CNC milling

Before investing in industrial robots, start by assessing your specific milling needs and production volume. Go for a reputable manufacturer with proven industry experience. Additionally, ensure that the CNC robot is compatible with your existing CNC machining software, as incompatibility is the last issue you'd want to face.

Lastly, prioritize post-purchase support, as ongoing maintenance and software updates are crucial for CNC robots to perform at their best. Your investment today paves the way for tomorrow's manufacturing excellence.

Not quite ready to make the leap? Automate your existing CNC machine

Transitioning to a fully robotic CNC system may seem like an intimidating task. Luckily, there is a middle ground: Machine Tending. By integrating a robot arm into your existing setup, you can automate tasks like loading and unloading, enhancing efficiency without overhauling your entire system.

RO1 from Standard Bots is a prime example of a Machine-Tending robot designed for this purpose. With on-site installation, continuous software updates, and remote diagnostics, it's a must-have for your CNC operations. Plus, its compatibility with various accessories ensures adaptability to diverse manufacturing needs.

Don't have a CNC machine yet? Consider one of these Six-Axis CNC machines:

  • MATEC 50HV
  • Zimmermann FZ100
  • BACCI Artist TGV


What is the most common type of robot in manufacturing?

Articulated robots are the most common robots in the manufacturing industry. Due to their multiple axes, they can give you lots of flexibility and streamline production.

Are robotics commonly used in CNC machining operations?

Yes, robotic machining is increasingly being integrated into CNC operations. A CNC robot, equipped with the correct software, can perform detailed tasks with speed and precision. CNC robots are becoming indispensable in modern manufacturing setups, especially in high-mix shops with frequently-varying production

Can I automate my existing CNC machine with a robot arm for tasks?

Definitely! Integrating a robot arm can automate many tasks like loading and unloading. This can boost productivity and ensure consistent quality control throughout the production process.

Are there specific tasks where a robot arm excels over traditional CNC machine tools?

Yes, but this also depends on the type of arm. Traditional CNC tools move faster than robots but can struggle with complex or awkward angles. Robot arms are great for parts where complex milling movements are required, but also excel when working with larger parts where the robot needs to cover significant ground, thanks to a reach which often starts at over 1m long.

Final thoughts

Don't get left behind as the manufacturing industry evolves. The fusion of CNC machining and CNC robotics is quickly changing how we approach production. While traditional CNC machining has its merits, the integration of CNC robotics offers some of the best flexibility and precision.

Embracing this synergy can significantly enhance productivity and position businesses at the forefront of technological innovation. The future of manufacturing lies in the harmonious blend of machine and robot.

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