Machine Tending Automation Workbook

National Account Manager- Machine Tool Authorized Systems Integrator Network

10 Questions to Ask When Considering a Machine Tending Cobot

With the global robotics market now predicted to reach $150 Billion by 2030, more businesses in many different industries are seeing the benefits of adding automation to their operations. Traditionally, however, smaller machine shops have been reluctant to make an initial investment in robotics – until cobots.

Major production disruptions in the aftermath of the pandemic paired with the growing availability and affordability of flexible collaborative robotics have spurred a growing interest in this type of automation, especially for high-mix, low-volume applications.

To help create a successful roadmap to automation, answering the following 10 questions can help clarify whether adding cobots could be the right solution.

1. What are you trying to do?

Consider first your business challenges and answer the following questions to see if a cobot could help solve these problems. Think about the machine tending application you’d like to automate. For example, would you like to automate loading and unloading of parts to free up people and resources? If so, cobots could be the answer to your automation efforts.

2. Is your workspace cobot friendly?

This might seem like a simple question, but the answer to this question is key to whether adding a cobot will be a straightforward process. For example, cobots work best in very structured and predictable workspaces, so consider whether parts will be able to be picked up exactly in the same spot or not by the cobot. Also, is the area free of clutter and obstacles? That is crucial to easily deploying cobots!

3. Do you have a tight operational area or other small footprint restrictions?

If you are working in a smaller space, as long as it adheres to the guidance laid out in #2, cobots can be an excellent candidate for these types of environments. With traditional industrial robots, the need for fencing became a no-go for many smaller shops. Of course, a proper risk assessment must be conducted, but cobots can usually operate alongside skilled workers in a shared workspace.

4. Do you have job recruitment challenges?

Workers of all types, skilled and unskilled, are becoming harder to come by. We’ve all heard that millions of manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by the next decade due to the skilled labor gap, so planning for the future to reduce your need to recruit, hire, train and retain workers for the long haul might be the safest bet to ensuring your growth plans stay on track.

5. Do you need to add hours without adding staff?

Pursuing new business sounds ideal, but often aggressive bidding is pulled back because manufacturers aren’t confident their operations can rise to the task. Cobots can help ensure large orders are met and even help catch up on work to get in front of big jobs. Plus, cobots can help fill contingency plans for workers unexpectedly missing time or on leave.

6. How much do you need to lift?

The amount of weight the arm can lift, including the weight of the gripper as well as total part weight before machining is the “payload.” This is important to calculate so that the cycle time of total machining can be determined. The more the payload, the slower the arm might need to move, affecting the overall production throughput time. However, newer cobots on the market like FANUC’s new CR-35iB collaborative robot has a 35kg payload.

7. How far do you need to reach?

Understanding how far a cobot’s arm needs to extend will dictate the proximity of the cobot to the CNC machine. Also, understanding how the cobot will be loading or unloading a part into a machine, as discussed in #2 and #3, will help determine the axes of motion required. The more complicated this is, the more dexterous the cobot will need to be. However, reach capabilities of cobots are expanding in new models, such as FANUC’s new CR-35iB collaborative robot, which has a 1831mm reach.

8. What type of parts need to be gripped?

Using varying grippers for different applications is possible, but time consuming to change out. Consider choosing a gripper that can adapt to pick up different sizes, shapes and types of materials. Rectangular or cylindrical prismatic parts that have two parallel sides are perfect for a pincer-style gripper, while vacuum suction cups are suited for thin or flat items.

9. How are your workforce’s programming capabilities?

One factor that commonly deters shops from adding automation is the lack of robotics programming expertise. However, cobots are addressing this skills gap issue by allowing robot interaction via a drag-and-drop interface. This way, operators “teach” the arm by physically moving it through each step.

Also, if you have well-versed G-code programmers in your shop, consider adding a control feature like FANUC’s QSSR G-code to help. This allows the robotic motion to be controlled in machine G-code through the FANUC CNC. A teach pendant is only needed for initial set up and jogging, while inside a safety fence.

10. How will your robot connect to your machines?

Robotic machine tending often has to communicate with the CNC machine, so a seamless integration between the controls and the robot system is a must. But making sure all functions are performed in a single application can be challenging. FANUC addresses this need with our QSSR Connect feature, where the robot motion is programmed using a teach pendant. This enables the use of intelligent features like vision and FANUC’s CNC iHMI interface to provide step-by-step robotic programming guidance.


Assessing Your Workbook Results

If answering the above questions have shown that a cobot could make your operations more profitable and efficient, then consider our ever-expanding selection, including our CRXs. However, if that’s not the case, there are other automation options. FANUC America has a robot finder tool that helps find the right robot for the application. If you’re looking for a more standardized solution, perhaps a pre-engineered robotic work cell would be best to automate your process.

To discuss any of these questions or other automation needs for your machining operations, contact us at No job is too big or small for FANUC!