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What is Machine Tending and Why Should You Automate a CNC?

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill. Last updated on Jan 24, 2023 3:34 PM
Posted on Sep 27, 2022 8:28 AM. 5 min read time

In today's manufacturing industry, automation is becoming more and more commonplace across industries. One application where we've seen particular growth recently is CNC machine tending.

For many manufacturers, automation is a key for remaining competitive. By automating your processes, you can boost productivity, improve quality, and shorten lead times while decreasing costs.

Many of your competitors are probably already using robots in their businesses. By using robots to control your CNC machines, you get the advantage of the same benefits as them rather than falling behind.

Let's have an overall look at CNC machine tending, its various benefits, and how you can start to automate machining applications in your business.

What is machine tending?

Simply put, machine tending is the process of using a robot to automate the tasks associated with CNC machining.

These tasks commonly include loading and unloading the workpiece, and activating various parts of the CNC cycle.

Machine tending can be a highly efficient way to manage a factory floor. It can help reduce the need for human workers to perform dull, repetitive tasks, helping you make better use of your human resources. It can also help reduce the risk of injuries associated with repetitive motions.

We find that machine tending is often one of the first tasks that machine shops are keen to automate. If you've been considering automating, you probably recognize that loading and unloading machines is just not the best use of your workers’ time.

7 compelling benefits of automating a CNC process

There are many benefits to automating a CNC machine with a robot.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit that most people think of first is increased productivity. A robot CNC machine can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without breaks or downtime.

However, there are other benefits that might be less obvious but can have an even larger effect on your production.

Here are 7 compelling benefits to automating your CNC machine with a robot:

1. Decreased downtime

By tending your machine with a robot, that machine spends less time doing nothing. This helps to improve the Overall Equipment Effectiveness of that CNC machine.

2. Increased flexibility

You can quickly and easily reprogram a robot to handle new product variants and changes. This improves the flexibility of your CNC machine compared to other forms of automation.

3. Enhanced accuracy

With manual machine tending, there is always a possibility that an operator will place a workpiece in the machine in slightly the wrong position or orientation, ruining that piece. A robot always places it in exactly the right position every time.

4. Improved safety

Using a robot to automate your CNC machining process can help to create a safer working environment by eliminating the need for human workers to be close to moving machinery.

5. Reduced costs

Robotic automation can help reduce the overall cost of manufacturing. It allows you to make the best use of your labor costs by removing non-value-added tasks from the hands of human workers.

6. Increased consistency

While productivity is often the headline benefit of robotics, consistency is usually a more useful benefit. The improved consistency of your robotic CNC machine can have a significant impact over time, affecting many aspects of your production process.

7. Better quality control

Automating your CNC process with a robot also makes quality control simpler and quicker. By reducing human error, you gain better overall control of your product quality.

Operator programming a robot for machine tending

Examples of 3 CNC machines you can improve with automation

Robots are very flexible so you can automate almost any CNC machine if you approach it in the right way. Some will be easier to deploy than others.

Here are 3 common types of CNC machines you can improve with robotic automation:

  1. CNC Lathe — Lathes are used to create symmetrical objects such as shafts, cylinders, and poles. Robots can easily handle the action of placing a workpiece precisely in the lathe jaws.

  2. CNC Milling Machine — A milling machine can create complex shapes using a rotary cutter. Adding a robot makes your milling process more efficient and can give you more options for even more complex shapes.

  3. Laser Cutter — Laser cutting is an increasingly popular process for creating complex shapes in a variety of materials. Using a robot to place robots in a laser cutter can be one of the simplest types of machine tending as it is often just a pick and place motion.

These are probably the most common CNC machines you would want to automate. However, you can apply machine tending robots to almost any automated or semi-automated machine you like.

How to deploy machine tending robots

If you are looking to apply machine tending robots to your process, there are some steps you can take to make your life easier.

The first — and possibly most important — step is just to pick the right robotic solution up front.

Using an integrated application kit for robotics is a good way to get up and running quickly, reducing a lot of the friction that people often experience with robotic deployments.

You can find out about machine tending application kits in this blog article.

What the future holds for CNC machining

Over the years, robotic technology has become easier to use and more accessible for people with no previous experience with robots.

As you can see, automating your CNC with a robot can have many benefits. With each step to make robots easier to use, more manufacturers will use the technology.

It seems likely that we will see robotic machine tending become a required addition to many CNC machines. When you buy a CNC machine, you also get a robot to tend that machine.

Rather than asking "Why should I automate with a robot?" the question will become "Why wouldn't you!?"

Download the machine tending bundle

Which type of CNC machine would you like to automate first? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or the DoF professional robotics community.

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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
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