Six-Axis Robots: Applications, Benefits, and Cost Analysis

10 November 2021
Six axis robotics automating material handling operations
Catherine Bernier
Content Manager
,
Content for Cobot

Six-axis robots are among the most common industrial robots and are used across most industries. Here’s a detailed guide on these robots, their real-world applications, and why and when to use them.

A six-axis robot, as the name suggests, has six axes. Each axis is a joint that allows the robot to move in a different way (rotate, twist, etc.). These different movements are referred to as degrees of freedom.

Six-axis robots are a form of articulated robots that can perform an extensive range of applications, thanks to their flexibility, reach, and strength.  

This flexibility gives six-axis robots an extensive application range. This feature makes them a perfect fit for complex functions that would usually require human arms to operate.

The below sections offer more details on six-axis robots:

  • Standard Applications for Six-Axis Robots
  • Industries for Six-Axis Robots
  • When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Use a Six-Axis Robot
  • How Much Do Six-Axis Robots Cost?

Standard Applications for Six-Axis Robots

6-axis robot applications

These versatile robots can perform a wide array of tasks. Most robot types struggle with dexterous applications. Six-axis robots can excel here. Some of the most popular applications of six-axis robots in the industry are:

  • Part Picking and Handling
  • Painting
  • Material Removal

Part Picking and Handling

Most robots are capable of handling simple pick-and-place applications. However, six-axis robots are sometimes the only viable option for applications that require a high level of dexterity. An example of this might be an automated machine tending application. A robot might be tasked with opening the door, reaching in for the part, and placing it in its destination. SCARAs, deltas, and cartesian don’t have the dexterity to perform these complex movements. Especially in such a tight working envelope. Using another robot type to perform this level of motion could be disastrous. 

Painting

Six-axis robots are ideal for intricate product spraying treatment. These robots can be coupled with a variety of end-effectors to perform the task. Examples include spray guns, gear pumps, pressure regulators, and color change manifolds. They also have the precision and dexterity to perform the precise movements required to finish parts. These applications often require plenty of reach. This is another common reason why many other robot types simply won’t work. SCARAs and deltas are especially size-limited for these types of applications. 

Material Removal

Material removal is an especially tough application. Strength and precision are required in a hazardous environment to create a finished product. Six-axis robots have the right combination of these features. They can be integrated with the proper tooling to perform the task. Common examples include drilling, grinding, or cutting tasks. Most other robot types will fail in these types of applications for several reasons. They might not be strong enough for the heavy-duty requirements. Reach could be a limitation for other robots for these types of applications too. SCARAs and deltas are traditionally small compared to how big six-axis robots can be. Choosing the wrong robot can be devastating to the success of your automation project.

Industries for Six-Axis Robots

Six-axis robots are positively impacting the bottom-line of many industries through automation, including:

  • Metals
  • Logistics
  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Consumer Goods
  • Food and Beverage
  • Pharmaceuticals 

It’s no wonder such a versatile robot is positively impacting so many industries. The applications between these industries can vary widely. For example, the metals industry has a lot of material handling and welding applications. Aerospace commonly sees lots of painting applications. The pharmaceutical industry has many pick and place and dispensing tasks. The point here is that six-axis robots are jack-of-all-trades robots. They can perform most applications in just about any industry. But they aren’t always the optimal choice. 

Regardless of your industry, our potential finder tool can help you identify the greatest potential for automation at your company.

When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Use a Six-Axis Robot

6-axis robot when to use

Six-axis robots are the most popular robot type and for good reason. They can perform most applications just fine. However, they aren't right for every application. Some common signs a six-axis robot would be a great choice include:

  • High range of motion is required
  • The application could change in the future
  • Heavy payload

High Range of Motion

Six-axis robots are the most flexible robot types out there. They can contort their bodies in ways other robots just can’t. This is often required for certain applications. Painting, welding, and complex assembly tasks often require great dexterity. For tasks with these types of demands, it’s a good idea to start with six-axis robots. 

Adaptability 

Six-axis robots are adaptable in dynamic environments. The unpredictability of industry demands can sometimes make capital expenditures difficult to future-proof. Six-axis robots are useful here. They can be reprogrammed to adapt to sudden changes in products and processes in production lines. They can even be moved to different locations to be used for different tasks altogether. Imagine a six-axis robot performing an assembly task. If that product line will be discontinued unexpectedly next year, then it may seem like that robot might be useless. However, this six-axis robot could be reapplied in a dispensing application on another product line that has unexpectedly increased production volume. It is important to keep in mind that each application has specific requirements. You likely can’t cover every application in your facility with a single model. 

This jack-of-all-trades nickname comes with a few weaknesses. Here are a few characteristics that may lead you to consider something other than a six-axis robot:

  • The application requires high-speed
  • High-level precision is required

Speed Limitations

If your application is high-speed, a six-axis robot may not be the best choice for you. The complex mechanics make these robots relatively slower than SCARA and delta robots. If payload and reach won’t be limitations for these other robot types, it may be worthwhile to consider them when speed is the main factor. A common example is high-speed pick and place tasks on food lines. These products are typically manufactured at high volumes. This means the machinery needs to be high-speed to keep up. Food items are also often small. So, payload and reach are not usually big concerns. 

Precision Limitations

The same mechanics that give this robot a great range of motion limit its precision as more moving parts generally means more positional error. Therefore, the robot will be more inconsistent moving to the exact same spot every single time. It should be noted, this is noticeable only on the sub-millimeter to micron scale. Very few applications require this level of precision where the six-axis may struggle. Examples of this include micro metrology applications, board-level assembly, and small inspection applications.

Still not sure? It might make sense to talk to one of our experts who can help you choose the exact robot type for your application. 

How Much Do Six-Axis Robots Cost?

Cost is always a major consideration with any automation project. Six-axis robots are one of the more expensive robotic options available. This is mainly due to the number of axes. Each axis requires a motor and gearbox. This cost quickly scales up as the robot becomes larger. It is not uncommon for a six-axis robot project to have a final price tag over $100,000 USD. It’s important to remember the cost is more than just the robot. Other costs to consider include:

  • Integration costs
  • End-effectors
  • Safety equipment
  • Lifetime maintenance

Integration costs are a major cost to the overall project. Integration is the act of installation, programming, and startup of your system. Labor rates can be high for this specialized service. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to check with several robot suppliers and choose one best suited for your budget and application needs.

End-effectors are the piece that resides at the end of the robot arm to perform the task. This can be something like a gripper, paint sprayer, or weld tip. Depending on the application, this piece could carry a significant cost. A welding system is a good example of an expensive end-effector. Welding bots require a weld tip as well as an expensive welding control system.

Safety equipment is always required and includes things like sensors, light curtains, safety cages, and scanners. Depending on the application, this can be a minor or major cost. It is important to follow local safety guidelines to ensure you install your robot in a safe manner.

Often overlooked are the lifetime maintenance costs. These costs include things like regular greasing, cleaning, range of motion testing, and program backup. You may be able to perform this with internal staff, but sometimes third-party help is required. This can increase the cost of maintenance. Adhering to a regular maintenance schedule is critical for extending the lifetime of your robot. This should always be considered in your ROI calculation.

Six-axis robots are the most common industrial robot for a reason. Their versatility and range of standard applications make them a great choice for most applications. Begin your robot journey with us today. Our RFQ tool offers free quotes to help you understand the potential cost of your robot projects.