Articulated robots are the iconic mechanical denizens of the futuristic factory-floor. For decades, this image has seeped its way into our collective cultural consciousness and pervaded everything from cartoons to movies and even stock images. Also, though we’ve moved beyond the basic articulated design to some stunning, cutting edge machines, the image is so ingrained in our memories that the industrial robotics manufacturers continue to produce them to this day. But image alone isn’t enough to keep this reliable, not-yet-antiquated, style of robot around. What are the benefits provided by articulated robots? Why do so many factories choose to rely on this classic, iconic workhorse?

What’s an Articulated Robot?

Articulated robots are the most common types of industrial robots. Their resemblance to a human arm is perhaps one of the reasons they stand out so much in our minds. However, the mechanical benefits of this design are the real reason for their ubiquity and longevity. The arm design combines an extensive range of rotation motion and linear reach with the advantages of precision movement. Articulated arms are ideal for welding, material handling, pick-and-place operations, and dispensing. Their numerous axes and degrees of freedom mean that there is virtually no point in their work envelope that they cannot reach. This makes articulated robots one of the most versatile, flexible, and compact designs on the market.

Articulation of the Robot

The secret to the motion of articulated robots is their rotary joints. Joints can range from a two-axis configuration to something as complicated as ten or more axes. Articulated robots with six-degrees of freedom are the most common. Servo motors powering the joints act like bezel gears, changing the direction of motion by up to ninety-degrees while offering dial-in stops for precision programming and movement.

Work Envelope of an Articulated Robot

With any industrial robot, the work envelope is a significant factor in assessing its usefulness. Articulated arm robots can use a majority of their work envelope, which is one of their greatest advantages. The only part of the envelope they can’t use is the back where the cables are located. However, some modern designs feature internally routed power and data cables that eliminate this problem and let the articulated arm take advantage of its entire sphere of reach.

Regardless of how the cables are routed, even the most basic articulated robot can maximize the usable space for its footprint on the factory floor. This is a major advantage to factories that have to consider production flow, safety, and floor space.

Speed of an Articulated Robot

One of the drawbacks of articulated robots is their speed. They are not as efficient as other types of robots that can accomplish very high-speed tasks. Articulated robots, due to their numerous joints and degrees of freedom, require complex kinematics to govern their motion. They also have higher component mass, so there is an inertial barrier to overcome at every change in direction. If speed is a crucial component of a factory’s cost-benefit-analysis, then articulated robots may not be the ideal choice.

What’s the price of an Articulated Robot?

So, what will an articulated robot cost you? As with any factory upgrade, there are a few ways to answer this question. First, there is the upfront cost: what is the price of the actual unit? Then, there are operational and maintenance fees—these address the costs to operate and maintain the machines every month. However, if you also look at where you’ll see savings, you’ll get a better overall picture of your return on investment. Over time, the benefits of an articulated robot offset the upfront cost. For instance, factory automation improves the health and safety of workers by minimizing repetitive stress and limiting time in hazardous zones. Additionally, your company will produce products of more consistent quality. The result is increased productivity, which means that your investment will pay for itself down the road.

With so many factors constituting the “real cost” of robot upgrades, it’s best to consult the experts on for a full cost breakdown. In the meantime, you can build your own miniature/prototype robot and familiarize yourself with the mechanics and programming.

If you’d like to boost your factory’s productivity with a robot that is flexible, agile, and has a sizable work envelope, you should consider an articulated robotic arm. For more information about articulated robots or any other types of robots, check out the DIY-Robotics forum and join a community of industrial robotics specialists and enthusiasts. While you’ll find pricing for DIY-Robotics cells online, feel free to reach out to the team for a free consultation to better custom-tailor a cost projection.