What is a cartesian robot and how is it used in automation?

By Dylan Pollack

cartesian robot system that uses XYZ coordinates to move multiple axes—typically three—to a specific location within its workspace. Cartesian robots can be extremely beneficial for engineers that are looking to automate their warehouses, improve their current systems, or solve unique design challenges. In this blog post, we will explore a few applications where cartesian robots have an advantage in comparison to other automated systems, along with the types of motor controllers and drivers needed—we will even offer a tool that will help you design your own custom cartesian robot at the end.

Believe it or not, cartesian robots are actually used often in everyday life. Whether it is a two-axis gantry robot, such as a crane, which can move large parts of a multiple story-high building, or even a 3D printer within a much smaller area of operation, both still rely on the same mechanics to complete the process. The benefits of a cartesian robot are endless since they cater to most applications that require automated assistance—pick and place, labeling, measuring, and other processes that require both speed and precision with an outstanding return on investment. The ability to automate these procedures with a cartesian robot system will allow you to turn an operation that would normally take an assembly line of three to four people into a process that requires just one, or possibly even no one, depending on how intricate the system is, i.e. peripheral AI.

XYZ gantry GIF

A key benefit offered by a cartesian robot over other automated solutions, such as an articulated robot arm or a SCARA robot system, is that they provide a more flexible workspace while enabling a much faster pick rate. The cube-shaped workspace of a cartesian robot allows for easier calculation of coordinates without the constraint of a SCARA or other robotic arms’ reach. Since robotic arms and SCARA robots require a round or multi-axis workspace, the circumference will always need to be factored in when planning out coordinates. However, a cartesian robot system has definitive corners to its workspace which allows for much simpler calculation.

Another aspect to consider is that most robotic arms will be defined to certain sizes which will limit its workspace, whereas a gantry can be multiple meters long!

In the picture below, you can see the new igus® XXL Gantry, which is a large DIY, 3-axis linear cartesian robot that has an action radius of 2,000 x 2,000 x 1,500 millimeters and is particularly suitable for palletizing applications of up to 10 kilograms.

XYZ palletizing robot

Keep In Mind—The Power Source and Control System

When it comes to motor controllers, you will typically need something that can control the power running through the motor, and depending on the application, you may need a controller that can also read data from the motor.

There are generally two types of controllers:

  • Motor cards, also known as motor driver, motor amplifier, power amplifier, output stage, etc.
  • PLC or master controller, which is a device that would do most of the reading and processing data such as controlling the speed, reading the encoder, processing other signals like limit switches.

Again, both of these depend on exactly what you need your linear actuator and/or motor to do.

These motor controllers may also come in many different variations. Although some controllers may only have switches and buttons that you can interact with, others may contain software interfaces that are capable of making precise adjustments to the motors’ capabilities. These controllers have the ability of working in tandem with a master controller to create a top-level control system. A common and popular example of this would be a CNC machine and its control system. These machines are equipped with motor drivers and other elements that are all regulated and controlled by the master system, combining it into a user-friendly digital interface.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/lDezMyB3v1w?enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Ftoolbox.igus.com An igus® cartesian robot can be controlled directly by our own Robot Control system, which offers many advantages—smooth motion with 1/256 microstepping, Trinamics Stallguard2 and CoolStep Technologies for energy saving, an intuitive programming environment with 3D interface, and more. It is also possible to use your own control system with an igus® cartesian robot, or alternatively, you may operate each axis individually with its own control system—for example, with our D1 or D3 dryve motor control system. With this configuration, you will need an additional master control system to control the coordination of the movement. Please note that a control system is not included in the box with an igus® cartesian robot, but can be optionally obtained from us.


Dozens of assembled, turnkey cartesian robots are available for purchase within our online shop. If you would like to customize a gantry according to your own specifications and requirements, you may also use our brand new cartesian/gantry configurator tool (beta version). If you have any questions or would like a free consultation, please feel free to contact Kevin Wright, Country Manager (Canada), by phone at (800) 965-2496 or via this contact form.  

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