Advantages of Lights-Out Manufacturing
Lights-out manufacturing is a term used to refer to factories that run solely on automated equipment. Due to the complete automation of these factories there is no need for human involvement with manufacturing. Industrial robots are the main source of automated equipment used to run a lights-out facility. Lights-out factories can literally operate with the lights off since there is no human involvement with the manufacturing process, which is how the term came about. This type of manufacturing facility is also referred to as a dark factory.
At one time the idea of a fully automated factory running on robots like the FANUC M-710ic/50 seemed impossible and a futuristic pipedream. Today’s factory robots are more intelligent and autonomous allowing them to automate just about any manufacturing application. With improvements to robotic technology along with rising manufacturing costs and labor shortages, lights-out manufacturing is now a reality and on course to become the new standard for mass productions. The reason for the growth of lights-out manufacturing is due to its many advantages, which include:
- • Reduced Production Costs - Reduced production costs are the biggest advantage of lights-out manufacturing. With virtually no labor force, worker salaries are eliminated. Utilities are saved since articulated robots can operate in the dark and in non-climate-controlled environments. Material costs are stabilized or reduced since the accuracy of robots eliminates errors that lead to rework and the consumption of more materials.
- • Reliable Manufacturing - With low automation factories, companies are dependent upon their workforce. Time off for workers and turnover can significantly impact operations and cause inconsistencies in productions. If workers are inefficient, higher and inconsistent cycle times can be the result. Automating with a FANUC Arcmate 120ic will allow for reliable manufacturing. Six axis robots are consistent in their operation and performance outcomes. They can work around the clock with no delays. Robot manipulators are also resilient to adverse events, such as COVID-19. Factories that were fully automated were able to remain operational during the pandemic as opposed to those that relied mostly on workers.
- • Solves Labor Shortages - Labor shortages have been plaguing manufacturers in recent years, especially for skilled labor positions. There has been a shrinking pool of workers interested in manual labor positions, making it hard for manufacturers to fill jobs. Lights-out manufacturing resolves this issue since automated equipment is used to fill robotic positioners instead of workers. Automating with the Motoman MA1440 produces even higher quality welds than those done by a seasoned welder.
- • Improves Environmental Footprint - Lights-out manufacturing is a sustainable manufacturing method. Newer industrial robotic arms are energy-efficient. Material waste and scrap is reduced with the high accuracy of robots. In addition, robots are carbon-free helping to reduce emissions.
- • Increased Productivity - Industrial robot arms operate at much faster speeds than humans. A single robotic manipulator can handle the same workload that would require multiple workers. Filling an entire factory with robots will dramatically increase productivity rates.
- • Better Product Quality - The accuracy and precision of robots will improve product quality. Manufacturing robot arms are programmed with application specific instructions to follow, ensuring all workpieces are uniform to one another. Humans can easily get distracted, become lazy, or lose focus which can lead to inconsistent parts and poor product quality.