Fully Automated Factories with Robots
Industrial robots have existed in factories to some extent for the past several decades. In the beginning of robotic automation, robots were used to automate dangerous or repetitive tasks while workers remained on-site for the more complex processes. As the years have passed robots have become more intelligent, sophisticated, and advanced. Today’s robots can automate just about any manufacturing process and with the development of AI technology for industrial robots they are now more autonomous. The advancements of robotic technology have led to the rise of fully automated factories.
Fully automated factories feature production lines of articulated robots or other automated equipment and do not require any human presence on-site. Fully automated factories are often referred to as lights-out manufacturing since no human workers are involved meaning these facilities can run twenty-four hours a day with the lights off and most do. Some manufacturers use a hybrid model of lights-out automation, using robots to run productions between shifts as a way to save on labor or meet high product demands.
Lights-out manufacturing has been made possible with technologies such as robotic vision systems, force sensors, and artificial intelligence. The FANUC M20ia integrated with a vision system is able to distinguish different parts and determine on its own the changes in an application path for each part type. Force sensors can give the FANUC LR Mate 200id the sense of touch for extremely accurate assemblies. While AI gives robots the ability to essentially program themselves and make their own diagnostic assessments.
Manufacturers in the auto industry, electronic industry, and even the robotic industry itself have been implementing fully automated factories. In the automotive industry, building cars can be physically demanding with many job-related hazards. Auto manufacturers have been the largest users of industrial robots, deploying them in their facilities to ease production demands from workers. The use of industrial robots in auto manufacturing appears to only be growing as some companies move towards fully automated factories as is the case with Telsa’s latest factory.
Electronic manufacturer IBM has implemented lights-out manufacturing with its keyboard assembly factory located in Texas. Workers are used to deliver materials and pickup finished products, while some technicians provide on-site support, otherwise the facility relies on robots.
Top robotic manufacturer FANUC has been using their own six axis robots to build their new robots since 2001. Their facility can run without supervision for thirty days at a time while producing up to fifty robots within a twenty-four-hour period.
One of the main reasons manufacturers are completely automating their facilities is to save on costs. Fully automated factories can run without lights, heating, or cooling, saving on utilities. Robots do not require a salary or benefits and save on material waste with their accuracy, reducing production costs. Running an assembly line of FANUC R2000ib robots will be cheaper in the long run than using manual labor. Other reasons manufacturers are turning to lights-out operations include to boost productivity levels, achieve sustainable manufacturing, and to combat the ongoing labor shortage. With the use of industrial robots continuing to grow, fully automated factories may become the new standard for the future of manufacturing.