The continuing advancement of technology has led to the expansion of automation. Manufacturing has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of automation. Limiting human interaction with manufacturing processes has been the trend for quite some time and now many factories consist of more automated equipment than humans. In fact, many companies are looking to move towards lights-out manufacturing.
Lights-out manufacturing is a newer methodology, but it is piquing the interest of many companies especially as automation continues to improve. It involves fully automating productions to eliminate or severely limit the need for human involvement. The term “lights-out” was coined as these facilities can actually run with the lights off, twenty-four hours a day, since they solely rely on automated equipment for productions. Fully automated factories can be made possible through the use of industrial robots, machines such as CNC machines, or a combination of both. Robotic automation is the most common way to convert to lights-out manufacturing as industrial robots can perform many of the same production tasks as humans. Lights-out manufacturing facilities feature production floors with articulated robots such as the FANUC Arcmate 120ic or the Motoman MA1400 instead of workers.
Making Lights-Out Manufacturing Possible with RobotsAs mentioned above, six axis robots are the most common automation method for lights-out manufacturing since they can be used for just about any manufacturing application. The Yaskawa Motoman MA1900 can automate arc welding and plasma cutting. While the FANUC R-2000ib can take over assembly and material tasks from workers. Robotic technologies such as vision systems and force sensors provide robots with sensory feedback for greater autonomy. Vision allows the FANUC M-710ic/50 to make adjustments on its own during operation, avoiding the need to have an operator reprogram it when changes occur. This allows the M710ic/50 to operate without supervision.
Industrial robots can be integrated with track systems or RTUS, which allow them to travel between workstations or transfer parts from one side of the factory to the other. Robot transfer units enable robots to automate a whole sequence of applications with the ability to move about production floors. Offline programming allows operators to create and adjust programs outside of the production environment without the robot, further limiting human interaction. The adoption of AI technology with industrial robots is also fueling the growth of lights-out manufacturing. AI is making robots more intelligent and independent with advanced learning for the automation of complex applications along with predictive maintenance.
Why is the Lights-Out Manufacturing Concept Growing?While lights-out manufacturing is still a relatively new concept it is definitely catching on with some experts predicting it will become the standard for manufacturing in the future. In fact, some manufacturers in the automotive, electronic, and robotic industries are currently operating fully automated facilities.
Operating a lights-out facility will significantly reduce production costs. Robots are less expensive in the long run than workers as they are more productive, do not have salaries, and are long-lasting. They can operate in the dark without heat or air conditioning saving on utilities. As labor and material costs continue to steadily rise, lights-out manufacturing can combat the increases with its cost savings. It also combats labor shortage issues and is a sustainable production method in terms of both consistency and environmental impact.