Lights out (manufacturing)
Lights out or lights-out manufacturing is a manufacturing methodology (or philosophy), rather than a specific process.
Factories that run lights out are fully automated and require no human presence on-site. Thus, these factories can be run with the lights off. Many factories are capable of lights-out production, but very few run exclusively lights-out. Typically, workers are necessary to set up tombstones holding parts to be manufactured, and to remove the completed parts. As the technology necessary for lights-out production becomes increasingly available, many factories are beginning to utilize lights-out production between shifts (or as a separate shift) to meet increasing demand or to save money. An automatic factory is a place where raw materials enter and finished products leave with little or no human intervention.
One of the earliest descriptions of the automatic factory in fiction was the 1955 short story "Autofac".
Real world examples
"Lights out" CNC machining
CNC machine tools do not require continuous operator attention, and some models can run unattended. A few machine shops run unattended on nights and weekends. However, Roger Smith attempted completely automated manufacturing in the 1980s while serving as CEO of General Motors and the company experienced negative results and a decline in quality.
Existing "lights-out factories"
FANUC, the Japanese robotics company, has been operating a "lights out" factory for robots since 2001. Robots are building other robots at a rate of about 50 per 24-hour shift and can run unsupervised for as long as 30 days at a time. "Not only is it lights-out," says Fanuc vice president Gary Zywiol, "we turn off the air conditioning and heat too."
In the Netherlands, Philips uses lights-out manufacturing to produce electric razors, with 128 robots from Adept Technology. The only humans are nine quality assurance workers at the end of the manufacturing process.
Kiva Systems currently implements robotic solutions for distribution centers. Goods are kept in portable storage containers, which are then shifted around the factory using a computerized order system. They follow a 2D grid system to navigate the factory floor. Kiva has two models of robots. The smaller model is approximately 2 feet by 2.5 feet, and one foot high and capable of lifting 1000 pounds. The larger model can carry pallets and loads as heavy as 3,000 pounds.
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- "Automatic Factory" in Time magazine 1953 Sep. 28
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- Greenwald, John (November 9, 1992). "What Went Wrong? Everything at Once.". TIME Magazine.(subscription required)
- Null, Christopher and Caulfield, Brian (June 1, 2003). "Fade To Black The 1980s vision of "lights-out" manufacturing, where robots do all the work, is a dream no more.". CNN Money.
- Markoff, John (13 November 2012). "Techonomy 2012: Where’s My Robot?". Techonomy. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
- Steiner, Christopher (16 March 2009). "Bot-In-Time Delivery — Forbes.com".
- Fitzgerald, Drew (March 19, 2012). "Amazon to Buy Robot Company Kiva for $775 Million". The Wall Street Journal.