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 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 that hold parts to be manufactured and remove completed parts. As the technology necessary for lights-out production becomes increasingly available, many factories are beginning to use lights-out production between shifts (or as a separate shift) to meet increasing demand or 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".
"Lights out" CNC machining
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.
In the manufacuring of Integrated circuits using 300mm wafers, the entire manufacturing process is completely automated, with workers only making sure that the process runs without problems and repairing any faulty machinery.
Motivations for lights-out factories
Companies that use a largely robotic manufacturing fleet would see more productivity at a lower upkeep cost. Companies incorporating the lights-out factory mindset into floor plans would only need to consider robotic workers. Human labourers would be dispatched to a separate location for tasks such as quality assurance. Using autonomous robotics or optimizing space for a fully industrial force would allow for this increase productivity. James Cook, an applications engineer at Stäubli and colleague of David Arceneaux, the Business Development and Marketing Manager at Stäubli Robotics says robots can help lower building costs by providing for smaller work cells. “Manufacturers can fit a larger number of compact cells in the same space to increase production without adding heating, lighting or cooling to the cost of the building“ says Cook. . When considering that floor space is also important in energy considerations, this smaller space will reduce energy consumption by reducing heating costs. Without workers, climate control systems are also unnecessary and smaller layouts will mean less electricity consumption.
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- "Automatic Factory" in Time magazine 1953 Sep. 28
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