What in the World is Lights-Out Manufacturing?

What in the World is Lights-Out Manufacturing?We’ve already covered a few manufacturing definitions here on the blog, and on Monday, we highlighted local manufacturer MetalQuest Unlimited.

But one thing that we left out of our post on Monday–and something we haven’t defined yet–is also something that MetalQuest Unlimited does.

It’s called lights-out manufacturing, and it’s a pretty cool process that more and more manufacturers are starting to practice.

What It Is:

Lights-out manufacturing’s name hints a little bit at what exactly it is. Think of a normal factory, where humans are working during the day, the lights are on, and production is constantly happening.

Lights-out manufacturing involves constant production–but it’s production that happens without the help of humans. With lights-out manufacturing, there are no humans working–all robots–and thus, production can essentially be done “with the lights out.”

Really, then, lights-out manufacturing is a form of automation which allows production to continue on schedules where things may be more difficult if humans were involved.

Why It Matters:

Lights-out manufacturing isn’t a new concept. It’s been around since at least the 1980s, when GM tried (and failed) to run a completely automated factory. But automation today is much more technologically advanced than it was in the past, and true lights-out manufacturing is becoming more of a reality every day.

In many cases, this kind of production process allows for increased efficiency and around-the-clock performance. For example, MetalQuest Unlimited, who we featured on Monday, “utilizes unattended and “lights-out” manufacturing to operate our CNC Machine Centers and Lathes around the clock, every day of the work week.” Many of their production lines still use humans, but certain machinery allows unparalleled efficiency by operating lights-out.

Still, though, this method of manufacturing isn’t always the solution (as GM’s failed venture in the 80’s proved). And no, you don’t have to worry about a robot invasion any time soon. Most manufacturing processes of the future don’t involve just robots–they involve humans working alongside robots.

The Future?

Lights-out manufacturing is a great method of production in certain instances, and it’s one of the coolest uses of new manufacturing technology that we can think of today. The thought of parts of a factory working fully automated once seemed to be a thing of the past–but today, it’s a reality.

So the next time you go to bed after class or work, think about the robots working in factories all night long. You may not be able to see them, but rest assured, they’re there, continually pushing the limits of production and technology in today’s advanced manufacturing world.

photo credit: Logan Hicks via photopin cc