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Lights Out Machining 101 - The basics

The goal of a manufacturing company should always be that production is accomplished most effectively and productively possible. An exceptional manufacturing company will consider all elements necessary in producing a top-quality product that is impressive in appearance and capabilities. However to be defined as exceptional is not limited to the above it also includes the promptness, cost and material elements that are considered before production. A manufacturing company that contemplates options such as ‘lights out’ machining, is thinking about the best solution to assist in areas such as the client’s bottom line and deadline. Below we will discuss ‘lights out’ machining; what it means, how it is beneficial and when it should be employed.  

‘Lights out machining:’  

The term ‘lights out’ in manufacturing originates from the actual action; the action of turning off the lights at the end of a production day and going home. However, the reality of “lights out” machining is that although there is nobody physically there to operate the machines they’re still operating and producing overnight. 

Through automation techniques, the machine’s system is programmed to replicate and manufacture a specific product or tool. When a manufacturer employs ‘lights out’ technology it does not mean that the particular product will receive less attention; because every area of production is calculated and accounted for. As a result of the high-tech functionalities of today’s manufacturing machines; a manufacturer employing ‘lights out’ machining will automate functions such as product quantity, product measurements and back-up solutions. 

Additionally, ‘lights out’ machining through artificial intelligence relies on robots to assist with completing production. Robots operate just as a machine operator would, in the sense that they will remove finished parts and reload required material back into the machine that it is attending to, this is how machine productivity is increased. Without the assistance of robots, when “lights out” machining is implemented it will only be effective for one standard job and then shut off. Robots and manufacturing machines work hand in hand during “lights out” production, they are programmed to know when to stop, when to continue and when not to interfere with one another.

 An experienced manufacturer that utilizes robots for production also recognizes the importance of programming a robot accordingly and relies on robot technicians to do it properly. He or she also takes into account the importance of having a robot in an enclosed space that not only permits for robots to know where to locate material but also how to function safely for instance “opening of an enclosed space,” may mean stop operating, to avoid a machinist getting injured by the robot.

Back-up solutions include the machine’s ability to recognize a faulty tool and replacing it with a sister tool that can complete the job. Also, back-up solutions will include a touch probe technique that will continuously measure the length, width and circumference of a manufactured tool or product to ensure that the manufacturing job is being completed correctly. If something is wrong the machine should be designed to send a text message to alert the machinist that production has been cut-short and needs to be attended to. An experienced manufacturer will also implement additional safeguard measures such as observational cameras to oversee the machines during ‘lights out’ machining.  

Benefits of “lights out” machining:

The two key components that determine the benefit of ‘lights out’ machining are time and cost. A manufacturer would most likely implement ‘lights out’ machining, for a client that needs mass production of a tool or product by a specified date. At night, ‘lights out’ machining can work an entire shift allowing for an extra day’s work of production. 

In terms of cost, ‘lights out’ machining could be compared to wholesale pricing; the larger the quantity the less expensive the production. For example, a client comes to you and says I have a drawing of a screwdriver that I want to be created; because it is a single tool being designed it will require your undivided attention in areas such as turning and milling. For that particular production let’s say you charge $125/hr and spend 3 hours completing the job, your client will spend $375.00. Now, let’s say your client says I need 1000 of those screwdrivers made, you will not have to spend the same amount of time manufacturing because the machine would have been programmed from the initial product, which in turn will enable quicker manufacturing and a lower rate; let’s say $90.00.  

A manufacturer that considers their client’s bottom line and has their best interest at heart will recommend ‘lights out’ not only as an efficient option but also a cost-effective one. 

When to utilize “lights out” machining: 

‘Lights out’ machining is best utilized for clients who would like to produce 500+ of a particular product/tool. The idea is that as a manufacturer you want to maximize the most of the 24 hours given each day. Because smaller quantities can be easily accomplished during a regular working day it is not necessary to employ “lights out,” technology.   

To conclude, the objective of “lights out” machining is to provide the most efficient and worthwhile option for your clients.  A manufacturing company does not necessarily have to employ “lights out” machining, however, a manufacturer who can and does is one that should be recognized as exceptional and worthy of future business.