“Lights out” manufacturing is a fully automated process. It literally means that the production process continues with the lights out, with no human participation. “Lights out” is also a description of an automation-based philosophy of manufacturing.
The name is slightly misleading, in both cases. Operationally, many factories operate automatically, but to various degrees during the “lights out” process. Handling, maintenance and production oversight by humans are still required for safe operation. From the philosophical perspective, human management is also part of the process.
The Theory of “Lights Out” Manufacturing
The idea of fully automated manufacturing is based on lower operating costs, higher production speeds and reducing manpower costs. It’s actually a business theory, as much as a manufacturing theory.
The theory also works in practice. Current levels of automation don’t really need a lot of human participation in many cases. Projected future automation will probably need even less human involvement.
This type of manufacturing is stringently costed to deliver a series of cost efficiencies at all levels of operation. The metrics used are core business costings, based on unit price, materials, labour, and other conventional measures. An entire production run of a product can be accurately costed, virtually to the last dollar.
The Practice of “Lights Out” Manufacturing
The theory, however, comes with multiple caveats in practice. If process handling is becoming obsolete, other types of human participation are essential.
Human operations may be required for:
- Quality control
- Emergency and routine maintenance
- Systems installation, retooling and upgrades
- Systems management, including electrical, plumbing, and communications
- Monitoring production and processing systems
- Production planning and coordination
- New product production implementation
In theory, “lights out” manufacturing can operate indefinitely and efficiently. The problem is that production errors, changes in products, breakdowns, and system issues are inevitable. Humans must be on site to manage these issues.
The Dashboard Effect
One of the most important functional efficiencies in this type of manufacturing is the ability to accurately monitor operations in real time. The “dashboard effect” is the real time reporting capacity of digital systems using dashboard software to monitor businesses. In industry, there are many variations on this theme, including remote monitoring of sites by management and operations staff. It’s easy to get a report or access your dashboard with your phone, for example.
These dashboard systems are good hands-on assets for managers. These systems also provide “operational audits”, like batch information, figures, times and dates for operations. A “lights out” system can deliver lots of high value information for business uses, which can then be integrated with other business systems like sales and marketing. The net effect is a fully traceable range of metrics from production to sale.
Need Help With a “Lights Out” Operation?
EPG Electrical Plumbing Group Pty. Ltd. is a full service consultancy and onsite services provider for factory automation in Brisbane. We offer services for plant and site switchboards, and also electrical and plumbing contractor services. To enquire about our services, call us on (07) 3319 5068 or if you prefer, contact us online.