Articles

Tracking Performance in Lights-Out Manufacturing


Modern technology makes it possible not only for large manufacturers to consider automating production, but small manufacturers as well. More production processes than ever before are being completed with humans just managing and monitoring the processes, and it’s not unreasonable to predict that we’re moving towards a future where the majority of factories have automation and are able to run some shifts “with the lights off.”

What is lights-out manufacturing?

Lights-out manufacturing refers to the manufacturing methodology where factories are fully-automated. While true lights-out factories are still rare today, manufacturers can look to companies like FANUC, in Japan, for inspiration. FANUC demonstrates the “lights-out” concept with robots creating robots while being managed and monitored by humans. 


Industrial robots are at the heart of lights-out manufacturing, and these robots are now more affordable and more effective than ever before at automating repetitive tasks. Lights-out manufacturing can not only offer manufacturers the ability to increase product quality and output, but they can also help reduce human workplace injuries and alleviate the needs of factories unable to find skilled workers to hire (according to Deloitte, there are an estimated 2.4 million manufacturing jobs going unfilled today). Many factories of all sizes are taking advantage of new robotic technology by using lights-out production between shifts, or as a separate shift, to meet increasing consumer demands.  Modern, easy to use, robot programming applications are also enabling manufacturers to implement their automation in an agile, iterative way. 


Creating a lights-out environment is not an easy task, as it requires a full transformation of the end-to-end production process. It’s important to understand how to track the performance of your automated tasks in order to continually optimize production metrics overtime.  

Tracking performance using IoT

New Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and deep analytics software provided by IoT service providers can offer manufacturers a simple way to track the real-time performance of their new lights-out production processes from end-to-end. IoT solutions can not only give manufacturers the ability to monitor their factories remotely, but they can also make robotic hardware faster and more reliable with fewer breakdowns. For manufacturers moving from human-intensive production processes to a lights-out approach, it’s very important to consider how IoT sensors and data analysis software can be integrated into every step of the production process, including:



  • Machine tool setup and control
  • Inventory and logistics management
  • Security and safety management
  • Product tracking and smart packaging
  • Product delivery diagnostics
  • Preventative maintenance 
  • Digital quality control 

By using smart data analysis software, businesses can more rapidly identify ways to improve all of the above production processes and prevent breakdowns before they occur. Data collected 24/7 by IoT sensors would be applied to all parts of your lights-out production line and then stored within a cloud system. Cloud software can then warn operations managers when maintenance is required for factories, and also prompt managers with ways to calculate performance improvement. New machine learning technologies have further enhanced these predictive performance tracking capabilities by analyzing big data collected by sensors. Custom machine learning software is also available to manufacturers with more specific needs.

Key lights-out metrics to track 

With real-time data monitoring, factory managers and operators will be able to log into their IoT software and see the production conditions as they’re happening. Deep analytics can offer smart trend analysis and proactive notification of the same critical factory KPIs that managers were monitoring pre-lights-out, giving managers the ability to act remotely before robot or machine breakdowns occur. Additionally, machine learning can enable performance tracking to improve with time, leading to lights-out environments that can extend to long periods without human oversight, including weekends.


In a lights-out environment, key performance metrics for all manufacturers to pay special attention to include the following:


  • Manufacturing Performance:
    • Machine faults and failures
    • Factory-specific network or security risks
    • Part production time
    • Cycle time between finished parts
    • Throughput rate
    • Production effectiveness
  • Industrial Robot Performance:
    • Actuation latency (between robotic jobs)
    • Position accuracy
    • Energy consumption
    • Job execution time

      
  • Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) Performance:
    • Task execution time
    • CPU utilization

By implementing industrial robots equipped with IoT smart technology and real-time data monitoring, manufacturers will be well on their way to effective performance tracking for lights-out production. Factory workers can be freed to focus on the smart insights being collected in lights-out production, and also expand manufacturing portfolios to new products that are created within a fully-automated environment.


Though the transformation to lights-out manufacturing is not simple, it is a worthwhile journey to embark on for all manufacturers seeking innovative ways to improve productivity and reduce safety risks for workers.