Achieving Lights-Out Manufacturing with Cobots
As manufacturers continue to look to advanced automation and collaborative robots to overcome labour shortages and meet increased demands, the need to improve efficiencies has never been greater.
Businesses in every industry are being faced with producing goods faster, with consistently high quality, and at lower costs, regardless of supply chain issues and a declining workforce.
Driven by economics and continuously evolving technologies, lights-out manufacturing is fueling productivity and improving lead times. It is allowing manufacturers to better meet customer demands thanks to the ability of working non-stop 24 hours a day.
It is estimated that 60% of manufactures will have more than two completely light-out processes in at least one of their facilities by 2025. With lights-out manufacturing increasing across all industries, how exactly can cobots be implemented to help?
What is lights-out manufacturing?
An increasingly common attribute of modern manufacturing, at its core lights-out manufacturing is a simple concept. It is establishing an automated environment that continues producing parts with few or no human workers. It means that businesses can continue operating after hours with material flows handled entirely by cobots.
Lights-out manufacturing often requires cobots and other automation technologies to perform tasks that human workers would otherwise carry out, such as loading and unloading machines, as well as moving finished products to a staging area.
Implemented correctly, lights-out manufacturing increases productivity, efficiency and throughput, while helping to offset other impacting factors manufacturers face.
It may seem contradictory to use collaborative robots for lights-out manufacturing, when a key selling point of cobots is their ability to work side-by-side with humans. While lights-out manufacturing is a human-free automation approach, cobots bring more benefits than simply their ability to share a workspace. They are defining the future of manufacturing thanks to their affordability, flexibility and straightforward usability, which are all critical for the integration of lights-out applications.
Flexible Automation for SMEs
Light-out manufacturing for the longest time was reserved for large manufacturers with significant capital investment budgers. The development of collaborative robots is bringing about a change, as small and medium-sized manufacturers are now able to take advantage of Industry 4.0 and the lights-out revolution.
Now more than ever, SMEs are looking to improve their flexibility in order to respond to changes in the market, better serve their customers' needs and win new contracts. Light-out manufacturing is allowing SMEs to implement third shift operations, as well as addressing seasonal peaks. While these additional shifts have traditionally been difficult and expensive to staff, cobots are providing viable solutions for extra productivity.
With lights-out production becoming increasingly more accessible for SMEs, implementing cobots in phases makes it a very attainable goal. It is important to remember that every manufacturer will have different requirements, each posing their own challenges depending on existing equipment, knowledge and skills of workers, and the footprint of the factory floor. This is where an automation expert like Cobots Online can help, providing a detailed assessment of your current processes and scoping out where implementing cobots will have the biggest impact and ROI.
Benefits of autonomous production
The ability to run machines unattended thanks to cobots is increasing productivity while reducing labour costs and maintaining the ability to keep up with changing market demands. With labour shortages still severe across all industries, lights-out manufacturing frees up skilled workers to focus on other areas of the business. Instead of loading and unloading machines, they can spend their time on higher-value roles within the business.
With a cobot repeating the same task exactly the same way, the errors in loading and transferring are significantly reduced. The ability to automate processes and run them beyond human working hours allows manufacturers to drive important KIPs such as earlier time-to-market, increased output and higher market resilience.
Take a step closer to lights-out manufacturing today
One great thing about cobots is how easily they integrate into your current processes without a major, and costly, redesign of the factory floor. With lights-out manufacturing, you can first automate production lines and processes that will have the greatest benefits to your business, and then look at other areas where cobots can provide assistance.
To reach the level of autonomy required to turn the lights off, contact the Cobots Online team for an in-depth consultation or demonstration of cobots at work.