Incrementing towards lights-off manufacturing

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Why it is worth thinking of lights of manufacturing as a journey

Lights out manufacturing – fully autonomous production lines that don’t require any manual involvements – can be seen as the pinnacle of automated manufacturing. However, while there are advantages that come from fully automated production lines, getting production that is so reliable that it does not require any supervision is not an easy objective.

One approach to lights out manufacturing is to see it as a gradual transition – to gradually work towards increasing the reliability of the production line, such that over time, the amount of manual supervision can be decreased. Incremental improvements can be made, first focusing on the easiest opportunities to reduce manual involvement, before gradually increasing reliability to reduce the amount of continued oversight required.

The benefits of seeing the transition to lights out manufacturing as a gradual process

More realistic goals than perfection over-night

Establishing full automation is not an easy task – there are lots of areas where problems can be faced. Getting everything working perfectly can take substantial effort, and may substantially delay rolling out the operations. Accepting some degree of manual involvement initially, before gradually reducing that oversight, can be a good compromise that allows the production line to begin operations, and issues gradually resolved over time.

It is hard to predict all of the issues overnight

Another reason for shifting your mindset is that it can take a long time to get everything working perfectly consistently. Some operations may need to run for thousands or tens of thousands of times before every possible error situation is seen and resolved. It may be necessary to have the line up and running before you are able to identify and resolve all possible points of failure.  

Allows you to succeed in achieving the most impactful improvements

While fully automated operations may seem like a desirable state, for many operations – and particularly those that require changes to the production line over time as new products are released – full automation may never be achieved. The challenges of getting everything to work perfectly may to so great that it is never fully obtained. By seeing it more of a journey – rather than something attainable initially – you can lock in the most impactful improvements. Even if you later decide to lower your overall ambitions – accepting some degree of manual involvement – you will have attained at least some of the biggest improvements.