Lights out (manufacturing)

Lights-out manufacturing, more often called dark factory[1] is a manufacturing methodology (or philosophy), rather than a specific process.

Factories that run lights out are fully automated and require no human presence on-site. These factories can be considered to run "with the lights off". Many factories are capable of lights-out production, but very few run exclusively lights-out. Typically, workers are necessary to set up tombstones that hold parts to be manufactured and remove completed parts. As the technology necessary for lights-out production becomes increasingly available, many factories are beginning to use lights-out production between shifts (or as a separate shift) to meet increasing demand or save money. An automatic factory is a place where raw materials enter and finished products leave with little or no human intervention.[2][3][4]

One of the earliest descriptions of the automatic factory in fiction was the 1955 short story "Autofac".

Real-world examplesEdit

"Lights out" CNC machiningEdit

CNC machine tools do not require continuous operator attention, and some models can run unattended.[5] A few machine shops run unattended on nights and weekends.

Existing "lights-out factories"Edit

FANUC, the Japanese robotics company, has been operating a "lights out" factory for robots since 2001.[6] Robots are building other robots at a rate of about 50 per 24-hour shift and can run unsupervised for as long as 30 days at a time. "Not only is it lights-out," says Fanuc vice president Gary Zywiol, "we turn off the air conditioning and heat too."

In the Netherlands, Philips uses lights-out manufacturing to produce electric razors, with 128 robots from Adept Technology. The only humans are nine quality assurance workers at the end of the manufacturing process.[7]

In the manufacturing of Integrated circuits using 300mm wafers, the entire manufacturing process is completely automated, with workers only making sure that the process runs without problems and repairing any faulty machinery.

Motivations for lights-out factoriesEdit

Companies that use a largely robotic manufacturing fleet would see more productivity at a lower upkeep cost. Companies incorporating the lights-out factory mindset into floor plans would only need to consider robotic workers. Human labourers would be dispatched to a separate location for tasks such as quality assurance. Using autonomous robotics or optimizing space for a fully industrial force would allow for this increase productivity. James Cook, an applications engineer at Stäubli and colleague of David Arceneaux, the Business Development and Marketing Manager at Stäubli Robotics says robots can help lower building costs by providing for smaller work cells. “Manufacturers can fit a larger number of compact cells in the same space to increase production without adding heating, lighting or cooling to the cost of the building“ says Cook. [8]. When considering that floor space is also important in energy considerations, this smaller space will reduce energy consumption by reducing heating costs. Without workers, climate control systems are also unnecessary and smaller layouts will mean less electricity consumption.

Opposite approachEdit

Since the mid-2010s, Toyota has been moving in the opposite direction, replacing robots by human workers, as the human is considered to be essential for flexibility and process improvement, Robots are then reintroduced step-by-step where appropriate.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Toward the automatic factory" in "Electronic Servicing & Technology" magazine 1982 August
  3. ^ "Toward the Automatic Factory: A Case Study of Men and Machines" by Charles Rumford Walker 1977 ISBN 0-8371-9301-X
  4. ^ "Automatic Factory" in Time magazine 1953 Sep. 28
  5. ^ Takei Masami (Fuji Heavy Ind. Ltd.) (2003). "Realizing Unattended Hours of Continuous Operation of Machining Center with Addition of Intelligent Function". Subaru Technical Review (in Japanese). 30: 251–256. ISSN 0910-4852. Archived from the original on 2012-03-13.
  6. ^ Null, Christopher; Caulfield, Brian (June 1, 2003). "Fade To Black The 1980s vision of "lights-out" manufacturing, where robots do all the work, is a dream no more". CNN Money.
  7. ^ Markoff, John (13 November 2012). "Techonomy 2012: Where's My Robot?" (PDF). Techonomy. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  8. ^ Brumson, Bennett. "Robotic Industries Association". Robotics Online. Robotic Industries Association. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Automotive manufacturing requires human innovation". 2018-11-15. Retrieved 2019-01-08.