In honor of Manufacturing Month, I thought I’d mention one of the manufacturing ideas that I heard a bit about at a summit early in the month.
First, as more of a techie, I needed a quick definition of “lights out” manufacturing. My concept includes servers in racks, serving up computer resources to companies at locations around the country or around the world.
For manufacturing, it means machines building machines, eliminating the routine and dangerous human tasks. It doesn’t, however, mean no humans needed – just as “lights out” computing, which requires human monitoring. A few keys to a successful implementation of lights out manufacturing include:
A requirement for a very repetitive process, meaning a need for a lot of exactly the same item. This is not an environment for making bespoke items.
Highly-skilled laborers are needed to keep things running smoothly – machines need regular maintenance, finished goods need regular inspection, and a highly-skilled individual is needed to know how to correct things when inspections reveal flaws in the finished goods. While this still leads to a need for fewer manufacturing jobs, the jobs that will be needed will pay better and cause less wear and tear on the human body.
This includes a stable source of energy to run the machines, and a consistent environment to avoid slight changes that could be induced by manufacturing in overly cold, overly hot, or overly humid environments. Excellent backup devices and protection devices are needed to ensure this stable environment. Also needed are detection systems to alert that human to intervene if the environment becomes less than optimal, and determine which system has failed in order to correct it, and possibly an orderly shutdown of the equipment if the environment can’t be corrected in a timely manner.
This kind of environment can’t be created on a shoestring – it requires a large initial investment. If the manufacturing need isn’t extremely consistent, this may not be the right style of operation.
The lights out idea may at first sound appealing, but its implementation requires very careful consideration. Is the market really that consistent? Will it still be the same by the time the equipment is in place and actually running? Those are the risks inherent in setting this up – but the rewards when it works are significant.