Don’t Be in the Dark with Lights-Out Machining

Certain things must be considered before taking on lights-out machining in a shop. Think about the following points that are only some examples of what to consider prior to implementing lights-out machining.


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You know the advantages of lights-out machining: Create parts overnight with little or no labor cost, which in turn makes your shop more productive and your customers happy.

However, certain things must be considered before taking on this method of production. It’s important to realize that not every application lends itself to lights-out manufacturing. Some parts are too complex to manage without supervision.

But if the kinds of parts being produced are OK for unattended operation, think about the following points that are only some examples of what to consider prior to implementing lights-out machining. First, consider the reliability of the equipment available. Since there won’t be anyone on-site to address machinery malfunctions, the machine tools and automation equipment must be designed to operate flawlessly. Second, are the machines capable of continuous operation? Does it have appropriate spindle power? Third, can the chip conveyor adequately handle the quantity and types of chips produced throughout the production run? Next, if using a bar feeder, is it capable of holding an adequate amount of material in its magazine or holding tray to supply the run? Also, planned preventive maintenance is a must. When a machine breaks down in the middle of a lights-out shift, precious run time is lost until someone is available to correct the problem. But regularly scheduled maintenance can greatly reduce the risk of production problems.

When the unexpected problem does occur with machines running lights out, a remote monitoring system comes in handy. Many CNC machine controllers and peripheral equipment are designed to work with Ethernet or other communication tools that can send alerts to PCs or mobile devices located anywhere they are needed.

For more detailed information about running lights out and appropriate applications for doing so, read “Checklist for Lights-Out Manufacturing.” For more information about running lights-out, specifically when using Swiss-type machines, read “Filling the Bins While the Building is Empty.” For an application story about a successful shop using lights-out machining with its Swiss-type operations, read “Shop Combines Automated Grinding and Swiss Turning.”


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