It seems a lot of folks these days ares caught up in the promise of lights-out machining and manufacturing. The term alone conjures up images of a dark factory, fully automated and requiring no human presence on-site. Reality is somewhere in between lights-on and lights-out, with the concept being more of a philosophy than a specific process.
There are many shops capable of running lights-out production, but very few do it exclusively. In most cases workers are necessary to set up tombstones, remove completed parts, and keep an eye on quality. Reducing overhead, and a drive to increase productivity continues to push the concept forward, and motivate the development of technology to support it.
When considering lights-out or semi-lights-out machining it is important to maintain a practical perspective. The finished part must be consistent with the quality of your shop and meet customer expectations. Lights-out does not have to be an all or nothing proposition; some processes are very difficult to remove direct human interaction from them, and attempting to do so can push consistent performance and quality to the brink.
There are many variables that must be considered and overcome before you can start turning the lights-out:
- Equipment reliability and monitoring
- Chip and coolant management
- Loading and unloading parts
- Material considerations
Material selection is probably one of the biggest factors in determining lights-out feasibility. Softer materials like 6061 aluminum, brass and certain plastics will not wear down the tool as fast and do not tend to produce long wiry chips that can build up or bird-nest. On the other hand, harder materials, like 304 stainless is difficult to machine and has a tendency to wear and damage tools, and produce wiry chips. Supper alloys, like Titanium, should never be machined unattended.
At TCI we provide consistent, close tolerance, Machine-Ready Blanks suitable for lights-on, human interaction, lights-off robotic handling, or anywhere in between. The key is, Precision Machine-Ready Blanks show up clean, deburred, and ready to go directly from your receiving dock into your machining center. Machine-Ready Blanks eliminate material prep, and because they are identical blank-to-blank, fixturing is quick and easy - reducing cycle time, chip-to-chip.
Shops have reported increases in throughput by as much as 25% using Machine-Ready Blanks. In my opinion, at the end of the day, it really comes down to improving productivity without sacrificing quality, lights-on or lights-out.
Thanks for reading; we’ll keep the lights-on for you.