Welcome back to our Lights-out manufacturing series as we delve deep into the world of manufacturing automation.
In case you missed it, in (Part 1) of our series, we introduced you to lights-out manufacturing and looked at what it meant to have a true, lights-out production facility. Then in (Part 2) we looked more closely at some of the key benefits of operating lights-out that went beyond just minimizing costs and maximizing efficiency.
As we move through a new phase in the Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, manufacturers are focusing more and more on automation, artificial intelligence and real-time data than ever before. While most have yet to achieve a fully lights-out operation, many have taken intermediary steps to move their operations closer in that direction. By implementing initiatives that have allowed them to automate individual steps in their production process, these companies have been able to reap some of the benefits available through lights-out production. Regardless of the level of automation achieved however, these benefits are not without their challenges.
Here at SYSCON PlantStar, we have been helping manufacturers gain better control of their machines and their data since 1976. Before most people had even contemplated the idea of the Internet and the very idea of a cell phone was nothing more than a prop held by Captain Kirk, we were connecting machines to processing units on the shop floor. Through this experience we are all too familiar with the challenges faced by manufacturers as they implement automation into their production process. Today we want to look at some of those challenges and look at the ways PlantStar is helping them to overcome these hurdles.
Challenges of lights-out manufacturing
- Reliable off-site accessibility. Even in a fully automated lights-out facility, issues will arise. While some solutions do exist to evaluate and address simple problems that may occur on the shop floor, today human intervention is still required to resolve most major, unforeseen issues. For this reason, it is imperative that accurate, reliable information is accessible when no human is present on-site. PlantStar helps manufactures solve this by providing dependable real-time data through remote monitoring, accessible from any internet-connected device.
- Safety and Reliability. Since no operator is present during lights-out production, there is no human to address any machine malfunctions or tool failures. This makes it essential to make sure all equipment, machines and tools are at peak operating efficiency and well maintained. Through PlantStar 4.0 MES, manufacturers are able to perform predictive maintenance on their production equipment when OEE falls below the desired threshold instead of having to wait for production to be disrupted before taking action.
- Technical Challenges. This is often a major barrier to production automation as many companies may be lacking in the technical knowledge or materials needed for such an ambitious endeavor. Connecting older machines with a newer MES for example, comes with unique complications that many manufacturers are ill-equipped to handle. Luckily for manufacturers that choose to partner with PlantStar and our team of engineers and technicians, this isn’t an issue. As stated prior, PlantStar has been doing this since 1976 and there hasn’t been a machine that we haven’t been able to connect with.
- Economy of Scale. Lights-out production requires a significant attention to detail and a major investment in equipment. For this reason, smaller-scale production is seldom sufficient to justify such an undertaking. Even with larger production operations, all the details of operation, from job scheduling to process monitoring, need to be on point in order to recoup the initial cost outlay. Through PlantStar 4.0 MES, this is a piece of cake. Via an easy to read, real-time user interface, companies are able access and react accordingly to the data provided during each phase of production.
If you and your company are interested in learning more about lights-out manufacturing and want to get a first-hand look at the ways PlantStar can help move your production in that direction, click the link below to get a closer look at PlantStar MES Solutions or if you'd like to look more into additional benefits of Manufacturing Execution Systems, be sure to take a look at our past blog post 5 benefits of a Manufacturing Execution System.