The idea of allowing a factory to run on its own overnight is tempting for manufacturers. Factory assets that can continue production even after staff leave a facility allow companies to respond quickly to customer demand and increase their output with marginal increases in cost. Both large and small companies can benefit from including lights out manufacturing capabilities in their traditional processes thanks to greater industry automation and IoT connectivity between manufacturing assets.
This idea is more than just a pipe dream. Companies are already implementing lights out manufacturing in a number of industries. However, this requires lights out manufacturing units that can receive and execute instructions with little-to-no human intervention. When digital additive manufacturing systems are incorporated into the mix, companies can produce more complex products while still offering competitive costs, predictable lead times, and fewer post-processing and assembly steps.
Lights out manufacturing unit for fabricating LEDs.
Is a Lights Out Manufacturing System Right for You?
Lights out manufacturing systems are not for every company, as they may require significant changes to other manufacturing processes. Whether your business will see a net gain or loss depends on specific factors involved in manufacturing your particular finished products. There are useful examples of lights out manufacturing that can be found in different industries that can guide the applicability of lights out manufacturing. In addition, there are some key considerations to make before adopting a lights out manufacturing system at your facility.
The primary consideration in implementing lights out manufacturing is productivity. The ability for a factory to continue producing after staff members leave allows a company to continue producing with a lower cost per unit. This reduced cost per unit produced allows companies to on-shore their manufacturing capabilities for more complex products. As a result, some intellectual property and security concerns can be alleviated, and the company can exert greater quality control. This is particularly important in highly regulated industries, such as defense, aerospace, and medical devices. Allowing 24/7 operation can also make for a much more responsive production system that is able to respond more quickly to change.
Any manufacturing process requires some level of human intervention. This can involve tooling and retooling, programming and configuration, preventative maintenance, and simpler tasks like cleaning and loading feedstock. Simpler tasks can be easily automated with robotic systems, while more complex tasks will still require human input and judgment. Because staff will not be on-site to address malfunctions, any lights out manufacturing unit must operate flawlessly over an extended time period to yield a return on investment.
Traditional vs. Lights Out Manufacturing Units
Older manufacturing assets are simply not designed to be implemented in lights out or digital manufacturing processes without significant upgrades that can outweigh the costs of purchasing a new lights out manufacturing unit. Therefore, if you are planning an upgrade to your current processes, or you are looking to increase efficiency or expand your capabilities into new areas, then adding a lights out manufacturing unit to your existing manufacturing assets may be sensible. Although it may carry high fixed costs, the productivity gains can yield a fast return on investment. It is speed and flexibility, the ability to customize on the fly, adapt and adjust the product or production run quickly and to make highly complex parts that sets an additive approach up for success.
Currently, the lack of formal standards regarding connectivity and data format used in connected factory assets limits the ability for manufacturing assets to interface with each other. With lights out manufacturing becoming more popular, newer systems will need to provide the required connectivity. You can expect a hodgepodge of different communication standards initially. As new connected factory standards become formalized and developed by major tech companies, expect these systems to become more cohesive and act as a single unit. This will easily allow companies to create connected factories from various lights out manufacturing units.
Choosing a Lights Out Manufacturing Unit
Additive manufacturing systems are unique in that they are digital manufacturing units at their core. They already reduce the level of human intervention in the manufacturing process and offer predictable lead times with less material waste. They also allow fabrication of more complex products thanks to the use of layer-by-layer 3D printing processes. The reduced level of required human intervention makes these systems ideal as lights out manufacturing units in particular applications, particularly in the electronics industry.
Lights out manufacturing units can keep factory floors running after workers go home.
Nano Dimension’s newest lights out manufacturing system is unique among 3D printing systems in that it is specifically adapted for manufacturing PCBs with any level of complexity. Like earlier versions of the Nano Dimension’s 3D printing systems, this system offers higher yield and throughput than other printing systems through co-deposition of conductive elements and insulating PCB substrate directly from nanoparticle inks.
As this system is now adapted as a lights out digital manufacturing unit, it requires significantly less operator intervention thanks to the addition of an automatic printer head cleaner. The system also requires less preventative maintenance thanks to the new on-substrate warm-up plane and the addition of an open-loop layer thickness monitor, both for the conductive and dielectric inks. These improvements reduce the amount of required human intervention during operation, making this system an ideal lights out manufacturing unit for producing electronics with complex geometry.
3D printing systems are already designed to read printing instructions from a 3D CAD model, making these systems a natural fit in digital manufacturing processes. Using a SOLIDWORKS add-in allows design teams and engineers to translate their layouts from advanced PCB design programs into digital 3D printing instructions. This makes the lights out manufacturing unit from Nano Dimension a natural choice for use as a rapid prototyping system and for producing low-volume runs of highly complex electronic devices and PCBs.
With the right design software and lights out manufacturing unit, you can start producing low-volume runs of highly complex PCBs with reduced costs, fabrication time, and material waste than in traditional PCB manufacturing processes. The DragonFly LDM additive manufacturing system from Nano Dimension is ideal for fabrication of complex electronic devices with a planar or non-planar architecture. Read a case study or contact us today to learn more about the DragonFly LDM system.