In order to improve productivity in the workplace, many companies and shops that use CNC machines daily have opted into a method called “Lights Out” machining. Running lights out means that you continue to run the machines even after employees go home for the night. The CNC machines run throughout the night and complete jobs without manual assistance.
Both large and small companies have occasionally started to run lights out for a variety of reasons. Customers often want certain products on short notice and want you to get them as quickly as possible. If a company can run lights off, the shop can finish a project overnight and have it ready the next day for a customer because they don’t need to wait for someone to come in to do the job. Companies are also starting to do lights out CNC machining so they can save on labor costs by paying a fewer number of employees and not having to pay employee benefits as frequently. Saving on labor costs is the biggest reason shops are choosing to run lights out. By letting the machines run themselves overnight , you don’t need to pay an employee to monitor the job or do the job, saving the company money.
Another advantage to the lights out concept is that you are able to run longer jobs overnight and not waste the time on those hours during the day. During the day, it is beneficial to do shorter jobs that require frequent manual maintenance and monitoring complicated parts. While employees are waiting for a job to finish during the day, they can program some of the night jobs for lights out which uses their time more effectively. If a job has to run for several hours with little manual maintenance, running it lights out makes more sense. By doing so, an employee doesn’t have to spend their time just watching the machine work for hours.
In order to start implementing lights out, you do need to ease into it and make sure the CNC machine is working the way it is intended to. You should practice running jobs “lights out” while employees are still present for the first several attempts. You should also make sure all of the tools and parts are sharp and clean. Machines need to cleaned and maintained in order to perform at their best while running lights out. It is also important to make sure the proper program is loaded, the space is clear of chips, and that the reservoir is full of coolant. These are things that the operators normally do but would not be present to do during lights off.
The best CNC machines to use for lights out production are grinders, horizontal and vertical machining centers, multifunction lathes and two- and four-axis lathes. Have you ever tried to run your CNC machines on “lights off?” How did it go?