China for example has seen astonishing growth since surpassing the US as the number one global manufacturer in the world in 2010. With this, the country has been able to deliver high productivity and low costs that have attracted huge investments from foreign companies. China’s manufacturing industry continues to transform as demand for more specialised goods brings production costs up, opening the door to the next major innovation for manufacturing - factory automation.
‘Lights Out’ on old manufacturing strategies
‘Lights out manufacturing’ refers to the use of robotics in fully automated factories where materials and products are produced 24/7 with little human workforce present. In 2016, a Chinese mobile phone factory, Changying Precision Technology Company, deployed a factory workforce that was 90% robotic. While not quite ‘lights out’, Changying still saw productivity increase by 250%.
One of the most well-known lights out manufacturing facilities actually produces the robots that enable other companies to deploy lights out manufacturing. FANUC’s robots produce other robots in Japan for automated factories all over the world, including Apple and Tesla Motors in the US.
Many believe that lights out manufacturing represents a game-changing innovation for the manufacturing sector, setting a new bar for productivity. However, there are other benefits to automated factories, including throughput and quality increases, more consistent labour costs and lower energy requirements.
Robots are also objective, relying on programming to dictate what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. This is very important on the manufacturing line, especially if the robots are responsible for providing a non-biased inspection.