As a future-forward precision machine shop, Reata Engineering is always looking for ways to become more efficient so that we can serve our customers better.
The Industry 4.0 tools we use in our shop allow us to measure our workload and give us greater visibility into areas for improvement. When analyzing our data, we realized there was a significant opportunity to leverage automated equipment and lights out manufacturing to fulfill complex CNC machining orders.
What Is Lights Out Manufacturing?
Our automated equipment lets us machine parts overnight and on weekends when there are no employees in the shop—a technique known as “lights out manufacturing” or “unattended manufacturing.”
The process is straightforward: our team members set up the machines, program them, and put the appropriate checks in place. Then, they turn the lights off and head home, knowing the machines will run for 4-6 hours until the next shift begins.
Lights out manufacturing requires specific technologies to be successful. We use this equipment to ensure each job is done precisely to our customers’ requirements—even when unattended:
Our machines can be programmed to run several different parts during a lights out period or multiple runs of the same part. The result, in both cases, is that we fulfill orders faster.
Best of all, we maintain the same high level of quality as when we’re physically in the shop. Automatic checks ensure tools perform properly, and probes measure parts and confirm specifications throughout each run.
Leveraging lights out manufacturing allows us to make parts with the same precision and consistency as always with fewer people—a practical strategy as our industry continues to experience a labor shortage.
We have up to 315 hours per week lights out machining capacity—in addition to two fully-staffed shifts!
4 Ways Lights Out Manufacturing Benefits Customers
Lights out manufacturing isn’t just convenient for us. It also yields significant benefits for our customers:
1. Reduced costs
Manufacturing customers are experiencing high prices due to inflation and supply chain issues—there’s no denying it. While we can’t control the costs of materials and outside services, we can help keep precision machining costs manageable.
Our advanced technologies and lights out manufacturing capabilities allow us to better control pricing for our customers than if we used more manually supervised methods around the clock.
2. Increased capacity
Thanks to our automated equipment, we’re now working at full capacity. We have plans to acquire new equipment by the end of 2022 that will further increase our throughput.
Filling our precision machine shop with more automated machines will help reduce lead times while providing solutions that are as cost-effective as possible in the current environment.
3. Expedited repeat orders
Some customers depend on us to make runs of the same parts on a regular basis. Since we already know their parts inside and out, setup time is nominal, and we can start their repeat order immediately.
Lights out manufacturing is excellent for repeat orders, enabling us to turn these projects around even faster.
4. Increased efficiency
Because our machines are automated and high-tech, we can use them almost all the time, making our shop more efficient.
For example, our spindle utilization is through the roof—often running above 90%! Our machines accelerate production even without our team in the shop. We pass those time savings onto our customers.
In the current inflationary environment, we are looking for ways to reduce cost increases to our customers. In many cases, the standard machinist attended 3-axis vertical machining center, while cheaper per hour than automated 5-axis system, has ended up costing more per part. For example, we had a part that was requoted because of inflationary increases and on the 3-axis vertical its price increased just over 85%, when we quoted it using 5-axis automation the price increase was 52%, while this is still a big increase it’s a 33% reduction on what it could have been. We are finding the more complicated a part is the movement to automation is always a positive for both quality and cost.
Industry 4.0 is here, and we’re embracing the tools and technologies as quickly as possible to meet the complex needs of our customers.
Are you looking for a tech-forward precision machining partner? Request a quote for your next project—we’d love to work with you.