Investment in a new CNC mill-turning machine at WES Hardmetal Engineering has instantaneously secured ‘lights-out’ manufacturing for the precision engineering firm.

Lights-out manufacturing is a term used for when a factory is able to operate through the night with no human presence on site, with automation enabling it to literally run with the ‘lights out’.

The Redruth-based scientific instrumentation, aerospace, automotive, oil and gas sector service provider financed the high-precision DMG Mori NLX 2500|700 machine in response to a recognition of growth in future markets.

The company says the speed with which it achieved lights-out manufacturing, with the new investment, is “unprecedented” in its 40-year heritage.

Group commercial manager, James Gazzard, said: “We had a strategic growth approach to this latest investment. Increased interest in our hard metal specialisms from the scientific instrumentation and laboratory equipment sector, offered us the opportunity to assess our market position; leading to further investment in our operations and infrastructure.

“However, we didn’t expect the turnaround on our forecasted prediction to be so rapid.”

We already run lights-out on other machines, but typically on simpler components. The new machine has improved probing and repeatability so we can run more complex parts, from exotic materials, without a dedicated operator, overnight and fill previously lost hours at the weekend.

Having installed the new machine in spring, we have already managed hundreds of hours of additional production on top of normal shift patterns; enabling a quicker turnaround of the complex components. As a consequence, major gains across our lean manufacturing processes have also been achieved.”

As key suppliers to the automotive industry with key clients including JLR, Nissan and Honda, the ‘lights-out’ achievement is a confidence boost amongst a challenging car industry scene.

Gazzard concludes: “Like many SMEs we’ve felt the ripple effect of the current automotive industry scene but it is advancing technologies that is enabling us to manage operational processes and make gains in other areas of the business.”