Integrating Safety into Automation: Implications and Considerations for Senior Management

October 16, 2013

Advancements in Manufacturing Safety & Automation Technologies Lead to Increased Safety & Productivity to Lower Manufacturing Costs

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As business leaders in the manufacturing industry, you are compelled to continually find ways to increase throughput, increase efficiency, and lower manufacturing costs. However, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you are also tasked with increasing employee safety and reducing incident rates.This can be a challenging balancing act for most companies, especially if safety and production are in a constant battle with each other.

Luckily, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Major advancements in both safety and automation in the past few years have made monumental leaps in bridging the gap between these two very different business drivers, ultimately leading to both increased safety and productivity. Do you know if your plant engineering staff has implemented (correctly or incorrectly) any of the following newer manufacturing technologies:

  • Safety PLC’s
  • Bypass of Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO)
  • Safe Speed / Motion / Torque in VFD’s and Servo’s
  • Muting of Safety Devices

As a manufacturing company, you have a responsibility to have a Corporate Safety Plan and it should include governance over the implementation of these plant safety technologies. And these safety features are now imbedded in the products that your plant engineering staffs buys every day.

  • Are your engineers bypassing LOTO?
  • Are they using any of the new machine safety features in standard automation products?
  • Are they using these features properly?

To get a thorough understanding of how you can assess and improve your machine safety, you can download our newest plant safety guide: Machine Safety Guide for Manufacturers which covers these all of these topics and references the standards and guidelines from ANSI, ISO, OSHA and more.

How Traditional Disparate Disciplines of Safety Management & Engineering Hinder Organization Success

To understand how integrated technology is a benefit to a company’s overall success, we need to dive a little deeper into the basics. It is commonly agreed that Safety Management has always been tasked with providing a safe workplace for employees, whereas, Engineering has always been tasked with making improvements to the manufacturing process.

Traditionally, these disparate disciplines would have little interaction with each other. Most machine guarding methods over the past few decades are simple in design and application, and therefore don’t require much of an engineering background to properly implement (both in functionality and compliance). Unfortunately, the downside is that these limited safeguarding methods most likely will traditionally handcuff engineers and hinder production.

The evolution of machine guarding has been:

  • Restricting access
  • Detecting unwanted access
  • Controlling access

Does your Engineering Staff Truly Understand the Safety Implications of these New Features?

Imagine if the machinery in your manufacturing process were intelligent enough to autonomously modify the safeguarding methods based on the current level of safety hazard. Ask  yourself a few questions about your plant safety systems:

  • What if plant safety systems were capable of allowing safe human interaction for tasks which are integral, routine, and repetitive?
  • How much would an intelligent safety system benefit productivity?
  • How valuable is lowering your overall risk levels by avoiding the need to “defeat” safeguards in clearing jams?
  • Or more importantly, notifying if a safeguard has been left “defeated”?

These scenarios could potentially have big impacts on your bottom line. The solutions are technological capabilities that already exist today and future integrated safety technology will allow for more impressive feats.

However, with the possibility of more advanced and complex safeguarding solutions comes the serious risk of unknowingly, unintentionally creating a very dangerous workplace. For starters, as safety technology becomes ever more intertwined with automation technology, the internal lines over “ownership of safety” become blurry:

  • Are the Engineers responsible for designing, programming, and configuring these plant safety systems required to be safety experts?
  • Are the Safety Professionals designing the safety policies responsible for having an in depth knowledge of automation and manufacturing?

integrated safety rockwellSince these newer integrated technologies are significantly more complex than traditional physical safeguards and single-function hard wired safety devices, it can become very easy to unknowingly create an unsafe system using a bunch of safety-rated devices. Arguably, creating this “illusion of safety” is worse than doing nothing at all!

Would the engineers or safety professionals even know if this were to ever happen?

How would you even verify or validate the solution?

Implementing New Safety Technologies Requires Specific Expertise

From Grantek’s experience as a leader in the manufacturing automation and machine safeguarding industries, we have noticed the increasing need for a new type of position: a Safety Engineer. A single person or team who has both the fundamental understanding of several engineering disciplines (electrical, mechanical, controls, etc.), as well as, a deep understanding of safety (governmental regulations, national and international safety standards, liability, etc.). It is this safety engineer who will be able to draw the connections between the application of cutting edge technologies, specification of design requirements, and development of required internal safety policies.