An ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis, operating efficiencies and cost savings, as well as all relevant safety standards, such as those from NFPA, ANSI, RIA, IEC, ISO and OSHA. About J.B. Titus.
Machine Guarding: Trouble shooting old systems is doomed with iPad skills
April 17, 2012
As I stated last October, “Over the past ten years machine safety has experienced probably the greatest transformation since the advent of machine control technology.” In my opinion, this sets the stage for an organizational skills gap discussion. Specifically, are the skilled trades persons entering industry over the past ten years equipped to evaluate and trouble shoot 40-year-old control systems without any connection for plugging in a lap top computer?
Clearly, 1970s technology pre-dated microprocessors, software, diagnostics, and more. Almost everything in an architecture involved hard wired components and machine control was relay based. As technology rapidly hit the floor with PLCs, application software, and diagnostics through the 70s, 80s, and 90s so did the training for skilled trades persons. These folks grew with the technology curve plus they still had the skill sets to maintain and troubleshoot the older systems. They could also maintain and troubleshoot the safety layer of the architecture which was required to stay hard wired by industry standards.
Now, fast forward to 2012 where the safety layer can now be re-integrated with the rest of the machine control system. This re-integration began in 2002 when NFPA 79, Electrical Standard for Industrial Machinery, allowed Safety PLCs and safety communication busses to be used for safety functions. Since 2002 industry has seen skilled trades personnel leave the work force and new skilled trades personnel enter. These young employees have gone through school with electronic text books, high tech systems in their labs, the internet as a basis for communication, and iPads for daily use. What happens when these newly hired skilled trades personnel are faced with a forty year old machine with a control system of 300 relays with one welded point? There’s no place to plug in their lap top or IPad to diagnose the fault.
Is training the answer for new personnel? For the latest technology - training classes abound. Does anyone know of one place to get training for forty year old control systems?
Don’t chain me to the floor on 40-year-old control systems – that’s not the point!
The point is – do we have a skills gap in our trades personnel? We still have a ton of old machine control systems (including machine safety) and a shrinking pool of skilled trades personnel with “know how” to maintain and trouble shoot these systems. People tell me it’s hard to find qualified personnel capable to revert to old schematics, analog meters, or even a primary understanding of engineering basics. Our ears used to be a primary diagnostic tool.
What experiences have you had along this changing landscape of evolution?
Your comments or suggestion are always welcome so please let us know your thoughts. Submit your ideas, experiences, and challenges on this subject in the comments section below.
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Contact: www.jbtitus.com for “Solutions for Machine Safety”.
For more than 30 years, J.B. Titus has advised a wide range of clients on machine functional safety solutions, including Johnson + Johnson, Siemens, General Motors, Disney, Rockwell Automation, Bridgestone Firestone, and Samsung Heavy Industries. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Oklahoma University in industrial management and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University in marketing and finance. He is a professional member of the American Society of Safety Engineers and is OSHA-certified in machine guarding. Titus is also TUV-certified as a Functional Safety Expert and serves on several American National Standards Institute, National Fire Protection Association, and National Electrical Manufacturers Association national safety and health standards committees. Reach him at jb(at)jbtitus.com and via www.jbtitus.com.
Thursday, 26-04-12 02:15
Recent graduates can't fix anything, as they do not have any practical experience. At school they only look at screens. When fixing machines, new or old, you have to use all your senses: What you hear, what you see, even what you smell.
It's the same with electronics.... whatever you build works perfect in [circuit simulation software] but the real board never works.
Maintenance, design, repair... whatever it is mechanic, electronic, software, is an art, and arts they do not teach at school, you have to develop yourself with hands-on experience.
Wednesday, 25-04-12 21:33
I believe in the USA you would call me a vocational teacher/trainer/assessor then what you have stated is becoming a reality here in Australia.
Aspiring electricians undergo training in core "hard wired" principles, including schematics, fault finding, trouble shooting, et al.
But as soon as they are introduced to smart relays and PLCs, then the interest and up take in the subject matter is completely different.
Whether it is the relevancy of the actual subject matter to their perception of the world and that designing a program as one student stated "just like playing a new e game" (remembering that the student had very limited exposure to the industrial market place) is probably a whole line of research for a degree in vocational training.
The net result is that there are fewer and fewer young electricians with the mindset and training to maintain the circuitry of " yesteryear."