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Machine Safety: Wireless and cableless are similar but different

Know the differences, when considering machine safety, between wireless and cableless. As an analogy, is your hand held smart phone, with all its Internet, social media, photograph and movie capabilities, wireless or cableless?

June 12, 2014


Those involved with machine safety should know the distinctions between wireless and cableless. As an analogy, is your hand held smart phone, with all its Internet, social media, photograph and movie capabilities, wireless or cableless?

Wireless isn't the same as cableless.In the realm of machine safety, wireless communication and control has advanced significantly over the past few years. It seems just yesterday that an individual with a hand held operator control panel could walk around a robot or a section of a machine to program or modify settings. This hand held operator control panel could send and receive communication and control signals wirelessly but was connected to the robot or machine with a defined length of cable. This cable supplied electrical power to the hand held operator panel and certain actuators on the operator panel were hard wired back to the main control system. These were typically actuators for functions like start, stop or emergency stop. Therefore, this operator panel transmitted and received defined communication and control signals wirelessly, but it was not a cableless operator panel.

Now, fast forward to today. Since the development of safety certified control and communication devices, we now have safety certified wireless capability. Therefore, the control signals that previously required hard wiring via cabling can now be accomplished wirelessly along with the general communication and control. This then only leaves only one requirement for a defined cable and that is to provide electrical power to the hand held operator panel. The developments of battery power and low voltage technology combine to enable a cableless operator panel thereby eliminating the need for any hard connection to robots or machinery. Now the word cableless has meaning as relates to machine control.

Hard wired power cables or not?

So, wireless and cableless are similar because both hand held operator panels are capable of transmitting and receiving signals via wireless technology. They differ because wireless still requires hard wiring for electrical power and this limits its ability to be hand carried beyond the length of its defined cable. Cableless hand held operator panels are no different than your smart phone or Apple iPhone. Cableless operator panels can be carried anywhere. This, of course, creates a whole host of new issues that robot and machine safety standards are addressing.

Do you have machine safety questions related to cableless versus wireless? Do you use a wireless interface integrated with machine safety? Add your comments or thoughts to the discussion by submitting your ideas, experiences, and challenges in the comments section below.

Related articles:

Machine Safety: Cableless versus wireless

Cableless (wireless) operator panel applications

How to choose wireless technology for industrial applications

Machine safeguarding solutions, a case study by ARC

Contact: www.jbtitus.com for “Solutions for Machine Safety.” 

Also see the new Industrial Wireless Tutorials blog from Control Engineering.



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.