12 companies tout machine safety movie, in theater near you

By Control Engineering Staff December 11, 2006

Sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train. When that happens, how you react depends on how much you like trains and on how prepared you are to meet them. In this case, rule changes governing machine-safety technology in North America represent the oncoming train. Whether you jump aboard or get run over depends on your attitude toward safety issues. How prepared you are depends on what you know about the new rules, technologies, and designs.

Jan. 23, 2007, starts a 45-city educational effort by a dozen companies or organizations offering machine-safety advice. The effort, running through Feb. 27, includes a 45-minute “big-screen” high-definition movie entitled Safety: Uncover the Competitive Advantage.

In the past, those charged with setting machine-safety standards and monitoring compliance have required safety related control signals to pass over separate cables from control signals. Regulators initiated this requirement at a time when numerically controlled hardware was much less reliable than it is now. Not trusting computerized controls and the networks that interconnected them, these regulators wanted to keep safety in the hands of simpler electrical technology, which they deemed more reliable.

Over the past 10 years, regulators in Europe have come to realize that digital electronics have become at least as reliable as older signaling technology, and that significant benefits accrue from using digital communications to carry safety signals. Efforts to harmonize European and North American regulations caused U.S. regulators to look at the experiences of European machine-tool vendors and users who have experimented with carrying safety-related signals over control networks, and subsequently to introduce changes to U.S. rules allowing what some observers call “integrated safety” systems.

While the regulatory environment has changed, user attitudes are lagging. The high cost of adding point-to-point wired safety systems along with those systems limited usefulness has led users to see safety systems as a necessary evil. Their experiences have been that costs are high and benefits only arise in avoiding catastrophic failures.

At the same time, users have had little opportunity to learn what is required to integrate safety into their machine-control systems or how to reap the benefits. Opportunities for smarter design, safer operations, and more efficient maintenance extend beyond blending safety and control systems, and the related hardware, software, and wiring.

To help engineers understand integrated safety, Siemens Energy & Automation created the roadshow based around a 45-minute motion picture entitled Safety: Uncover the Competitive Advantage , starring a dozen experts who have applied the new technologies in a number of industries.

Siemens Energy & Automation kicked off the “season” for the movie with a gala premier to which they invited members of the technical press for a private showing in Oak Brook, IL. Staged as a motion picture premier, the event started with a red-carpet reception complete with “celebrity simulations” that looked a lot like Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, among others.

On hand, of course, were the “stars” of Safety: Uncover the Competitive Advantage. These were user experts representing North American companies that have already installed and used integrated-safety networks, such as Astec Industries and Kuka Flexible Production Systems, as well as standards organizations, such as PTO ( Profibus ) and TUV Rheinland Group. Movie participants are Astec Industries, AMT-The Association for Manufacturing Technology, Camotion Inc., Dematic Corp., Design Safety Engineering Inc. , Kuka Flexible Production Systems Inc., General Motors, PTO, RWD Technologies , Siemens Energy & Automation, and TUV Rheinland Group.

After the reception and a few introductory words by Tom Varney, vice president communications, Siemens Energy & Automation, reporters were able to view the film in its entirety. J.B. Titus, manager of safety-integrated business development and industry standards at Siemens Energy & Automation, explains, “When we first conceived of this project, we thought of it as a marketing project, but the experts we wanted to bring into the film objected. They didn’t want anything to do with a marketing film. They insisted that it be educational as a precondition for their participation. As a result, this film is about understanding integrated-safety technology, not about products.”

The new movie Safety: Uncover the Competitive Advantage covers regulatory requirements including OSHA, personnel and equipment protection, corporate involvement, productivity, along with legal and liability issues.

Siemens seems to have succeeded admirably in producing a film that explains integrated safety technology and its benefits, providing strong non-proprietary informational content that can help attendees improve safety,whether or not they buy related products and services.

Siemens is taking the film on a 45-city tour starting in January 2007. The film will be show by invitation only at local movie theaters across the country. Also available will be tabletop product demonstrations and separate seminars on related topics.
To obtain an invitation and learn more about the film and integrated safety in general, visit www.safetythemovie.com.

C.G. Masi , Control Engineering senior editor

Look for additional coverage of integrated-safety issues in the February issue of Control Engineering . For more information, visit the Control Engineering website at www.controleng.com and type “machine safety” into the search toolbar at the top of any page.