Better safety practices for collaborative robot operations

Manufacturers have developed solutions to keep human workers safe from the potential risks collaborative robots bring on the plant floor.

By Robotic Industries Association (RIA) March 23, 2020

Since the birth of automation, robotics safety has been on the mind of manufacturers. When added to human workcells, collaborative robot safety is crucial. The speed of a collaborative robot arm and the weight of its payload can put workers at serious risk. Fortunately, manufacturers have developed solutions to keep human workers safe.

Imagine a large, bulky appliance hurtling straight towards you, threatening serious harm to your body. Many collaborative robots arms would be capable of that kind of force if safety mechanisms weren’t put in place. Is your facility thinking about adding collaborative robots? Even if you already have them, protect your staff by reviewing the following risks.

Know potential risks and robotics safety

In many ways, collaborative robots have reduced job hazards. But if implementers make mistakes, collaborative robots can be dangerous. It’s important to train employees on the risks. Workers shouldn’t assume that collaborative robots safety isn’t their concern or else they could end up in dangerous situations. Humans should avoid unnecessary contact with collaborative robots. This is especially important when they don’t know how the collaborative robots will react.

To identify the risks, facility managers should perform a risk assessment. This may have been overlooked during implementation. It’s important to revisit risk assessments when making changes to a workcell. Just because it was safe in the past, that doesn’t mean it’s safe now. Glancing at the workcell during normal operation isn’t enough. Review all possible scenarios.

End effectors play an important part in a risk assessment. Because of the number of end effectors available, manufacturers can’t test them all. An end effector adds new capabilities and its own requirements for robotics safety. Objects held by a collaborative robots always have a risk of falling. Are your workers protected both in and around the workcell?

Employ collaborative robot safety best practices

Not only can you make collaborative robots safer, but best practices can also protect employees. Hand guiding collaborative robots during training allows for speed and force monitoring. This ensures a safe teaching process. During training, the operator manages robotics safety. So, it’s important to be aware of one’s environment.

To safeguard a collaborative workspace, use safety area scanners and mats. These systems detect the presence of humans and equipment. The collaborative robots can then slow or stop when needed. Having a shutoff nearby is often adequate for a stoppage. However, some workcells have a switch that requires pressure at all times to operate the collaborative robots.

This article originally appeared on the Robotics Online Blog. Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is a part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner.