Industrie 4.0 optimizes safety
Industrie 4.0 is set to redefine the current working environment as a highly adaptable workspace able to respond to changing customer requirements almost instantly. Based on information generated and stored, individual production lines can help to transform operations simply and effectively.
It is inevitable that automation is primarily associated with Industrie 4.0. It is crucial that there is a clear recognition that the role of people in the production will never be redundant. In fact, one of the main beliefs of Industrie 4.0 is that people are the key players. Connectivity between humans and machine, with the integration of IT, is fundamental to the success of Industrie 4.0.
In a traditional production environment, with lines or cells frequently geared to the manufacture of a single product, the safety of those working in the facility is generally straightforward to monitor. A risk assessment of all aspects of the operation—from individual components through to operator "touch points" with equipment—will create a guide, which, in theory, should remain valid until the use of that line changes or alterations are made to the equipment within it. Immediate hazards can be minimized and risks to operator safety averted, as long as correct procedures are followed.
Safety challenges in reconfiguration
However, a plant operating under Industrie 4.0 principles potentially presents a very different and more intricate set of challenges. Reconfiguration of production areas at short notice, involving the rapid changes of tooling and even the physical movement of equipment, can pose a range of safety challenges, while the sheer number of configurations achievable to meet potential requirements may entail a separate risk assessment for each. Yet, with another of the key features of Industrie 4.0 being the safety of personnel and data under a secure value-creation network, these considerations cannot be ignored if compliance with local, national, and international regulations is to be maintained.
Fortunately, a variety of technologies can counter these issues—and it is no exaggeration to say that Industrie 4.0 offers the opportunity to increase safety further with the ability to gather data in real time and then act upon it before a potential hazard becomes a real one.
For example, a range of devices can be fitted onto equipment capable of detecting and reporting operator behavior that may pose a risk to safety. This equipment can take a number of forms; among the most common are intelligent cameras which gather digital images or footage and pass these to a central control point, automatically highlighting any abnormal behaviors, such as entry into a restricted area.
Many systems designers also opt to equip machines with safety sensing devices that immediately can detect if a human operator has moved into an unsafe area or positioned themselves too close to a particular piece of plant equipment. In such instances, the default response is usually to power down the machine or, in the case of a collaborative robot, to slow down to a safe speed, allowing the individual time to move away from the hazard.
Level of risk
This type of feature also is beneficial when equipment has to be moved, for example, previously a machine would need to have all its guards in place and be completely switched off before any action could be taken. Given that there always will be a desire to avoid switching off machines completely to avoid additional warm-up times and quality issues with first-off components, this is a major advantage in the dynamic production environments associated with Industrie 4.0.
Meanwhile, many Industrie 4.0-compatible technologies now have additional safety features built into them, rather than having to be added afterwards. One example is Industrie 4.0 compatible drives that can be used to create a machine protocol with a unique number, highlighting immediately a potential safety issue if a different protocol is used.
Another technology commonplace in Industrie 4.0 environments is the dedicated safety protocol. There are a number of these on the market—openSafety, Sercos, and Profinet to name a few—with all common bus systems now having a safety version. All have been designed as an advance on older wire-based systems for powering down and enable a greater flow of information to ensure uptime is maximized and that equipment only powers down as a last resort.
An alternative to these is a safety zone module that continuously checks wires and negates the need to invest in a separate safety bus system in certain applications.
While these features are beneficial, it must be remembered that the basic tenets of sound health and safety practice must still be adhered to. A risk assessment of every scenario likely to be encountered (effectively, any machine configuration which can be selected) must be undertaken, with operatives receiving the necessary training to work effectively in this more dynamic environment. Applications always needing physical guards around them will continue to need the same level of protection—the most unpredictable and vulnerable aspect of any manufacturing environment has always been and remains the individual people working within it, and no effort should be spared in protecting them no matter the manufacturing processes adopted.
While individual system components may be considered to be "safe," it may be a very different story when considering components’ use in combination. Applying this to an Industrie 4.0 environment, one example could be the added requirement to program alternative routes for autonomous or robotic equipment that experiences an obstacle on its route around the facility. This anticipatory consideration may be seen to go beyond traditional production environments. It highlights the need for health and safety personnel to receive the necessary training to truly understand the ethos and capabilities of Industrie 4.0. By working with component suppliers and safety-qualified engineers, achieving a safe, Industrie 4.0 compliant production environment is practical.
Andrew Minturn is product manager at Bosch Rexroth. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org, from a June 5 Control Engineering Europe article, "How Industry 4.0 can optimize safety."
- Industrie 4.0 includes automation, people, and safety.
- Flexible reconfiguration can pose a safety challenge.
- Risk assessments are key.
How is safety related to your automation efforts?
See more at www.controleng.com/international and the original Control Engineering Europe article: Safety first: How Industry 4.0 can optimize safety.