Industrial mobile robot safety standards on the forefront

11/14/2017


Risk assessment or not

Mobile robot integrated with an on-board collaborative robot delivers parts to conveyor systems. Courtesy: Vicosystems/RIAThe R15.06 robot safety standard clearly states, "Risk Assessment shall be performed and is no longer optional." It also states that the word "shall" is prescriptive, and describes mandatory requirements to comply with the standard.

"Risk assessment, risk assessment, risk assessment," said Chris Soranno, safety standards and competence manager for Sick Inc., when asked what suppliers and end users should do while the mobile robot standard is under development. "You can't fix the problem unless you know what the problem is. With safety, the best way to identify the problem is to assess the risk."

Soranno also serves on the R15.08 committee and has worked in robotics and the industrial safety market for his entire career, almost 20 years. He's seen a lot of applications.

"We work with our internal employees as well as our external customers to help increase competence in all aspects of safety," he said. "That includes where to find a standard, how to read and interpret a standard, and how to implement the requirements of those standards to achieve the objective of providing a safe workplace for employees."

He described the basic steps in the risk assessment process.

"You have to identify the tasks," Soranno said. "You have to identify the hazards that those tasks are associated with. For each one of those, you need to identify the potential outcomes that would be a risk. And then rate those based on the worst credible level of severity of injury and the worst credible level of probability (how likely it is to occur). It could be based on frequency, exposure, number of exposures, awareness of people to the risks as they present themselves, or avoid-ability. Is it moving toward you at 100 mph or is it crawling really slowly so you can get out of the way?"

When it comes to who should do the risk assessment, Soranno said, "It should always be a team. The stakeholders that have to live with the system, they will be the ones that know how they will interact with it, whether they're operators, or maintenance personnel, or production people. They should be included on the front end. Then you have the equipment suppliers who are familiar with what the systems is capable of doing or not doing, and any other component suppliers, whether they're safety component or end effector suppliers."

Changes require risk reevaluation

P&G's Lewandowski says any new machine (or robot) that comes into the company requires a risk assessment.

"We always try to start with the integrators of the machinery or equipment, to have them do the first cut, or first risk assessment of any application. But once it comes into P&G, we have a process where we will then continue to build upon that risk assessment and even do a final risk assessment once that equipment or machinery is installed within P&G."

If changes are made, then the risk assessment must be reevaluated.

"The expectation is that if you change the functionality of a machine or a process, that you review the risk assessment and make any changes or updates as required based on those changes," Lewandowski said.

"Even if the environment changes, like the flooring, the rack placement, or the arrangement of the machines on the floor," Bollinger said, then the risks need to be reevaluated. "What if you change one area of a warehouse into a manual picking station? That increases the risks, especially if you're talking about a mobile robot in the space."

The risk assessment must also address the environment in which the mobile robot is deployed. Soranno noted conditions such as the friction quality of the flooring, or how slippery it is, or the incline and smoothness of the floor.

He said it's also important to have a process in place in case someone decides to change the environment, like repaint the floor for example, to make sure they don't inadvertently change the properties that mobile robot is depending on to achieve its intended safety level.

A robot manufacturer’s omnidirectional mobile platform and lightweight robot arm combination provides an autonomous material handling solution for human-robot collaboration. Courtesy: Kuka Robotics/RIA"I've done thousands of risk assessments," Soranno said. "There's an exponential scale of how dynamic a system is versus how complex the risk assessment becomes. If you look at a power press, there's typically only a handful of ways to interact with the machine. You identify those tasks, you identify the hazard associated with each of those tasks, and you come up with some remediation solution for how to reduce those risks to a level that's acceptable or tolerable."

Apply that process to a dynamic robot mounted on a mobile platform and it becomes much more complex.

"When you move to a robot, which is drastically more dynamic then a press and it can be used any number of ways, and not only that but it can be modified after it's deployed to be used in new ways, that increases the complexity of the risk assessment," Soranno said. "Now you take that dynamic robot and put it on a mobile platform that could be anywhere in a facility, and again it's an exponential curve. You now have many more potential tasks or interactions.

"You're not just worried about people walking up to the machine that's bolted to the floor. Now the machine is moving around the facility and can drive up to a person that has their back turned to it," he added. "The complexity of that process gets a lot more difficult."

Those complexities will come under much deliberation by the R15.08 committee as they draft guidelines for the mobile robot space. The committee members are all volunteers, with day jobs. They meet to hash out the details three times a year, with smaller conference calls and meetings, and many drafts, in between.

Ask any of the members and they'll tell you how they were recruited inadvertently for a spot on the standards committee.

Lewandowski joked, "Usually you get involved by walking too close to a meeting or someone involved with a meeting."

They might get sucked in, but they realize the importance of their involvement.

"By participating in the committee, we can be out front with the thought leaders," Bollinger said. "It's a benefit to us to understand where the technology is going and be brainstorming that with the other folks to understand the opportunities and challenges."

"We think it's very important and we have a passion for what we do," Lewandowski said. "Not only for our company, but also to help the industry as a whole."

Franklin echoed the significance of their contributions. "We greatly appreciate our committee volunteers' time, energy, and expertise."

Tanya M. Anandan is contributing editor for the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and Robotics Online. RIA is a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to improving the regional, national, and global competitiveness of the North American manufacturing and service sectors through robotics and related automation. This article originally appeared on the RIA website. The RIA is a part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

More answers

www.controleng.com keywords: robotics, robot safety

Key Concepts 

  • The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are developing mobile robot safety standards.
  • The current standards have safety gaps that the groups are trying to address and fix.
  • Changes in standards require risk reevaluation on all levels for a company.

Consider this

What other standards need to be enacted to make robots safer on the plant floor?


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