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Today, customers face greater challenges when figuring out the proper way to safeguard machines while meeting various safety requirements. They need to determine what safety standards to adhere to (ISO 13849-1, EN 954, ANSI B11.19, RIA 15.06, PMMI B155.1, Semi S2, NFP 79, etc.) and determine the proper way to conduct risk assessments and safety risk mitigation. At the end of the day, customers just want to ensure that employees are protected and machines are running safely. So, what is the best approach for a customer to take, ensuring it meets the proper safety requirements but safeguards its machines in an appropriate and productive way?
3 machine safety suggestions
Here are three key suggestions on how to get there:
1. Develop an internal panel to discuss machine safety. Many users already have an environmental health and safety manager, but in a lot of cases EH&S personnel aren’t well-versed in the intricacies of machine controls. By developing in-house teams of control engineers, maintenance workers, and production to work alongside EH&S, companies can review the best approach for them to ensure proper machine safety. This approach only works if end users have qualified personnel who can handle the task and develop the necessary internal resources. Admittedly, it can take a long time to develop and acquire the internal knowledge needed here.
2. Turn to outside help. Many customers today have outside consulting companies take care of their risk assessments and machine safeguarding. While this approach is by far the easiest for a customer to take, it usually is costly and leaves you with little internal safety knowledge. This approach might be best if you are trying to safeguard one machine quickly. However, another potential risk is that many outside consultants are safety experts but have little knowledge of machine controls; this could result in an overall solution that isn’t as productive as it should be.
3. Turn to the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). End users today are increasingly seeking help from the OEMs to implement and deliver safe machines.
This has been the standard practice in European markets. We are starting to see the same trend develop in the U.S. Of course, no one knows a machine better than the OEM, so it can decide what the best standards and practices to follow are. We see many OEMs following this trend by offering turnkey, safeguarded machines compliant to the relevant standards.
So what is the best approach? Just like there are several safety standards, there are also several effective ways to integrate safety into your machines. Using some products, OEMs can tie safety directly into an existing controls network, reducing development time and hardware costs. Common safety functions, such as e-stops, light curtains, safety doors, floor mats, etc., are easily connected via distributed I/O terminals that act as safety PLCs, as well as safety inputs and outputs. This safety technology ties seamlessly with standard I/O terminals and standard controllers on the same network (EtherCAT, an Ethernet network) and is programmed using the same software environment as the machine controls.
It is critical to partner with a knowledgeable safety expert who understands safety and machine controls. If there is one “best answer,” it would be for companies to take action now and prepare their organization to become compliant with the applicable safety standards. This is to protect employees and ensure corporate responsibility for any manufacturing company.
- Tony Rigoni is regional sales manager and safety specialist, Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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