A hot topic at Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair in Philadelphia this week and leading up to it has been safety—not only the need to build safer machines to protect workers and machinery, but also the value proposition that safety brings.
Though more can be done to make safety a higher priority everywhere around the world, the industry has come a long way with regard to making safety less of an afterthought. "Probably one of the most prolific trends we've seen is the move from putting a wrapper around the machine to integrating safety right into the machine," said Christopher Zei, vice president of Rockwell Automation's global industry group, today during a morning forum for global machine and equipment builders.
New tools for OEMs can ease the design and layout of safety systems, helping machine builders reduce engineering design times by more than 50%, according to Chris Brogli, global business development manager for safety at Rockwell Automation. Brogli showed off some of Rockwell Automation's latest safety offerings in the Safety Solutions booth at Automation Fair, including solutions for machine safety, process safety and electrical safety.
Consider Safety Early in Design
In large part, the booth was geared toward helping machine builders and users gain a better understanding of the importance of integrating safety early in the process. "Traditionally, machine builders do a risk assessment, select safety products and throw them on the machine," Brogli said. "But designers need to spend more time writing functional safety requirements."
Brogli showed a safety lifecycle chart on which risk assessment is the first step, followed by functional safety system requirements. Too often, people will skip step 2, however, moving directly on to design, Brogli said.
"We do No. 1 and 2 almost simultaneously," said Dan Pienta, president of machine builder Automatic Handling International, who was visiting the Safety Solutions booth. Pienta spoke on Tuesday at the Safety Automation Forum about his company's move to integrated safety with Rockwell Automation. "We see what we need for what function; then we decide how we want to react when an operator goes in."
Step 3 is design and verification, step 4 is installation and validation, step 5 is maintain and improve—and then it cycles back around to step 1 any time changes are made to the machine. "A lot of people don't do the validation and verification, but it's just as important as the design," Brogli said.
"Validation is the most important thing from a liability standpoint," Pienta added. "Just because it's a red device doesn't mean it's safe."
Tools Streamline Safety Engineering Tasks
To help users and machine builders through the necessary steps—bringing safety knowledge together to ease design and reduce engineering times—Rockwell Automation has developed a new piece of software that it showcased in its Safety Solutions booth. Safety Automation Builder (SAB) is a free software tool due for release in February 2013. It helps designers verify that a safety system meets all requirements, and also generates a bill of materials.
Users import a machinery drawing, at which point the software begins asking questions about risk assessment, functions, desired performance levels and more. Users can create their safety zones, pictorially showing pinch points, hazards, fixed and movable guards, etc., on the drawing, Brogli explained. They can select input, output and logic devices, dragging product images right onto the screen, he added. SAB will export the file to SISTEMA to show progress on how required safety levels compare with achieved safety levels. When everything is in order, the software can generate a bill of materials, including pricing.
Noting about 100 OEMs that came through the booth on Wednesday, Brogli said they can't wait to get their hands on the new software. Dan Pienta was in the Safety Solutions booth today, getting his first look at SAB. For him, the bill of materials functionality seemed to be particularly useful. There's so much variation in the types of devices available, he noted.
"It's very time-consuming to do all the research," he said, pointing out how easy the software would make it to pull together needed components and know exactly how much everything would cost. Pienta described machine engineering as a funnel, where there are ways to speed up production, but little that can be done to speed engineering time. "Anything we can do to open up that funnel is good."
SAB is particularly targeted at the OEMs, which are building machines every day and every week, Brogli said. He mentioned one customer, who spent seven days pulling together the safety components for his machine—printing out a drawing of the machine; marking hazards, guards, etc., on the drawing; designing the necessary safety; getting quotes for components; and more. Rockwell Automation put SAB to the task, and completed the job in 2.5 hours instead.
Supplementing SAB are pre-engineered complete safety solutions called Safety Functions. The first six are available from Rockwell Automation now, and 24 are planned in all, with the last of them released by mid-2013. The Safety Functions are designed to help users build a complete machinery safety system by providing detailed information for each safeguarding method. "There are 155 TUV safety experts within Rockwell Automation—more than any other automation company—and they're all chipping in," Brogli said.