Safety Takes the Easy (to Use) Way Out

Nov. 20, 2008
Rockwell Automation Reports That Its Holistic Approach to Safety Automation Emphasizes Global Safety Standards

If you build a safety system that’s simpler to use, more folks will come and use it. 

At first, this idea might not seem that innovative or groundbreaking. However, given how hard many safety systems and devices are to use, and how often users seek to disable or circumvent them, making safety easy to use is downright revolutionary.

Among the new safety capabilities on display at this year’s Automation Fair is safe motion. This functionality allows users to directly control operator access based on machine speed, acceleration and direction.

However, there’s a catch. To achieve this much-sought-after ease of use, developers and end users have to understand a few common-sense rules and follow them religiously. “Basically, you have to complete a good risk assessment (RA) for your application or process, or you must use traditional lock-out/tag-out devices,” said Kelly Schachenman, safety system marketing manager, who conducted tours of Rockwell Automation’s safety exhibits at the company’s Automation Fair event this week in Nashville, Tenn. “This is why our Integrated Safety program seeks to make safety systems easier for people to use.”

In general, Rockwell Automation reports that its holistic approach to safety automation emphasizes global safety standards, innovative technologies, better trained personnel and ongoing risk assessment. It adds that all these facets work together, so manufacturers have a best-practices template to help them improve safety.

For instance, the company’s now well-established GuardLogix solutions combine its ControlLogix functions with safety. This enables users to read and share information transparently and have the controlled-stop functions they’ve required all along. This is important because GuardLogix users now save 40% on the former cost of setting up many safety systems, an expense that used to go to integrating ControlLogix with third-party safety PLCs, said Schachenman. As a result, in the four years since it was introduced, Rockwell Automation has secured several thousand GuardLogix users and applications.

More recently, the firm introduced Ethernet-enabled modules in January 2008 in the form of its CompactBlock Guard I/O dedicated safety block. And, this coming January, it will launch its PointGuard I/O blocks. These single-node and two-channel devices will allow more users to implement targeted safety functions as needed throughout their applications, instead of having to double up on safety devices as necessary in the past.

In addition, Schachenman added that Rockwell Automation is in the process of introducing Safe-Speed Control capabilities to monitor speed of motion, which can be used to assist safety functions. In fact, it also plans to launch its MSR 57 speed monitor in 2009. It can be used, for example, to check encoder channels. “By controlling speed with this kind of safe, zero-speed access, people can work in hazardous areas without cutting power,” explained Schachenman.

Likewise, the firm’s Kinetix servo drives help protect users by only allowing connected motors and rollers to turn in an outward, safe direction when someone is in the cell. “This is huge for increasing safety because operators no longer feel like they have to bypass safety functions to work near the equipment. In this case, the easy way really is the safer way of doing these tasks,” added Schachenman.

“The big picture is that Rockwell has the broadest portfolio of safety-enabled products, whether they’re input devices like safety curtains, scanners and e-stops; logic devices like relays and safety PLCs; or output devices like drives and servos,” Schachenman said. “We also have all the safety consulting services that users might need to do risk assessments, so they can find and understand the best ways for their machines and operators to work safely together, while still mitigating as much risk as possible.”