Risk assessments (RAs) are key to identifying safety hazards revolving around equipment, operations and the production environment. During times of physical separation, such as those required during the COVID-19 outbreak, risk assessments may still be required to mitigate risks to essential workers.
Just as “mobility” means making HMIs portable and bringing in remote experts, it also means taking data-gathering devices and software being put in places where they couldn't go before. For instance, Matrix Technologies Inc., a CSIA-certified system integrator in Maumee, Ohio, can use photography and improved 3D laser scanning to complete various tasks including RAs of process applications, equipment and facilities. This proven technology, along with Microsoft Teams and other tools for management and training, allowed Matrix to swiftly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In general, mobility used to mean tablet PCs and smart phones. However, we do 3D area scans of buildings that include photos, laser images and point-cloud renderings. These are similar to the street-view images in Google Maps, but 3D scans show exact distances anywhere within a model," says Carl Bohman, senior project engineer and team lead in Matrix's Power, Instrumentation and Controls department. "These can be accomplished a variety of ways depending on the needs of the project. We have a high-definition camera head that sits on a tripod, which scans large areas with high precision. Also, we have a scanner the size of a tablet that can be used to walk around a small area or machine with to capture a scan. These types of scans are much smaller and quicker to collect, though the large files can still take a while to download. We continue to take many regular photos for RAs, and share them to identify hazards related to employee tasks without requiring traveling to a site.”
Because Matrix executes projects globally, their engineers use photos and 3D scans to examine details of equipment, applications and plant layouts, and share them via Microsoft Teams long before COVID-19 arrived. However, now they're making even better use of these flexible imaging capabilities.
Mackenzie Coughlan, account manager at Matrix, reports it's achieving two main goals for a risk-reduction project on an uncoiling section of a pickling and painting line at a steel-fabrication facility. The client wanted a safety upgrade on its uncoiling equipment and RA training for its operations team. Matrix assisted by identifying hazards, defining safety performance levels, determining devices/switches and/or guarding needed, and developing a training program—all performed remotely during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
For a more expert input, read "Parsec-certified partner Matrix Technologies helps chemical client analyze data and improve OEE" by John Lee, strategic manager of manufacturing intelligence in the Manufacturing Systems and Solutions Division of Matrix. Its part of the Matrix on Manufacturing blog at https://matrixti.com/matrix-on-manufacturing/process-management-and-improvement-rely-on-analytical-decision-support/
“We started with two two-hour sessions on Microsoft Teams to go over the machine safety lifecycle, risk assessments, differences between safety verification and validation, and relevant safety standards the equipment needed. Some of the customer’s engineers and supervisors attended remotely or in the plant's conference room, and we recorded these sessions, so they could be passed on to other viewers,” explains Bohman. “After this initial training, we discussed the goals of the risk assessment with everyone, and organized onsite meetings with three- or four-person groups of operators, maintenance staff and managers. This allowed us to limit mingling, while they viewed the uncoiling equipment and process, and documented all the task hazard pairs for the equipment. We did the initial scoring of the task hazard pairs without safeguards in place, and did it again with the current safeguards and planned mitigations. The whole team met again virtually, and the different groups compared their assessments, viewpoints and results, and found they weren't too far off from each other in their responses.”
The client's uncoiling process included: loading steel coils to a staging area; moving them to an unwinding mandrel that uncoils them; taking the steel to a recycling area; and removing scrap steel if there was no core. All of the tasks conducted on the machine by operators, maintenance and supervisors were analyzed for any corresponding hazards. Hazards identified by the small groups included pinch points at the mandrel expander to grip the core, down and up motion points when loading and unloading, mechanical hazards at the trim area, and crushing points that needed physical barriers. Each of these task/hazard pairs were paired with mitigation techniques including barriers, guard-locking switches, and awareness lights to reduce their residual risk to an acceptable level. All new mitigations were placed on the equipment layout. The layout also called out devices that needed to be shut off, which included pneumatic and hydraulic devices that required isolation with either block or dump valves.
“We visited this steel plant on March 11 before the COVID-19 shutdown began, and we stopped coming to our office a week later,” adds Coughlan. “Even so, the project's results were successful and the client was pleased. We were able to utilize Microsoft Teams to complete the project. It taught us that we don't always need to make site visits to complete projects, and we can do virtual RAs in a successful manner and under budget if customers are okay with this approach. It's not difficult if parties on both sides are willing to help. It's a great concept that can work for everyone, and lets us maintain safe distances, while still executing successful work.”
Bohman adds that visual communication is crucial because, if team members can't collaborate face-to-face, then they need cameras and virtual displays, so they can see other people's facial expressions and gestures. “We need to invest in visuals because they can show exactly where devices are located, but communicating with others is just as important—even if the face-to-face is virtual," says Bohman. "If everyone has their camera on, there is very little difference from being physically there because you can still read body language and facial expressions, which provide significant feedback to virtual team members. For example, during a different risk assessment for a cable manufacturer, a team member reported that part of the floor near a machine would catch fire when they made a certain oily product. He didn’t think this was part of the risk assessment, but when this employee was encouraged to voice his concerns, he explained that sometimes hot shavings from the process would ignite the oil. As a result, the area had to be cleaned each time this product was run. However, no one would've known if this person hadn't been asked to share because his colleagues were able to see his face.”
The bottom line is that COVID-19 has forced teams to adapt the way they perform their work. Remote technologies, 3D scanning, and well-define methodology can ensure the success of RA and other automation tasks even if the team can't be in close proximity.