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Safeguarding Through Dynamic Automation

"The U.S. sits comfortably above the world's average robot density, with 189 robots per 10,000 employees. But, do more robots equate to more injuries in the workplace?" Jonathan Wilkins, Marketing Director of industrial parts supplier EU Automation, explained why dynamic safety automation is more important than ever before.

Shop floor managers are increasingly seeing the connection between automation and safety. By nature, automation such as CNC machines, automated box opening equipment or pick & place robots can take humans out of the equation in relation to dangerous, dirty and dull tasks. But, safety automation can provide much more than this, by protecting humans that work alongside these machines on the shop floor.

Today, protection needs to be more than a yellow line painted on the factory floor. Keeping up-to-date with the latest Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) codes are the first step, but meeting these regulations when deploying complicated machinery can be a challenge.

Welding, machine loading and parts retrieval are just some of the manufacturing processes that are of increased focus when it comes to modernizing safety, and addressing the common hazards of these machines in manufacturing facilities.

Take power presses as an example. These are some of the most unforgiving machines on the factory floor. In fact, the most common injury related to these machines is cited as amputation, as recorded by the OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin. Using an integrated safety system can prevent these life-changing injuries, with return on investment attributed to less days away from work and unexpected compensation costs.

Point-of-Operation Safeguarding

Amputation is an extreme example. To protect workers from the common injuries associated with manufacturing, there are plenty of options that could be installed on the shop floor to complement existing safety processes. Safety fences, mat guards and automated curtains are all good examples.

Automated safety curtains, for instance, are locked down during machine operation to prevent humans from accessing the hazardous area. Machines will not activate if the automated safety curtain is in the up position, removing the possibility of humans entering the area while the machine is in operation.

Similarly, a safety light curtain could provide an alternative point-of-operation safeguard. These devices generate a safety stop signal based on the detection of a finger or hand, which could affect the beam of light if it enters a hazardous area. If used with a power press, the detection of a hand in the work area will mean the press will not initiate a press stroke until the hand is out of harm's way.

Perimeter Safeguarding

For perimeter safeguarding, a defined area around a machine can be monitored for human entry, typically using sensor technology. As with point-of-operation safeguarding, this can rely on a safety light curtain surrounding the hazardous area. Pressure sensitive mat guards can also be implemented, which can sense when a foot steps onto the mat. In both cases, if a body is detected in the hazardous perimeter, a stop signal is sent to the machine.

While safety automation is not new technology, this type of safeguarding is becoming more sophisticated, in order to enable maximum safety and productivity. This is particularly pertinent with the increase in engineer-to-order (ETO) products, which use non-standard processes to create customized products.

The increase in ETO manufacturers requires a greater level of safety automation dynamism, as workers are not necessarily familiar with a machine's operation due to machinery carrying out different tasks on a daily basis.

Safety automation is also becoming more flexible, to suit manufacturing facilities that operate several different types of automated processes. For example, in an assembly cell automated by robots, the area may switch from being a hazardous to a non-hazardous area, depending whether the robot is in operation.

To monitor changing hazardous areas and alter precautions accordingly, safety devices such as light curtains can be used in conjunction with a safety programmable logic controller (PLC). The PLC retrieves data from the robot, light sensors and mat guards and controls whether an alarm should be raised based on whether the area is hazardous at a given time.

Safety automation is more important than ever before, and as manufacturers use increasing amounts of automation in their facilities, the demand for responsive and dynamic safety automation will become even greater. Ultimately, an increase in robots in the U.S. should not correlate with an increase in workplace injuries and safety automation can reduce this risk.

For more information contact:

EU Automation Inc.

871 Busse Road

Elk Grove Village

Chicago, IL 60007


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