The trend toward safety networks aboard Ethernet has continued to grow significantly. It is now getting integrated into the control network, and safety devices and safety systems are becoming more compact, easier to program, and, in many cases, more cost-effective.
Integrated safety comes with a number of benefits, many of which are highlighted in the slideshow below. Safety standards can be integrated within the system, including those that validate the system to meet regulations such as the recent European machinery directive. These often require validation that can be programmed into the safety software.
While safety networks have become more complex, they have actually become simpler and easier for plant operators to deploy. The simple user interfaces help to reduce implementation time, thus reducing costs. While the software and networks are easier for the user, they have grown in scale and complexity to include tools such as diagnostics and prognostics.
Machine safety has also seen advances. Safety networks are helping to reduce collisions through the use of electronic safety curtains and virtual safety walls. The machinery is also isolated in its safety pocket so a shutdown due to a break in the safety curtain shuts down the individual machine, not the entire line.
Click the image below to start the slideshow.
Siemens' TIA Portal
Siemens created a Safety Advanced program within its TIA (totally integrated automation) portal. The goal is to help users integrate safety functions into standard automation processes. The safety feature was designed for intuitive operation and quick entry in the generation of fail-safe programs. The library concept was created to simplify the validation of safety-oriented applications. (Source: Siemens)
Oh, I agree, and understand the concept, naperlou. The reality is a complicated computer network on top of regular electrical troubleshooting. The self-diagnosis goes only so far, and then a human must begin tracing the circuits, which will include Ethernet problems on top of simple switch or relay failures.
The wages offered for such a skill set simply aren't enough to retain a good maintenance technician.
In my experience, I've seen factory maintenance skills gradually decline, and with it the education/knowledge necessary to keep the factory running. This is not a slam against the workers, but against management policies and wages offered.
The result of the lowest-cost is best policy is that the maintenance department no longer has the skills necessary to monitor and troubleshoot modern networked safety systems.
Rob: Thanks for spotlighting what appears to be a wide range of technologies promoting increased safety on the plant floor. One in particular that I'm curious about is the second slide on ExpertOperator. What exactly is a virtual safety wall that can surround equipment? Hadn't heard of that capability before.
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