There’s no question plant safety has always been a prime concern, but now it takes precedence from the shop floor up to the C-suite. Plant managers are tracking days-without-accidents while introducing improve safety procedures and deploying advanced safety technology. The reason? Safety delivers efficiency, and efficiency lowers cost.
For fluid power systems, valves that control potentially hazardous movements or system states are an especially critical control component in terms of safety.
Automation and control vendors are assisting in this effort through the smart-plant tools of connectivity and integration. Industry machines are getting integrated, and safety on those machines is getting integrated as well.
Increased Safety Awareness
The profile of plant safety has risen in recent years. Manufacturing executives are well aware that safety infractions can be costly to the company’s reputation. Plus, a safe plant is a plant with fewer interruptions.
“Every plant wants you to wear safety gear – shoes, high-visibility vests, safety glasses. They have increased lockouts and tagouts,” Erl Campbell, industry sector manager for food and beverage at Aventics, told Design News. “Injuries play a big role,” Campbell said, but added, “There is also a cost aspect because safety keeps costs down.”
The greater emphasis on safety has prompted plant managers to track the spans of time without accidents. “They’re really focusing on it,” Campbell said. “They list their number of days without incidents, and they’re demanding more from the machine builders to make their equipment safe.”
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As well as pressure on machine builders to safety-proof their equipment, there is greater education within plants. “The average safety IQ has gone up dramatically across the board, which is a very good thing for reducing injuries, as well as increasing that bottom-line profit,” Matthew M. Miller, FS Engineer for ABB-Jokab Safety, told Design News. “With education you get more people being proactive about safety, whether it’s designing safety into a new machine or evaluating an old machine… before an incident occurs.”
Miller also sees that safety has become an across-the-board and executive concern. “The most significant trend in safety is the involvement of all stakeholders and the commitment to place safety first,” he said. “From CFO, to maintenance engineer, to custodian, the awareness has never been higher, and the companies that understand and implement this are going to be your leaders.”
Why Has Safety Become Integrated?
When it was first proposed that safety run on the machine control cable, the industry balked. Yet the automation vendors held their ground, insisting integrated safety was truly safety than two hardwired networks, one for control and separate wires for safety.
“The safety circuit used to have its own set of logic around the machine and equipment. The movement of integrated safety is bringing safety right into the devices and equipment,” Craig Nelson, product marketing manager at Siemens Industry US, told Design News. “Everything is on the same system now. It becomes a lot more economical, with more safety, more diagnostics, increased productivity, more functionality. We couldn’t do that the traditional way.”
Integrated safety didn’t begin all at once. It was a function here and there until the entire safety network stated to share the same Ethernet cable as control. “It’s taken off in the last five years. It started with a basic safety function or two in the ’90s. The trend took off fast in Europe, with the US following a little behind,” Nelson said. “The PLCs and the safety I/Os are all integrated now. The floodgates are open, and we’re now moving to global standards with IEC 62061 and ISO 13849. The globalizing standards are allowing OEMs to avoid having different iterations of their machines.”