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.
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.
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.
They are cool, Beth. They are called different things by different suppliers. You may have heard of them referred to as safety curtains. It is an electronic field that senses when something enters the field. When it's breeched, it shuts down the machinery. So you can't stick your arm into a moving conveyor without having the conveyor shut down.
What's new in this technology is that the curtains are closer to the machinery, the machinery shuts down more quickly, and less of the line shuts down during a breech. That means fewer false trips, quicker response, and less loss of production.
Interesting comment, TJ. I cover the technology as it emerges, but the available technology is not necessarily what gets deployed in plants. Maintenance technology is advancing impressively. Prognostics and diagnostics catch problems before they happen. Predictive maintenance delivers efficiencies in that parts get replaced due to wear, not due to timing. The vendors insist these tools pay for themselves with predictable ROI. But of course, that doesn't mean a plant will deploy this new technology.
Just a side note that at ALL the companies I visited in 2011, the subject of safety came up. It's a big item that companies want to implement and it's also something they want to "sell," by building safety features into their products as well as being provably "designed for safety." A lot of this has been spurred by European regulations, which are currently tougher than U.S. regs as regards safety. Regardless of the reason(s), safety is a huge check-list item and in fact can almost be categorized as a technology in and of itself (though it's really a property, not a technology).
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.