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Beth Stackpole
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Blogger
Worker safety a must
Beth Stackpole   1/30/2012 6:25:32 AM
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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.

Jennifer Campbell
User Rank
Gold
Re: Worker safety a must
Jennifer Campbell   1/30/2012 9:35:24 AM
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Rob: I'd be very interested to read more about ExpertOperator, as well. How did you learn about it?

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Worker safety a must
Charles Murray   1/30/2012 6:56:41 PM
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I, too, like the ExpertOperator. Anyone who has ever operated an industrial crane knows how easily an accident can happen.

TJ McDermott
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Blogger
Re: Worker safety a must
TJ McDermott   1/30/2012 10:08:34 AM
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It sounds like a fancy way of saying light curtains, or laser area scanners.

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Worker safety a must
Rob Spiegel   1/30/2012 1:12:00 PM
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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.

TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Who will maintain these systems?
TJ McDermott   1/30/2012 10:13:00 AM
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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.

naperlou
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Who will maintain these systems?
naperlou   1/30/2012 10:37:56 AM
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TJ, I think the idea is to make these systems modular and self diagnosing.  Putting intelligence into the safety system components will help the maintenance team cope with more complex systems.

TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Who will maintain these systems?
TJ McDermott   1/30/2012 10:42:43 AM
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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.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Who will maintain these systems?
Rob Spiegel   1/30/2012 1:33:30 PM
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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.

TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Who will maintain these systems?
TJ McDermott   1/30/2012 7:24:17 PM
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Rob, I can buy what you say.  But to make the predictive systems themselves work, you need a highly trained operator/programmer/(Engineer?).  Companies do not offer enough compensation for the skill level required to maintain the maintenance system.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Who will maintain these systems?
Rob Spiegel   1/31/2012 3:14:40 PM
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Yes, you're right about that, TJ. Some automation vendors (as well as machine producers) are offering maintenance services to their customers. I'm not sure whether that brings down the price (they say it does), and I'm not sure how much this model is getting adopted.

jmiller
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Who will maintain these systems?
jmiller   1/30/2012 9:03:44 PM
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It's unfotunate that there are so many activities like this that are critical but costly and don't necessarily result in a visible bootm line benefit so it's easy to short cut and not spend the money that needs to be spent. 

Companies say safety is important but rarely spend the money to have top notch servicers that can maintain the equipment.

 

Alexander Wolfe
User Rank
Blogger
Safety as a product
Alexander Wolfe   1/30/2012 1:33:36 PM
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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).

Tim
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Safety as a product
Tim   1/30/2012 7:33:22 PM
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Safety as a product goes back to the Saw Stop table saw technology that was looked at last year.  That is a product that people pay a premium for just for the extra safety.  Consumers also pay a premium to for extra safety features in vehicles. 

Alexander Wolfe
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety as a product
Alexander Wolfe   1/31/2012 12:30:39 PM
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Saw Stop is a perfect example, Tim, Chuck Murray did an article on it last year, to which I refer everyone: Sawstop Inventor Still Struggling to Save Fingers.

Charles Murray
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety as a product
Charles Murray   1/31/2012 8:55:14 PM
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I agree, Tim. Consumers will definitely pay for such features if their own safety is at risk. Interestingly, employers won't always pay for that safety unless unless they are potentially deemed liable.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety as a product
Rob Spiegel   2/1/2012 3:38:08 PM
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You're right about that, Chuck. I worked briefly at a stamping plant that had stamping machines that required you push two button to activate the stamp action -- thus making sure your hands were out of the way. However, if you didn't hold the sheet metal in position, there were stamping errors. So, they asked employees to hold the metal in position and push one of the two buttons with your forehead.

Charles Murray
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety as a product
Charles Murray   2/1/2012 7:43:00 PM
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That's amazing, Rob. I wonder if those stamping machines enjoy the same legal situation as table saws, i.e., "use it at your own risk." In legal cases involving table saws, lwyers hav traditionally argued that users understand the propensity of sharp to edges to cut.  

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety as a product
Rob Spiegel   2/2/2012 11:39:34 AM
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That was a long time ago, Chuck. My guess is that stamping plants can't get away with those dangerous shortcuts any longer. OSHA is much stronger now than it was back then.

Ozark Sage
User Rank
Silver
Re: Safety IP
Ozark Sage   2/2/2012 3:15:15 PM
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Rob I wonder how or what you and the other blogers personally think the various generated software will cause in the IP realm (other than increased legal cost)? 

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety IP
Rob Spiegel   2/2/2012 3:17:49 PM
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Hi Ozark Sage. Not sure I understand your question. Perhaps you could explain what you man about safety software and the IP realm. Thanks.

Ozark Sage
User Rank
Silver
Re: Safety IP
Ozark Sage   2/2/2012 5:32:27 PM
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OK  The writer may have a contract software job to produce product that he/she may or may not pass rights to others to use.  If the software works well it may be lawfully or otherwise code copied. embedded, used for different purposes or transfered and reapear in totally different products or different manufactures arround the world. 

Ozark Sage
User Rank
Silver
Re: Safety IP
Ozark Sage   2/3/2012 3:21:20 PM
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Rob Spiegel  look for [OK] dirrectly above your 2/2/20012 3:17:49 PM Msg. Sorry about that!

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Changing Mindset with Safety
apresher   2/13/2012 9:20:05 AM
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Along with regulations that are forcing new safety standards for machine builders, there is a changing mindset with safety.  Safety implementing on one controller, one network is making machine safety an exciting technology area for automation and control innovation. One of the biggest advantages of "integrated safety" is much better diagnostics. In the past, machine and safety controls were separate from each other. Safety is not viewed as a requirement anymore for many machines, but a way to improve their machine's functionality that provides a competitive advantage. With printing machines, for example, it's a huge benefit if the end user can keep the machines running while refining the process or addressing potential safety issues. Software developments and redundant processing make this a very interesting area.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Changing Mindset with Safety
Rob Spiegel   2/13/2012 12:29:31 PM
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Good points, Apresher. I, too, have noticed that safety is no longer a separate system that works as a burden on the automation system. Now it is integrated into control and it has become one more factor that improves uptime. I remember there was resistance to the blend of control and safety networks at first, but now it seems that the blend of safety and control networks is pretty much fully accepted.

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Safety
apresher   2/13/2012 2:06:42 PM
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Rob,  Clearly safety as a software task is a growing approach but there are still many hardware and software options.  Simpler machines (low axis and I/O count) may have different needs than much more complex systems. But the trend is clearly safety more tightly integrated into the control software than ever before.  Also the suppliers of safety relays, safety PLCs also are providing new solutions.  Should be an interesting area of automation and control as we move ahead.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety
Rob Spiegel   2/13/2012 2:23:32 PM
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Yes, that makes sense, Apresher. Are you seeing a greater acceptance of a blended safety and control network? If so, is it being driven by suppliers who are selling the advantages?

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety
apresher   2/13/2012 4:18:31 PM
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Major automation suppliers already offering integrated software development tools for machine control, motion, HMIs are integrating safety as well.  It's part of their one controller, one network mantra.  More and more devices such as failsafe motor starters and drives are becoming available.  Another trend picking up speed is wireless safety. Especially in warehouses or distribution centers, and in material handling applications such as gantry systems, it is difficult and expensive to do all of the wiring required to integrate the safety systems. Mobile safety panels, using the wireless connection, provides the operator with a safety panel in their hands plus the ability to move around the machine.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety
Rob Spiegel   2/14/2012 12:04:38 PM
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Yes, Apresher, I've heard about wireless safety as well. Is the reliability there? If it's safety it's critical, so reliability would have to be assured.

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Safety
apresher   2/13/2012 5:12:37 PM
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Major automation suppliers already offering integrated software development tools for machine control, motion, HMIs are integrating safety as well.  It's part of their one controller, one network mantra.  More and more devices such as failsafe motor starters and drives are becoming available.  Another trend picking up speed is wireless safety. Especially in warehouses or distribution centers, and in material handling applications such as gantry systems, it is difficult and expensive to do all of the wiring required to integrate the safety systems. Mobile safety panels, using the wireless connection, provides the operator with a safety panel in their hands plus the ability to move around the machine.

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Benefits and Security Implications
apresher   2/14/2012 5:01:35 PM
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Rob, Below is a link to a recent article from Siemens on the benefits and security implications of using wireless for safety. Not sure how they would answer the specific question you raise, although I suspect that key safety functions are always hard-wired as well.  Good question.

http://www.totallyintegratedautomation.com/2011/12/understanding-benefits-and-security-implications-of-using-wireless-for-safety/

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Benefits and Security Implications
Rob Spiegel   2/15/2012 11:59:14 AM
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Yes, the suppliers seem to be way ahead of the game on this. They are very insistent that safety and control can share the same network without compromising safety. 

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Software Developments
apresher   2/17/2012 8:55:25 AM
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A huge key moving forward could be continued innovation with software technologies such as the work being done by ODVA with CIP Safety, PROFIsafe and developments such as openSAFETY.  In addition to more powerful solutions, the emphasis on ease of implementation and driving toward more standards could really make a difference in this area.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Software Developments
Rob Spiegel   2/17/2012 2:35:55 PM
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Yes, good points, Apresher. From what I hear, your last point is particularly important. Any implementation that is easy (relatively) and meets standards is looked on favorably. Plants want complex tools that don't require complex programming. Suppliers are getting good at adding complexity to the system without adding complexity for the end user.

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Agree on Need for Simplicity
apresher   2/23/2012 11:06:03 AM
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Absolutely, Rob, integrating safety more closely into the control software solution versus a separate system should produce solutions that are easier to implement and maintain. Needs to be simple and straightforward.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Agree on Need for Simplicity
Rob Spiegel   2/23/2012 1:23:02 PM
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Looks that way, Apresher. This seems to match a trend I'm seeing in a lot of areas of automation and control. A lot of the complexity is programmed in by the supplier. More and more it seems control technology is plug and play. There seems to be less heavy lifting for the integrator and the plant techs. Devices and systems are getting more complex, while they're getting simpler for the end user.




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