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Automation|Design|DIGITALISATION|Efficiency|Electrical|Manufacturing|PROJECT|Safety|System|Technology|Testing|Training|Welding|Equipment|Maintenance|Solutions|Operations
automation|design|DIGITALISATION|efficiency|electrical|manufacturing|project|safety|system|technology|testing|training|welding|equipment|maintenance|solutions|operations

Machine safety can reduce downtime

26th May 2023

     

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Today’s manufacturers are under pressure to be more flexible, reduce downtime, increase efficiency and, above all, keep personnel safe. These efforts are complicated by yet another requirement: the successful management of external influences, says automation specialist Omron.

The company notes that these factors are difficult to predict and, when their true effects become known, effective adaptation can be a challenge. Fortunately, the right machine safety technology can help companies reduce the impact of unforeseen events and keep productivity levels high.

The Covid-19 pandemic exemplifies how unexpected local and global phenomena can impact manufacturing.

Owing to numerous changes to regulations worldwide, most manufacturers must limit the number of people allowed in their facilities during a single shift.

This helps ensure employee wellbeing, but has an unexpected impact on operations.

A company’s machine safety expert might not be onsite when a functional safety problem arises, and this, in turn, will affect the production line.

One response may be to implement a functional safety program, but if there is no in-house engineer trained to handle machine safety challenges, it may be necessary to rely on a third party.

This gives rise to other factors such as availability, response times and unplanned costs which can impact equipment availability.

It is therefore critical to provide onsite personnel with sufficient tools for troubleshooting in an intuitive way without the need for additional interfaces or complex technologies.

Intelligent safety devices, flexible configurations, and visualisation can, simultaneously, improve safety and streamline productivity strategies.

Safety devices with clear status indicators are crucial to protecting employees and keeping machines up and running.

For example, input safety devices like safety light curtains (SLCs) or safety scanners that have clear status indicators help operators identify obstructions, faults or special configurations without a dedicated interface.

This reduces downtime by making it easier to identify and fix conditions that would otherwise require a higher level of maintenance skills and additional tools.

An example of this is the Omron F3SG-SR light curtain which employs area beam indicators (ABIs) as a simple yet powerful tool for visualisation. Each ABI is its beam, but the whole set is organised into four light groups.

This has a tremendous impact during adjustments by simplifying SLC alignment, particularly in large areas where the human eye might not be as accurate as desired.

Adding a human-machine interface (HMI) to a safety system provides a level of visibility into the safety controller that was unimaginable just a few years ago. New developments offer safety monitor functions on the HMI by default, which means that no additional time is required for the development.

Besides providing status information, this safety function can retrieve and display safety hardware configuration data without requiring anyone to open the control panel.

This means that companies can keep people away from dangerous electrical equipment and lower the probability of anyone getting hurt while still providing access to the information necessary to complete operational tasks.

A common challenge on the factory floor is troubleshooting intermittent stops in a system. These can be tough to sort out if there is no access to additional data such as event logs or error codes.

Omron helps manufacturers tackle this issue with Safety Data Logging, an embedded tool in the most recent generation of NX Series safety controllers that logs up to 100 inputs.

This allows even inexperienced workers to identify the cause of a sudden line stoppage and helps operators maximise productivity through the HMI.

Functionality that simplifies maintenance, accelerates safety restoration and enables easy access to diagnostic information without complex or dedicated interfaces should be part of any safety system.

From the safety controller perspective, the latest generation makes it possible to store programs and settings on a secure digital (SD) card inserted into the communication control unit. When the safety central processing unit needs to be replaced, the stored programs and settings can be easily copied to a new unit using the SD card.

This eliminates the need for advanced training or dedicated tools and will save costs and boost to higher productivity.

Another benefit of an interactive solution is the option to have settings data automatically downloaded when replacing a safety input/output (I/O) unit.

Another challenge is diagnosing SLC problems, particularly when they are installed in press and welding applications. It can be puzzling to identify the real root cause of any SLC that activates without a noticeable cause.

Besides the ABIs, and in combination with the Intelligent Tap functionality, the Omron F3SG-SR series provides a Bluetooth interface to connect a cell phone through SD Manager 3 for monitoring and troubleshooting in real time.

Operators can have easy access to basic product information, an incident light indicator to identify the SLC’s ambient light levels, status information, and maintenance information logs to track errors and warnings.

Based on ISO 13849, in any safety system using a programmable safety relay or a safety programmable logic controller, the entire system needs to go through a verification and validation process to ensure that all safety functions work according to design.

Before starting the machine again, the validation process needs to be applied so that the system can create a new safety signature.

Previously, only system integrators used safety signatures as part of their guarantee at the end of project commissioning. It soon became clear, however, that it was in everyone’s interest to be aware of any unforeseen safety program modifications that could call into question the system’s actual safety level.

To avoid exposing operators to this scenario, manufacturers should check the system’s safety signature at the beginning of each shift to make sure the system remains the same.

According to IEC 62061 and ISO 13849-2:2015, the purpose of the validation process is to confirm that the safety design supports the overall safety specifications for the machine. Testing must be carried out to complete the validation, since it is always complementary to analysis, and often necessary.

The F3SG-SRA is also an example of an intelligent device thanks to its I/O-Link capabilities that make it possible to read safety data, status, and events, store this data in a database, and display relevant information on an HMI for quick diagnostics.

Further, working with intelligent safety devices helps reinforce preventive maintenance efforts by accessing safety data in real time and organising it into meaningful information.

With help from Omron, manufacturers can combine digitalisation and functional safety to empower their personnel to design and implement safety solutions that will protect them and keep machines running.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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