New safety standards offer opportunity
Safety is definitely one of the buzz words in discrete factory automation at the moment! The new machinery standards, which will be harmonised under the EU machinery directive at the end of 2011, are creating a storm of activity in the market as machine builders and end users that haven’t transitioned already start to panic as there’s only five months to year end.
Soon to be replaced, EN 954-1 is no longer up to the safety demands of modern complex machinery. Since it was first published in 1997, the factory automation market has changed and networking of components has become the norm. Both of the new standards (EN ISO 13849-1 and EN 62061) provide rules for using PLCs and safety networking technologies; they also offer a quantitative approach to the risk assessment of machinery. This succession is due on 31st December 2011 and will apply to all new and “significantly modified” machinery; in other words, any machine built, modified, or linked to other machinery from January 2012 will need to be reassessed and certified (CE marked) for use.
This change creates an opportunity for machine builders and end users to upgrade their machine safety systems so that they incorporate the most suitable components for their application. I’m sure there are a lot of companies out there, particularly in EMEA and the Americas, which adopted machine safety systems 10 years ago and are still using something very similar today. These new directives give these companies the opportunity to reassess the way they approach operator safety.
Could we be using new or different components? Could our safety system be networked? How can safety component suppliers assist in our implementation and planning? Asking (and answering) these questions will help machine builders and end users to find safety solutions that best fit their specific applications, keep operators safe, whilst also ensuring the new standards are met. An added bonus can also be significant cost reductions.
Following our research earlier this year on the discrete machine safety component market it’s clear that integrated components, which are mostly offered by the larger automation suppliers, will play a key role in the future.
Integrating standard automation control and safety functionality has a number of advantages. One of the most important, particularly at a time of austerity, is the potential for cost savings. For example, instead of requiring two PLCs – one for machine control and one for safety – an integrated safety PLC can be used for both applications.
Secondly, using integrated safety components makes it easier to network the safety, automation and enterprise systems so that production data is freely available at all levels. This can further help to reduce costs and increase productivity/efficiency.
Thirdly, as the same software will be used for both the safety system and standard control, machine operators need only be trained to use a single architecture.
Finally, these integrated (and other intelligent discrete safety components) incorporate diagnostics. It’s therefore much quicker for operators to identify (and hopefully resolve) issues with components so that machine or line shutdown can be avoided.
Machine builders and end users in EMEA and the Americas are likely to take leading roles in the adoption of integrated safety components but Asia will quickly catch-up as the benefits are more widely recognised.
The implementation of the new safety standards is therefore pushing machine builders and end users to upgrade discrete safety systems before the end of 2011. However, as we’ve seen by considering integrated components this is actually an opportunity to better protect factory floor operators whilst simultaneously improving line or machine productivity… it’s definitely a win-win!