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INDUSTRIAL SAFETY Creating best-in-class machine designs

Jun 20, 2020

Machines that are optimised for safety, compliance and productivity can give machine builders a unique competitive edge. They can bring best-in-class safety in their machine designs to help end-users to attain substantial efficiency advantages and live up to latest safety standards. This article by Rockwell Automation, the company that is dedicated to industrial automation & information and has keen focus on technology innovation, domain expertise & integrity and corporate responsibility, discusses the three pillars of best-in-class safety and how safety and productivity should be optimised.

Best-in-class industrial safety involves three principal areas — culture (behavioural), compliance (procedural) and capital (technical). Machine builders that embrace these elements to their fullest can create high value, globally compliant machine designs that improve safety and productivity. This can give them a unique competitive advantage and help meet the needs of multinational customers better.

Separate the best from the rest

Machine builders can leverage best-in-class safety in their machine designs to help end-users achieve significant productivity gains and comply with modern safety standards. This can help differentiate their offerings from the competition and cost-justify higher value machines.

And because machines with best-in-class safety can achieve compliance with global safety standards, machine builders can use them to consolidate their product portfolios, from multiple machine models to common designs. This can help reduce design costs, streamline start-up & engineering support services and simplify maintenance for end-users.

Globally compliant designs can also meet the needs of multinational customers that use the most demanding safety standards, ISO 13849 and IEC 62061, as the common standards for their operations in any location. And they can help machine builders reduce their own product liability risk and future-proof their offerings as regional machine safety standards continue to harmonise toward these global standards. However, machine builders can’t expect to deliver best-in-class safety until they first embrace it in their own operations.

Three pillars of best-in-class safety

Many in the industrial world still view industrial safety as a burden on productivity. However, research by the Aberdeen Group has repeatedly found that top performing companies, defined as the top 20% of aggregate performance scorers, outperform their average-class counterparts in key areas of both safety and productivity, including:

  • 5-7% higher OEE

  • 2-4% less unscheduled downtime

  • Less than half the injury rate

  • Far fewer workplace incidents (1 in 2000 employees vs 1 in 111)

These results show that safety need not be a burden. So, what are these companies doing differently to achieve world-class safety and operational excellence? While each may have its own unique approach, they do share common best practices that can be grouped into three core safety pillars:

  1. Culture (behavioural)

  2. Compliance (procedural)

  3. Capital (technical)

Each of these pillars is equally critical and interdependent on the other two. By them to their fullest, machine builders can bring best-in-class safety to their own operations and to those of their customers anywhere in the world.

  1. Culture

    Machine builders with a strong safety culture do more than make safety compliance a priority. They make it a core value and a differentiating and competitive part of the value proposition to their customers. This requires that every employee have a shared appreciation for industrial safety – from the executives responsible for promoting a world-class safety culture to the engineers responsible for designing safety-compliant machines. It also requires that employees never ignore proper safety practices, either in their workplace or in their machine designs & procedures.

    Striving for continuous improvement is also integral for a best-in-class safety culture. After all, machine builders can’t expect to deliver the best safety performance to their customers if they’re not always seeking to become better in that area themselves.

    Some questions to help gauge safety culture include:

    • Is safety a core company value and prominent part of strategic plans?

    • Is safety essential to the customer value proposition?

    • Do leaders and managers actively work to improve safety in the production and value of machinery?

    • Is safety performance ever sacrificed in machine designs, such as for regions, where compliance requirements are less demanding?

    • Are employees rewarded for safety improvements and competency?

    • Are field workers trained to manage the safety systems in their machines?

    • Do company leaders and employees coach customers about the value of safety?

    • Do all employees really ‘own’ safety? Not just for themselves, but for their co-workers?

  2. Compliance

    Machine builders should establish standard processes to meet rigorous machine safety standards and maximise productivity. These processes should take into account the expectations of machinery operators, service technicians and others that will come into contact with the machine.

    For example, a bolt-on safeguard could be fixed over a hazardous spinning blade on a machine. But if workers need to clean that blade on a daily basis, they may look for a workaround, such as permanently removing the guard or reducing the guard fasteners. This would expose workers to the hazard and thus, negate the safeguard. Therefore, a more flexible and user-friendly solution is warranted.

    The Functional Safety Life Cycle, defined in IEC 61508 and 62061, provides a systematic approach to compliance that is universal and globally accepted. It involves first conducting a documented risk assessment to identify hazards and estimate probability of an incident and severity of harm. Then it involves designing a safety system that helps mitigate those hazards, achieve compliance and improve productivity by making tasks easier and safer to perform. The goal is to design safety solutions that do not inhibit efficiencies while still attaining an acceptable reduction of risks.

  3. Capital

    Contemporary machine safety technologies and techniques can help optimise both, safety and productivity.

    • Integrated safety controllers combine safety, discrete, motion, drive and process control into one system. They also can be connected to plant-wide information systems to give end-users insights into safety and productivity metrics.

    • Alternative protective measures, such as safe-speed monitoring and zone control, can be used in place of lockout/tagout for routine and integral tasks. These strategies can enhance how end-users interact with a machine by allowing them to make minor adjustments or service a machine while it is in a safer state. This can help reduce incentive to bypass safeguards for productivity.

    • Optimising safety and productivity in Beverage Equipment Bevcorp is a supplier of filling and blending equipment and services for the beverage industry. The company purposely designs contemporary safeguarding and automation controls into all of its machines to help its customers achieve significant productivity gains.

For example, by integrating a machine’s safeguarding system and electronic bowl-level controls, the company eliminates the need for end-users to shut down the machine for manual adjustments. On average, Bevcorp estimates this helps reduce product changeover downtime by 30%.

“Bevcorp believes that it is important to design safety into every machine to help keep people safe, while also improving plant productivity and adding business value,” said a manager of engineering and R&D at Bevcorp.

Meeting the needs of a changing workforce

Machinery must be designed for a more diverse workforce. Older workers generally require less strenuous interactions with machineries, including reduced bending, lifting & twisting and fewer repetitive actions. Younger, less experienced workers require more passive safety systems, which automatically perform functions with little or no effort required by a worker. This can help mitigate risks of inexperience or inappropriate actions, such as placing a hand in a hazardous position.

Safety and productivity should be optimised with these considerations in mind:

  • Hazard assessments should take into account ergonomic and usability issues for a broad range of workers. For example, do operators need to lift materials or could that be avoided by changing a machine or process design?

  • Contemporary safety systems are safer and easier to use than legacy systems. They can improve ergonomics and reduce the probability that workers will override the systems and put themselves at risk.

  • Design strategies, such as safe-speed monitoring and zone control, can provide alternative protective measures to lockout/tagout procedures. This helps reduce physical demands put on workers and helps keep a machine running longer for improved productivity. It also helps reduce any ‘designed-in’ incentive to bypass a safety system or procedure for the sake of efficiency or convenience.

Measuring the three Cs of safety

Rockwell Automation has developed the Safety Maturity Index™ for machine builders tool to help them improve their standing in the three pillars of safety. The tool aligns with the Safety Maturity Index tool designed for end-users. By answering a series of questions, companies can see where they fall within the four levels of maturity based on what factors are driving equipment design goals:

  • SMI 4: Customer value

  • SMI 3: Operator safety

  • SMI 2: Legal compliance

  • SMI 1: Minimising costs

Safety as a competitive differentiator

Best-in-class safety requires achieving peak performance in all three pillars – safety culture, compliance processes & procedures and capital investments in the proper application of contemporary safety technologies.

Machine builders that accomplish this can offer the value proposition of optimised safety and productivity in their products. And they can meet the needs of global customers with high value and globally compliant machineries. They also can create new revenue streams leveraging their safety expertise, such as with risk assessments, education and training services or with safety-system retrofits on older legacy machines.

Courtesy: Rockwell Automation

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  • Safety Maturity Index™ for machine builders

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