Industrial safety gets a bad rap as being a detriment to productivity. But what if you could use safety to better understand and improve the performance of your operations?
Smart safety can help you do just that. It uses the same concepts as smart manufacturing or Industry 4.0—such as seamless connectivity and real-time analytics—and extends them to your industrial safety efforts. This can help you not only better monitor and manage your safety performance, but also transform your operations in other ways.
By connecting safety devices into your operations and giving workers more insights into those devices, you can boost productivity, identify and resolve common machine-stoppage problems, and even predict production issues before they happen.
Put Safety Insights to Work
Smart safety devices allow you to access safety data that until now wasn’t being generated or couldn’t be extracted from your systems. The data can give you valuable insights into key aspects of your operations, such as where safety-related failures are occurring, if workers are following standard operating procedures and if machines are nearing failure.
You can then put these insights to work in several ways to help improve production.
Uncover Production Issues: Safety data collected by smart safety devices can create a trail of bread crumbs that point you to larger issues impacting production. For example, a production manager could see that an interlocked guard door is being used frequently and disrupting production. And when he discusses the high usage level with operators, he could discover that they’re routinely opening the door to adjust a malfunctioning device.
Reduce Safety-Related Downtime: Safety device data can also help you identify discrepancies between policies and operating procedures that affect uptime. Today, you may not be able to know if workers are misusing safety devices. Workers, for instance, may be pressing e-stop buttons to stop production at the end of a cycle, which can lead to increased scrap and longer machine start-up times. But smart safety devices can record when and why they’re used, which can help you spot and mitigate device misuse.
Realize Predictive Maintenance: Long-term collection of safety device data allows you to track device performance over time. Eventually, this data can help you predict when a device is nearing the end of its life based on its usage or age. Maintenance staff can then create a plan for replacing devices before they fail, while also making sure those replacements occur during planned maintenance downtime.
Reduce Wiring: Traditional safety devices must be wired to safety inputs. This creates a more complex system and makes it difficult to distinguish data coming from multiple safety devices. Smart safety devices can be connected in series using a safety-based communications protocol. This can help you simplify your system and reduce wiring up to 38%, and at the same time give you access to individual device data.
Speed Up Troubleshooting: Operators or technicians can view the status of each connected safety device on a single human-machine interface (HMI) or mobile device. If an issue arises, they can quickly identify the affected device, diagnose the problem and repair it. They can also log device issues and interactions to track patterns and more proactively maintain the devices in the future.
Ease Regulatory Compliance: Documenting and reporting on approved safety systems can be challenging, as safety data is often manually entered for inspections, compliance logs, incident reports, training and other processes. Smart safety solutions integrate auditing functions into the HMI and controller so organizations can automate and speed up the auditing process, free up personnel to focus on other priorities, and reduce the likelihood of errors.
Insights Drive Safety Performance
Of course, smart safety is first and foremost about safety. And by connecting people, equipment and worksites, you create new opportunities to enhance both worker and environmental safety.
Better visibility into your operations can help you understand process states, environmental conditions and other factors that affect safety. This can help workers make safe decisions when working with hazardous materials or in harsh conditions. And it can help them confirm that hazardous materials are not released into the environment.
Connected devices can help you locate employees if they’re working in isolated and potentially dangerous environments. Mine site operators, for example, can use wearable sensors to locate workers in underground mines. And they can use voice and video technologies to monitor and communicate with those workers if a safety incident occurs.
Greater connectivity also allows you to remotely monitor dispersed or isolated locations, like wellheads, pump stations and storage sites in the oil and gas industry. This can reduce the need for workers to travel to these sites and hopefully reduce the risk of transportation incidents, which are the leading cause of fatal worker injuries in the U.S. (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Smart safety can also help you enhance ergonomics for older workers, which should be a goal of any industrial company with an aging workforce. Mobile devices, for example, allow you to deliver information in a more convenient way to reduce the strains put on older workers.
Transform Your Operations
Smart manufacturing is rewriting the production playbook. Companies are already using greater connectivity and data to create smarter, higher-performing production. But such capabilities don’t only benefit your production operations. By applying them to your industrial safety efforts, you can improve productivity, minimize downtime and improve your safety performance.
Thomas Helpenstein is business manager, safety products and TÜV Rheinland functional safety engineer with Rockwell Automation, a provider of industrial automation and information products.