Technical Article 2017

Safety Device Data Delivers Operational Insights

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August 2017

  Safety Device Data Delivers Operational Insights Safety Device Data Delivers Operational Insights

Information is arguably the most powerful contemporary tool in modern manufacturing.

Smart machines and factories, enabled by the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) are all providing real-time data – from component to enterprise level, which can be converted into information-enabled management tools. But what effect will it have on machine safety, and more importantly, looking at the converse, how can safety systems contribute to this new paradigm?

Optimum workforce protection and employee safety are laudable aspirations and should form part of any company’s standard operating procedures, but safety has often been seen as a bit of a hindrance to productive manufacturing.

However, thanks to developments in products, industrial communication protocols and Ethernet networking capabilities, safety is now a much more integral part of modern manufacturing control solutions and effectively coexists on the same network as that used by the automation, process and motion control architectures. Indeed, holistic safety practices, including those that incorporate tighter integration with existing control architectures, regularly demonstrate a positive effect on the bottom line and play a huge role in the general wellbeing of the plant, the machines and the employees that operate them.

What many people don’t realise is that Smart Safety solutions, (safety embracing the IIoT development) can now play an even bigger role in optimising plant operations, especially as part of a smart factory that leverages a Connected Enterprise approach.

The Foundation

The advent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – coupled to national and international programmes, such as Industry 4.0 – has revolutionised the mind-set of modern manufacturing and process companies. With the capabilities available from this new inrush of operational data, we are certainly seeing the foundation set for what could easily be considered the next industrial revolution.

Safety products and their associated data sets have the ability to become a cornerstone of this revolution thanks to their ability to share operational data that is outside the bounds of that already being collected. Using this information, safety professionals can gain a real-time understanding of worker behaviour, machinery compliance, product degradation, the causes of safety shutdowns or stoppages, safety anomalies and, of course, any trends that result from this data.

Actionable manufacturing data on machine performance normally comprises factors such as speed and throughput, with safety systems traditionally delivering stop/go or safe/unsafe signals. But with intelligent smart safety devices, it is now so much more than just seeing on or off status, it’s now the delivery of intelligence, based on usage, life, degradation and performance drops. And with this additional data, coupled to that already being collected, the possibilities to optimise operations increase exponentially.

Operator Interactions

Going back to our earlier list, operator behaviour can have a profound effect on the output of a machine. Operators will always try to make their life easier and will find ways of circumventing procedures (not maliciously), to speed up or simplify their day-to-day job. To this end, safety system interactions can be logged to see when an operator is deliberately stopping a line or triggering a safety device. These actions can then be analysed to show trends which can be used to ascertain the reasons behind those triggers. These trends can highlight shift variances too. If an E-Stop is used more on the night shift than the day shift, does this mean there is an issue with the machine or the operator? Is better lighting needed, or is more training required? These things can be ascertained effectively through a smart safety system.

Product degradation and obsolescence is another important factor, especially when it comes to determining maintenance and replacement programmes. Before the advent of Smart Safety solutions, operating parameters, such as mean time between failure (MTBF), would be documented manually and any changes in operating procedures would require recalculation and re-documentation. With a smart, connected, integrated system, users are now able to formulate predictive maintenance based specifically on exact usage, using figures generated by the smart device. These new figures can then be used as part of a more precise and more representative life calculation.

Degradation doesn’t just mean ultimate failure, it could be something as simple as a safety light curtain getting dirty, reducing its effectiveness. Smart devices can timestamp when issues occur and machine logic can then be exploited to deploy the necessary remedial action before it affects the line’s performance. HMIs or mobile devices can display suggested maintenance procedures and share this data with the top floor to see if any procedural changes can be made to prevent them happening in the first place. Questions can then be asked: Are we using the wrong device? Do we need better cleanliness? Or do we need to adjust the machine’s parameters? This type of data would simply not be available if you were collecting basic on/off signals.


The Connected Enterprise – underpinned by the IIoT – has given users the ability to access the right information, in the right format at the right time. A maintenance engineer with a tablet can exploit position beacons along a line or machine to interrogate specific safety equipment in precise locations, receiving the data as he approaches each area, dynamically without having to request it manually. The same is true for an operations manager, who would use the same software on the same tablet and the same location beacons, but receive information applicable to his or her credentials. Using these core tools and technologies helps give contextualised information to the individuals need, based on their function or job.

In instances where EtherNet/IP™ capability is not on the device, users can exploit newer intelligent device-level linking technology such as Guardlink® protocol, which can feed individual device information back to a host controller. Guardlink is a safety-based communications protocol, utilising standard cabling in a trunk and drop topology with plug-and-play connections. It significantly reduces wiring, while providing device location and delivering diagnostics, remote reset and lock commands over a single cable. No configuration is required and as many as 32 devices can be connected up to a maximum of 1,000 m (max. 30 m between devices).

Traditional safety solutions, on the other hand, are hard wired in series, so in operation, the user may lose the ability to distinguish the demands of individual devices; and if a component fails, the user is only aware that a component somewhere on the series connection has issues. Individual connections to each individual component requires significantly more wiring and introduces many more potential fault points that can lead to unnecessary, unplanned downtime. This also increases costs for machine builders.

Guardlink allows machine builders and end users to keep the series connection of devices but still get granular diagnostics of each one. Allen-Bradley® Guardmaster® safety relays and safety components featuring GuardLink linking technology allow users to access status information. Connecting non EtherNet/IP based safety devices through GuardLink-enabled smart taps and standard cabling, delivers visibility of system status, down to individual guard doors and e-stops.

Integrated safety systems have certainly been around for a while, but the depth of pertinent, real-time information now available to all stakeholders is staggering and when deployed intelligently, operators can make better-informed decisions a lot quicker than ever before. This level of interconnectivity also delivers new training possibilities, with Rockwell Automation’s mixed-reality demonstrations seeing huge amounts of interest.


Safety is no longer the burden it used to be, it also no longer needs to be a discrete element in machines and plants. As an integrated system it delivers multiple positive benefits, not just in terms of lowering engineering and design demands, but also in terms of its data capabilities and return on investment. Fully integrated safety solutions have shown their worth over the last few years and with the advent of greater connectivity and broader data sets, operators are getting more and more insight into their operations, allowing them to address, conquer and exceed a wider variety of operational metrics, while still delivering enhanced safety to their plant and personnel.

Allen-Bradley, GuardLink, and GuardMaster are trademarks of Rockwell Automation, Inc. EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA, Inc.

About Rockwell Automation

Rockwell Automation, Inc. (NYSE: ROK), the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information, makes its customers more productive and the world more sustainable. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., Rockwell Automation employs about 22,000 people serving customers in more than 80 countries.

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