See how smart manufacturing and connected devices provide greater visibility into safety system performance and plant productivity.
By George Schuster, TÜV-certified Functional Safety Expert (FSExp), Certified Functional Safety Engineer (CFSE), Rockwell Automation
A great change is occurring in the manufacturing sector — and the potential that it holds for industrial safety shouldn’t be ignored.
That change is smart manufacturing. Different global initiatives are attached to this phenomenon such as Industrie 4.0 and China Manufacturing 2025. However, they all revolve around two key elements: real-time data and seamless connectivity.
The ability to unlock real-time data from a fast-growing number of “smart” industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices is giving manufacturers unprecedented visibility into their operations. This is helping them better understand and improve almost every aspect of production. Seamless connectivity is helping share and present information in new ways, improve collaboration among workers, monitor assets remotely from a central location and sync up production around the world.
The benefits aren’t only on the operations side. Smart manufacturing also presents an opportunity for safety professionals to use real-time data and connectivity to improve how they monitor and manage industrial safety.
Gaining Access to Safety Data
Smart manufacturing requires converging enterprise-level IT and plant-level operations technology (OT) systems, which historically have remained separate from each other. Merging these systems results in a single, secure and unified network architecture.
This architecture, combined with technologies such as IIoT devices, creates the foundation upon which companies can deploy smart capabilities to gain new efficiencies, improve quality and make operations more responsive. Rockwell Automation calls this The Connected Enterprise.
With a Connected Enterprise in place, safety professionals can access data that already exists in contemporary safety technologies and systems. This data can include device and operational status; event sequences; event counters or timers; and error, fault or stoppage codes.
Safety professionals can use the data to gain an unprecedented understanding of the factors that are paramount to their jobs, including worker behaviors, machinery compliance, shutdown or stoppage causes and safety anomalies and trends. More important, they can use the data to improve safety compliance and performance in their organizations significantly.
Use Cases: Safety in The Connected Enterprise
Safety professionals can improve how they approach safety by using safety-system data and the greater connectivity available within a Connected Enterprise.
Better Understand Safety Risks. Risk-assessment data rarely is used outside the machine-design stage. But in a Connected Enterprise, it can take on a new role in the form of a safety calculator. It’s a novel yet simple tool that safety professionals can use to measure anticipated risk against actual risk for each machine access point.
First, the calculator can be configured easily as a basic table within an enterprise manufacturing intelligence software. Then, a safety professional can enter a risk assessment’s anticipated use-frequency data as the baseline for safety performance and compare it against the machine’s actual use-frequency data. This can be done for individual safety functions such as operator access points and gates, quality check points and emergency stop (e-stop) devices.
Lower-than-expected use frequency could indicate that a safeguard is being defeated and needs to be re-evaluated. Higher-than-expected use frequency could indicate that a product or process change needs addressed. Any usage outside of the expected frequency or duration could represent a compliance issue or, conversely, an opportunity for process improvement benefiting production.
Enhance Safety Performance. Safety professionals can use real-time data and connectivity to improve safety performance in many ways.
For example, employees who work with hazardous materials or in harsh conditions can use real-time data to monitor and track potentially dangerous environmental conditions or manufacturing process states. And the ability to deliver information to workers in more convenient ways using mobile or wireless technology can help improve ergonomics or reduce the strains put on an aging workforce.
Remote monitoring of isolated or dispersed operations also can help reduce the need for workers to travel between sites, such as to check on wellheads, pump stations and storage sites in the oil and gas industry. This has the potential to reduce transportation incident risks, which are a top cause of fatal work injuries in the U.S.
In some instances, network connectivity could be a company’s last or only link to their employees. Wearable sensors, for example, could be used to locate workers during emergencies in underground mines or other hard-to-reach places. Voice, video and display technologies also could help companies monitor and communicate with workers following a safety incident.
Monitor Worker Behaviors. Safety-system data can help identify discrepancies between how policies and procedures are defined and how workers actually follow them. Similarly, it can identify discrepancies between how safety technologies are designed and how workers actually use them.
Workers may be misusing e-stops, for example, to clear jams or stop production at the end of a cycle. This misuse can lead to increased scrap and longer machine start-up times, resulting in a production loss.
In a Connected Enterprise, safety professionals can collect an e-stop’s activation time stamp and downtime duration, as well as the line and shift associated with each activation. They also can create stoppage-reason codes to identify why a machine was stopped, such as for jams, misfeeds, cleaning or other reasons.
They then can analyze this data in their existing metrics and alarms-and-events software to determine whether e-stops are being used at an abnormally high rate. Or they might discover that higher activation rates are associated with specific production lines or shifts.
Safety professionals then can use these findings to take whatever correction action is needed, whether it’s providing additional training, revising standard operating procedures or updating a machine design. This same information may point to potential improvements in procedures or process, resulting in a “best practice” that could be adopted as a standard operating procedure.
Ease Compliance. Auditing safety data manually for compliance and reporting purposes can be a time-consuming process and subject to human error.
Companies can speed up the auditing process by integrating their auditing functions into the operator interface and controller. In addition to saving time, this can free up personnel for other priorities and reduce the likelihood of manual data-collection errors. Because detected abnormalities can be annunciated in operator interface dashboards or reports, automated auditing also can help workers identify and address potential issues in their plants more quickly. This is because the information is monitored and pulled regularly, making for faster and improved decision-making.
Rethinking Industrial Safety
In a Connected Enterprise, companies can do more than improve how they monitor and manage safety — they can create innately safer operations that complement production.
Oil and gas companies, for example, now can use Ethernet-connected unmanned subsea platforms in place of manned topside platforms. This changes the industrial-safety equation in offshore production because workers on topside platforms face serious inherent risks, such as ship collisions and explosions. In the mining industry, autonomous trucks and trains, which can be monitored and controlled from a central location, also are helping reduce transportation-related safety risks.
The emergence of connected, information-enabled industrial safety is a watershed moment for industrial companies — whether the approach is small, incremental improvements or a dramatic transformation. The ability to access, analyze and act on safety-system data in a Connected Enterprise can help safety professionals rethink how safety is realized and set more aggressive improvement goals, much like what many of their counterparts on the production side already are doing.
The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.