Irish/German co-operation in new technologies creating a paradigm shift in the planning of safety for current and future manufacturing systems.
Presence detection is a critical element in the basis of safety for many pharmaceutical and bio pharmaceutical processes. Detecting presence of workers prior to start-up and during operation of machinery and processes is an effective means of injury prevention. Likewise product can be protected from human contamination using collaborative robots allied with relevant 3-D presence detection. The pharmaceutical sector has always had to deploy sophisticated processes and technology in its manufacturing environment while maintaining the highest safety standards.
This is an approach which responds positively to the need for worker safety while minimising production disruption. Process components such as centrifuges and barrel mixers pose a significant risk to workers because of high speed rotational action or agitation. Likewise transportation of storage units such as intermediate bulk containers and the use of automated wrapping and palletising machinery create the need for effective safeguarding. 3D sensing systems provide many advantages through the introduction of barrier-free safeguarding.
SafetyEYE, a 3-D virtual detection system, provides a comprehensive protection zone around such machinery. Developed jointly by the Pilz Software Research and Development team in Cork (IRL) and the Product Development division in Ostfildern (D), the company considers SafetyEYE as an example of new technologies creating a paradigm shift in the planning of safety for current and future manufacturing systems.
Named ‘Safety Company of the Year’ for 2014 by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) Desmond-South Munster Branch, the award recognised Pilz’s commitment to continuous innovation, singling out the development of SafetyEYE as central to this commitment.
Bob Seward, chair of the IOSH Desmond-South Munster Branch, said: “The development of this innovative SafetyEYE technology will make a significant difference in terms of protecting people at work while they operate around machinery danger zones. Our members were very impressed with SafetyEYE and what it can achieve in terms of accident prevention and safeguarding workers.”
The world’s first 3D zone monitoring system SafetyEYE comprises a three-camera sensing device, an analysis unit and programmable control capability.
The sensing unit creates the image data of the zone to be protected and the stereoscopic cameras allow for precise distance and depth perception. Adjusting the height of the camera device allows for varying zone dimensions and areas of coverage. The image data is processed by the analysis unit to detect any intrusion of the defined 3-D protection zone and is relayed to the programmable safety and control system (PSS) for activation of the appropriate safety response.
The avoidance of an obstacle-course of physical guards has obvious advantages for increased freedom of interaction and ergonomics between machinery and humans without compromising safety for both. Because of the highly configurable software a wide range of detection zones can be designed either using pre-defined geometric forms or bespoke shapes. These zones can then be assigned various safety-related actuations with reference to the risk from an audio-visual warning to shut-down.
SafetyEYE can be used to prevent start-up of machinery when persons are in a danger zone or provide warnings and if necessary activate a shutdown if an operator enters a danger zone while such plant is running. The system can be configured to signal a warning as the worker enters the perimeter of the defined safety zone and as he continues further into the zone initiate further safety actions. The machine can remain in this suspended state while the worker completes his task. Once the worker has cleared the area the machine’s activities can resume in accordance with the worker’s egress from the safety zone. This incremental reactive capability allows for minimum downtime and so optimal productivity is maintained. For workers who only encroach on the outer points of the safety zone the triggered warning will uphold the safety integrity of the work space without limiting operation. Likewise, the system can be configured to allow for pre-defined spaces within the protection zone to be breached without shut down. This is especially useful for supervisory personnel who need to access control components which lie within the safety zone. Again they may complete their task safely without the need to disrupt the manufacturing process.
To achieve the same level of safety in such a scenario as this, a whole range of other safety measures may have to be deployed, such as guard-doors, with the physical and visual restrictions these solutions will impose. Safety for workers venturing beyond these guards would then require optical sensors which operate two-dimensionally along a plane and may require a multiplicity of sensors to provide comprehensive monitoring. This mix of solutions can present significant cost implications and their static single-plane positioning will raise costly design challenges. As SafetyEYE is positioned above the manufacturing area it does not present any physical or visual obstruction and it is also far less likely to be interfered with than other ground-level safety measures which are always more vulnerable to intentional or accidental interference. The 3-D zonal capability means that one sensor unit can provide far more safety coverage than the planar sensors. Such imaging-based devices also have a recording functionality so that safety zone breaches can be recorded or production activity monitored to feed into productivity metrics.
These attributes were acknowledged by Bob Seward of the IOSH when presenting Pilz with the award. “With the introduction of this certified technology, safety can no longer be seen as a barrier to work, slowing work down or stopping work. It can be truly integrated in the work system.”
Pilz Ireland managing director John McAuliffe said: “Pilz were honoured to receive this award. The area of safety in which we work is constantly changing and Pilz need to be innovative in order to provide our customers with solutions that achieve safety in lean manufacturing environments.” Providing services from risk assessment, safety design and safety training to customers all over the world the company views continuous development of processes and products, such as SafetyEYE, as vital in meeting the constantly evolving demands of the modern manufacturing environment.
The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI) estimates that 34% of primary pharmaceutical operations in North America by 2018 will be carried out by robots, compared with 21% in 2013. This increasing automation, along with the rapid growth of collaborative robots across all sectors, is heralding a new era of human-robot interaction in manufacturing.
SafetyEYE is especially effective in ensuring the safe deployment of collaborative robots which are ideal for handling materials and ingredients in a decontaminated environment but which require some level of interaction with operators who need to approach to carry out supervisory, control or intervention tasks.
Such are the potential production efficiencies brought about by collaborative robotics in the bulk pharmaceutical manufacturing sector that Health and Safety managers, engineers and suppliers will need to align their safety strategy in line with this new industrial environment.
As with all new technologies care and due process must be exercised in the integration with other plant and machinery. Structured risk assessment considering the specific hazards leading to intelligent safety concepts are the key to successful adoption of such new technologies. Pilz is pioneering safe automation with the continuous development of its services and products, such as SafetyEYE, ensuring that its customers can anticipate the safety challenges presented by industry developments such as collaborative robots.