Measures achieved through technology and robotics are helping make the manufacturing workplace safer
When Bob Hoffman began working with integrated robotic welding systems in the early 1980s, there were limited safety precautions. “The robot cell safety equipment would be a waist-high railing with a sign on a gate warning of the dangers, no safety interlocks. I could stand right next to a welding robot and put my hand on it while it was running in automatic,” recalled Hoffman, senior director consulting–automotive at MHI member Swisslog. While he and his peers had a number of brushes with danger during that time, they fortunately all emerged unscathed.
Over the next four to six years, the automation industry began changing its perspective. “Safety systems started to improve to compensate for familiarity and complacency. This evolution in the design of the safety equipment surrounding these systems happened quite fast,” said Hoffman.
Today’s automated equipment has made warehouses and production floors safer than ever. Equipment manufacturers are building safety features into automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and into picking robots that work alongside humans. Just as important, they work with safety engineers and system designers to scrutinize every aspect of the environment in which their machinery will operate.
MHI member Egemin uses a multi-faceted approach to safety for its AGVs, beginning with meeting or exceeding the required ANSI standards for such vehicles. In addition, the vehicle’s software and hardware can detect potential safety problems. “We are utilizing inputs on the vehicle from the torque in the drive motor to scanners that we use to identify pallets and their fork pocket locations and side shifts,” said Nathan Wolf, Egemin’s director of operations. The AGV’s non-visual, non-heat-creating laser systems detect motion at the vehicle’s front, back or sides, bringing it to a stop if any kind of obstacle, human or non-human, gets into its path.
By Mary Lou Jay