Five ways integrated automation makes plants safer
Once considered to be a dangerous practice, integrated safety is now becoming accepted for the benefits it offers.
By upgrading their automation technology, manufacturing plants are able to integrate safety functionality into all standard components for improved system performance and productivity. Today’s most advanced integrated automation technology helps plants exceed global safety compliance requirements quickly and cost-effectively.
In today’s competitive global environment, manufacturing plants are under constant pressure to contribute to their companies’ profitability and growth. In their efforts to boost productivity and efficiency, facilities are deploying integrated, intelligent safety solutions as a lever for continuous improvement and operational excellence.
Within the past decade, advancements in automation technology have made it easier for plants to reliably protect their workers, machines and the environment while improving productivity, reducing costs and complying with pertinent safety and environmental regulations. The highest-performing automation systems integrate safety functionality into all the standard components and enable simpler, faster and more cost-effective implementation of safe and productive machines.
Many controllers — particularly older ones — lack safety integration capabilities. Facilities must take the strategic opportunity to upgrade to modern automation technology that not only improves the overall performance of their systems but also exceeds global functional safety requirements.
Functional safety is the detection of a potentially dangerous condition, resulting in the activation of a device or mechanism to prevent or mitigate the effects of the hazardous event. The objective of functional safety is to reduce risk to a tolerable level, with the overarching goals of avoiding accidents and damage when faults occur and maximising safety for people, equipment and the environment.
Below are five ways that today’s most advanced integrated automation technology makes plants safer.
1. Integrated safety functionality
In the past, plant engineers had to hardwire e-stops, gate interlocks, light curtains and other monitoring and safety shutdown equipment as ‘bolt-on’ accessories to a separate safety system. With today’s most innovative automation technology, however, safety features are seamlessly integrated into all of the components. All programming — whether it’s for safety or standard hardware — is done within the same software package, so safety planning is standardised throughout the system.
In addition to making plants safer, integrated safety reduces total cost of ownership and places less strain on engineering and maintenance personnel. It also enables greater system availability — due to improved diagnostics and troubleshooting — and greater operational flexibility, as plants can reconfigure their floor layouts and machine placements more easily.
2. Compliance with safety standards
Unlike older or underperforming systems, today’s modern, high-performing automation components maximise process safety by meeting the latest international standards for fault-tolerant applications. These standards, including IEC 61508, ANSI/ISA-84, IEC 62061, EN ISO 13849-1 and IEC 61511, cover the planning, documentation and assessment of all activities required to manage safety throughout the entire life of a system.
IEC 61508, for example, is an international standard for the functional safety of automation components that are designed to detect potentially dangerous conditions and initiate corrective or preventive action. The standard establishes criteria for a safety integrity level (SIL), which describes a safety function’s probability of a dangerous failure per hour.
3. Transmission of safety-related data
With advancements in automation technology and the emergence of networked safety, it is no longer necessary to run two separate fieldbuses for safety and non-safety data. Plants can use a standard fieldbus to transmit safety-relevant data, which reduces wiring complexity, system costs and training demands while improving diagnostic capabilities and freeing up space in the control cabinet.
The emergence of PROFIsafe — an integrated safety profile developed by the global consortium Profibus & Profinet International (PI) — extends the standard communications protocol to address special requirements necessary to conform to standards such as IEC 61508. For example, PROFIsafe adds elements such as message numbering and data consistency checks to rule out typical network messaging faults, enabling networked safety devices to meet the reliability requirements of SIL 3 as prescribed by IEC 61508.
4. Deeper visibility into problems
Advanced diagnostic capabilities provide deeper, real-time visibility into system performance and behaviour, enabling plants to be more proactive when addressing potential problems. With integrated safety, it is no longer necessary to constantly interrogate the system to determine if e-stops and other safety I/O devices are functioning properly. Today’s PLC systems conduct those validation tests automatically and report the results to the controller. Since the controller doesn’t have to initiate and send the commands across the network to conduct validation tests, the process consumes less code and less bandwidth, while making the entire system more efficient and less vulnerable to programming errors.
With safety solutions integrated directly into standard control architectures, plants can leverage automation technology to address two separate issues: functional safety and system availability. Integrated safety helps to minimise accidents and downtime by enabling operators to diagnose hazardous conditions more intelligently and quickly.
5. Remote diagnostic capabilities
Today, modular components such as PLCs, HMIs, drives and network switches offer integrated diagnostic functions which make system monitoring, troubleshooting and maintenance easier and safer than ever before. With the integration of wireless technology, plant personnel can view the status information of all components from a networked computer or mobile device. The system can send automatic alerts to the mobile devices of responsible parties who can securely log in to the system, if necessary, to assess and correct the situation.
With real-time remote diagnostic capabilities, operators and maintenance technicians are empowered to detect, report and clear faults quickly and safely. Technicians, for example, can troubleshoot issues inside motor control cabinets from a safe distance, minimising the need to wear the specialised personal protective equipment at all times that may be necessary to shield them from arc flash hazards.
Through today’s most advanced automation systems — which integrate safety functionality into standard control architecture — manufacturers are leveraging safety to boost productivity (by increasing system availability), reduce costs and build competitive advantage.
Such advanced automation systems offer a number of safety-related benefits to manufacturing plants, including:
- one controller, bus and engineering framework for standard and failsafe automation
- uniform diagnostic functions for standard and safety hardware
- improved engineering efficiency due to the integration of safety technology into the standard automation software
- the ability to transmit safety-related data via a standard fieldbus, which minimises wiring complexity, reduces system costs and simplifies safety architectures
- process safety and compliance with international standards such as IEC 61508, IEC 62061 and EN ISO 13849-1.
Once perceived as a burdensome cost of doing business, safety has evolved into a strategic activity that can improve a facility’s productivity, efficiency, flexibility, quality, profitability and safety.
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