Jonathan Wilkins discusses how plant managers can improve safety by increasing automation
Since the invention of the first automobile in the late 1800s, driver safety has been a top priority for manufacturers, with billions of pounds being invested worldwide.
With the introduction of driverless cars by brands such as BMW and Google, safety is being revolutionised through autonomy.
But what can other industries learn from this?
From collaborative robots to machine vision, there is a smart solution to most problems with Industry 4.0. Plant safety is the latest issue which automation is tackling.
Traditionally, robots and humans worked separately, with risk of injury reduced only by barriers such as cages and light curtains keeping the partners apart.
However, a new generation of collaborative robots specifically designed to work alongside humans is becoming more commonplace in the factory environment.
Collaborative safety solutions such as ABB’s SafeMove allow for humans and robots to work simultaneously on the same task. Through features such as safe position and speed supervision, the flexibility and intuitiveness of humans is combined with the precision, strength and speed of robots. This collaboration increases safety and efficiency during both operations and maintenance.
Machine vision allows automated decision making based on image processing. Primarily used for automated inspections to ensure machinery is optimally running, machine vision can reduce the chance of dangerous events. One example of this is thermal imaging cameras produced by Flir, which allow for an image to be formed from infrared radiation, rather than visual light.
Process control through machine vision uses real time information about a product to improve the manufacturing process, fine tune production and ensure consistent quality control. This happens autonomously, removing the need for humans to work with hot products or in dangerous areas.
Continuous monitoring detects problems before failures occur, preventing stops in production and hazardous situations such as dangerous gases not being burnt off. Specialised technology, like Flir’s thermal cameras, can capture information the naked eye can’t.
Machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence (AI), allows computer systems to learn without being explicitly programmed by searching data to find patterns. Any system which uses information to alter the controls of a machine can be subject to machine learning integration. If programmed correctly, machine learning allows the system to not only constantly monitor and adapt to changing conditions, it can also prevent the repetition of previously learnt unsafe scenarios.
Advances in automation technology are aiding in improving both the safety of workers and consumers, by combining the unique problem solving and flexibility of humans with the benefits of robots and automation. This is reminiscent of the collaboration between automotive and technology companies to produce driverless cars, and the resulting inspirational safety record.
Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director at obsolete industrial parts supplier, EU Automation.