In food produce environments and packhouses, the benefits of automation when it comes to workforce health and safety are uncontended. From eliminating arduous and repetitive tasks to working uninterrupted within inhospitable chilled settings, robots are most certainly the future. The picture frequently painted with Industry 4.0 is a ‘lights out factory’ – a completely automated smart factory, requiring no human intervention. Yet, that’s not so much a journey forward as a complete step change, and for many it doesn’t represent a practical implementation of Industry 4.0 at all. Operators and maintenance staff are going to be key elements of any Industry 4.0 smart factory installation well into the future, and that in turn means that safety continues to be a vital consideration.
CASE PACKER IN POINT
Health & Safety should never be an afterthought. In order to work safer and achieve greater productivity, it is critical that factories take a strategic view of the legal and operational requirements at the outset. Automated packing, case loading and palletising machines should always be designed around safety rather than designed for a function and then bolting on a safety system later on.
Putting into context a typical packing scenario, many ‘stop-start’ activities can treble production downtime and eat into OEE. If the restart process from a controlled or emergency stop is not logical, simple and fast, this too encourages reckless behaviour among machine operatives, who typically bypass safety measures to get a machine up and running again. Short line stops are often viewed as the bane of packing line operations. To overcome situations like this, Brillopak’s P160 robotic case packer applies a combination of technology, variable speed drives and mechanics that make restarts less complex. As a result, personnel are less inclined to take short cuts.
DON’T LET YOUR GUARD DOWN
As plant floor space becomes more valuable and more machinery is squeezed in, fixed guarding is often considered a design restriction. Yet without it, the chances that operators and maintenance personnel might encroach into a danger zone increase. So, provide quick accessibility to clear a bottleneck or carry out maintenance, by selecting the most efficient type of guard – ranging from locked, hinged or heavy weighted – and ensuring your workforce receives regular training.
Having to physically remove guards and reinsert them can be much more time-consuming than locked panels. Ten minutes of machine downtime removing panels could potentially equate to 1200 fewer units being packed. Brillopak also factors ergonomics into machine layout, including how maintenance engineers can access key areas comfortably, avoiding overstretching and bending into or around tight corners.
USE THE FORCE
Another approach to physical or static guarding is to deploy force sensing technology. Here, the robot slows down when operators approach, only stopping when a set threshold is passed, which significantly improves productivity. Zones of safety can be defined with scanners, and software functions such as safe speed 1 (SS1) or safe torque off (STO) can be implemented in variable speed drives. Different modes of operation can be defined depending on whether it is operators or maintenance staff who are interacting with the machine, each with their own requirements, and limiting speed and/or functionality accordingly.
Recognising the importance of safety within the truly collaborative machine, Omron has fully embedded safety within its Sysmac automation platform, making it easier for machine builders like Brillopak to consider safety functionality from the outset rather than as a costly and inflexible bolt-on at the end of the design process. A full suite of tested, proven and certified safety function blocks within the password protected Sysmac Studio development environment eliminate the cost and risk of a software free-for-all and make it easy for designers to implement safety functions as required.
Brillopak also utilises variable speed drives to manage forces and provide enhanced control during a pick and pack process. Accurate placement of products into crates depends upon momentum and the control of movement by a robotic arm, which is critical to product presentation.
As manufacturing and packing requirements evolve, so too do productivity and safety challenges. The ability to react swiftly and easily to legislative changes and take advantage of new technologies will be a critical market of success in tomorrow’s smart factories. Fixed and inflexible hardware systems can end up working against the legislation, while properly integrated safety technologies allow designers to more easily react to changes.
Collaborative safety lays down an important marker on the path to Industry 4.0. Yet, it requires a change of mindset to machine design. For Brillopak, it defines a new era where automated machines and operators work in harmony, and where safety design has a genuinely positive impact on productivity.