Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Safety can equal greater productivity

November 5, 2010
By Jeff Ashcroft

As machine safety standards continue to evolve, many companies consider compliance to be a wasted investment with little benefit to their businesses. Because of this, they avoid these investments for as long as possible — sometimes until they have a serious accident that forces them to bite the bullet. However, there is no shortage of examples of the impact such accidents have on business, both in total dollars due to business disruption and triple digit fines, as well as employee morale going forward.

By modifying the attitude and approach to these necessary retrofit upgrades, a solid case can be made for increasing productivity in conjunction with making the required safety upgrades. For many, this still seems counter intuitive, as they believe that safety just gets in the way of productivity. Just applying complex safety and monitoring solutions to presses and press brakes in isolation may reasonably lead to this impression. That is why a more holistic approach is required to see the true business benefits.

When it comes to running a plant full of costly machines, such as presses and press brakes, the most important factors are maximizing uptime and utilization to drive greater production and increased return on investment. Many agree with this statement on the surface, but how many companies have an effective and impartial method of measuring this performance on a daily basis? Not many. And those who do are likely paying a hidden cost in time to manually collect, enter and reconcile this information against whatever IT system is used to manage the business. This is where the productivity benefits of increased safety levels and monitoring can be leveraged for maximum returns, as today’s more advanced safety press controls can provide this information to management in real time.

There are many benefits to this. First, there is the direct measurement of uptime right from the machine, not from manual logs, which can be both inaccurate and a drain on productivity themselves. Additionally, the fault diagnostics from safety press controls can highlight the precise problem with the equipment, facilitating quick repair versus a longer troubleshooting process. 


Secondly, most who have operated this type of equipment know the importance of keeping up with preventative maintenance. This function can be automated and monitored to ensure best practices are followed with updates and alerts.

Thirdly, as these press controls monitor all stops and reasons for them, many mechanical issues occurring with the equipment can be caught and repaired prior to a major breakdown, avoiding unplanned downtime and complete malfunction. In addition, those who wish to do so can add condition monitoring for heat, fluids, vibration and more to give them even further advance warning to reduce these nuisance stops.

Finally, many continue to work towards continuous improvement by utilizing Six Sigma, Lean, kaizen and other improvement methodologies. All of these require accurate data to achieve and measure the progress made, and to plan future changes. This means that significant data collection and data entry is required, and depending on how this is done, there is also often reconciliation required after the fact to ensure the data is correct between the shop floor and the office/reporting methods. As well, those who are looking to introduce the advanced planning and scheduling capabilities of their systems need the visibility and accuracy available to realize the benefit of the initial software investment.

Through the use of advanced safety press controls and networking these units to your business systems, data can be collected accurately with no additional effort. In fact, I know of a number of companies who have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars investing in advanced press controls for all of the equipment in their plants for pure compliance reasons, but have yet to consider and harness the potential benefits of networking these sources of information for greater planning and productivity purposes.

Thinking seriously about making these needed investments in safety is not only a way to better protect your employees and avoid the liability and fines associated with non compliance and accidents, it can also be seen as a facilitator and catalyst for making a step change in your shop floor environment and truly a key leverage factor in helping stamping and bending businesses take their operations to the next level of performance.

Jeff Ashcroft is a frequent commentator on machine safety and standards. He can be reached at

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