Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Are you putting your safety data to work?

September 13, 2017
By George Schuster

Bringing safety data into a Connected Enterprise can help identify risks and enhance safety

Photo: Rockwell Automation

Sep. 13, 2017 – Manufacturers are fundamentally changing how they operate in a Connected Enterprise. They’re gaining access to real-time insights, digitizing manual processes, improving collaboration through technology, and much more.

Agropur, a Canadian dairy processor, provides an excellent example. The company’s Don Mills, Ont., plant was hindered by aging automation technology that didn’t provide production intelligence. Instead, workers had to manually collect data then analyze and convert it into useful information. This was a time-consuming and error-prone activity.

As part of a modernization effort, the company moved to a standardized control and information platform that included a new controller, HMI and drive hardware, and new visualization software. The platform gives users access to real-time production data and % helped to automate and error-proof the collection of production data.

Since modernizing, Agropur has eliminated 2,500 hours of manual data collection, improved OEE by 25 per cent, and discovered more than 33 hours of additional production time per year.

Success stories like this are increasingly common, providing a strong case for all manufacturers to get their equipment connected. But a Connected Enterprise also can deliver improvements in areas outside of production.

This is especially true in the realm of industrial safety management. Today, many safety professionals in manufacturing use outdated data-collection and reporting methods. They must manually enter safety data for incident reports, inspections, training, audits and other processes, and then store this data in systems that are isolated from the plant floor.

The Connected Enterprise upends this old way of managing safety and replaces it with a more connected, efficient and data-driven approach. It’s an approach that empowers safety professionals with a better visibility and understanding of their safety compliance and performance, while providing substantial opportunities for improvement.

Unearthing safety data
This begins with using contemporary connected safety technologies. These systems, which combine machinery and safety control in one platform, are less susceptible to nuisance shutdowns than traditional, hardwired safety systems. But they also can provide access to safety-system data, including device and operational statuses, event sequences, fault and stoppage codes, event counters or timers, and more.

Once this data is collected, it’s only a matter of how an organization wants to use it. They could, for example, use it to shine a light on safety-system misuse or evaluate the frequency of safety system demands.

Think about something as basic as an emergency-stop (e-stop) button, which is meant to be used in emergencies. In reality, it’s often misused to stop production at the end of a cycle or if a jam occurs. Plant-floor workers may not think much of this misuse, but it can lead to increased scrap, longer start-up times, and dramatically reduced lifespan and compliance of safety systems.

Today, data detailing these actions isn’t captured in most plants — but it can be in a Connected Enterprise. The collected data could include the e-stop activation’s time stamp, the resulting downtime duration, and the line and shift associated with each activation. Stoppage codes can be created to describe why the button was pushed in each instance.

Safety professionals can use the alarm-and-events and metrics software they already have in place to analyze the data and identify if an e-stop is being used at an abnormally high rate. They can then investigate the root cause of any misuse, and determine if higher activation rates are occurring with specific production lines or shifts. This example holds true for other safety functions of the machine as well.

Safety transformed
Beyond safety-system misuse, greater data and connectivity can help drive safety performance improvement in numerous ways. Some key opportunities include:

• Better understanding of safety risks: Most manufacturers rarely, if ever, use their risk assessment data again after the design stage. However, this data can be put to good use in the form of a risk calculator. It’s a simple concept. Risk assessment data is stored as the baseline for safety performance and then compared against actual-use frequency data. Safety professionals could use this tool to identify process changes that result in higher-than-expected use frequency or, conversely, to pinpoint safeguards that are being defeated and result in lower-than-expected use frequency.

• Improving safety performance: The very action of connecting people, processes and equipment can create new opportunities to enhance safety and machinery performance. This could include providing visibility into process states, such as in ovens or refrigeration systems, to help reduce worker exposure to potentially harmful conditions. It also could include using wireless and mobile technology to deliver information to workers in more convenient ways, which could help reduce the physical strains put on an aging workforce.

• Reducing safety-related downtime: Safety and production data can provide important insights into safety-related shutdowns, including their frequency, duration, time and location. Safety and operations professionals can then use this data and work together to tackle recurring issues, which may be as simple as having a discussion with a specific production shift where an issue is most frequent, or to implement best practices across all shifts. Maintenance technicians can also use safety-system data when failures occur to simplify troubleshooting and speed up downtime resolution. Or they can go one step further and use the data as leading indicators for predictive maintenance.

• Alleviating compliance demands: Many manufacturers use manual audits to collect safety data for compliance and reporting purposes. This takes up valuable worker time and requires production downtime. This process can also lead to human error.

These issues can be eased by integrating auditing functions into the control system. As an added benefit, any abnormalities that might arise during auditing can be conveyed in dashboards or reports to help workers quickly spot and resolve potential issues.

Smarter safety
Industrial safety management need not exist in isolation or in the confines of yesterday’s technology, especially as production becomes smarter and more data driven. By capturing and contextualizing data from safety systems, manufacturers can get a clearer picture of their safety performance, and make changes to help improve operations and productivity.

George Schuster is a TÜV-certified Functional Safety Expert (FSExp) and Certified Functional Safety Engineer (CFSE) at Rockwell Automation.

This feature was originally published in the September 2017 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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