Three ways digital technologies improve machine safety

Friday September 15, 2017
Written by Jennifer Rideout
Sep. 15, 2017 - Factories around the world are becoming more automated, intelligent and connected. The outcome? As control system connectivity increases and advanced technologies become pervasive, manufacturers are more productive, can better utilize assets, and optimize operations. Machine safety is no exception.

When lives are at stake, nothing else matters. According to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), there were 177 fatalities in manufacturing across Canada in 2015. This was second only to the construction sector. The fact remains: manufacturing is a dangerous industry.

Technology can help. With the right application of digital technologies, floor workers can trust that the operations and the machines around them are safe.

Cybersecurity and access control
Your factory requires a defence-in-depth cybersecurity strategy to keep data secure. Part of keeping that data secure is ensuring your machines are protected from the vulnerabilities inherent to legacy equipment and industrial network design. The problem is that 40 per cent of manufacturers do not have a formal security strategy, according to the Cisco 2017 Midyear Cybersecurity Report, nor do they follow standardized security policy practices. Implementing a formal security strategy that includes your enterprise and industrial network is essential in protecting control systems and PLCs from attackers. By securing the floor, you can trust your data is accurate and machines are operating as reported.

Access control should also be part of your defence-in-depth strategy. Digitally and physically, access control solutions limit access to data, assets and equipment based on a worker’s responsibilities. With the right access control policies in place, only properly trained workers can use this machinery.

Continuous training and development
More than ever before, it is critical for organizations to plan for knowledge retention. In a previous column, we discussed how video solutions are essential to the training and retention of manufacturing employees. The same technology can be used to keep employees up-to-date on machine operation and safety. But continuous training via video extends beyond machine operation — employees can also be trained remotely on health and safety policies, industry trends, and standards.

The bottom line is that employees with ongoing training are better prepared, and better equipped, for the factory floor. With advances in video technology, employees can be trained remotely, allowing manufacturers to best utilize their resources. And make no mistake — remote training works. According to Librestream Technologies, a developer of mobile collaboration solutions for industries including manufacturing, one customer was able to train its field team 33 per cent faster through remote mentoring.

Preventative maintenance and equipment troubleshooting
Video on the factory floor enables a whole new element of communications. If your floor is already equipped with Wi-Fi access, consider the difference that video technology for virtual collaboration can have on machine maintenance and safety. Through handheld devices, employees are able to view valuable information, such as equipment status, output and even if the machine is nearing a maintenance check. Taken a step further, if machine data indicates something may be amiss, employees can immediately video call a colleague or supplier and troubleshoot a solution in real time.

All this means that machine defects — and potential signs of defects — are caught before something goes wrong. The real-time data from your machines is captured, made visible, analyzed, and acted on immediately — keeping your machines and employees safe.

The manufacturing industry is changing. If Canadian manufacturers don’t change with it, they will be left behind. Digital solutions not only improve machine safety by providing the visibility, security, and training necessary to keep production running, they provide a foundation for manufacturers to compete globally. And if Canadian manufacturers want to stay relevant, they need to invest in digital technologies. But they aren’t.

The Business Development Bank of Canada surveyed nearly 1,000 manufacturing entrepreneurs this year to understand how many have adopted digital technologies: only 3 per cent have fully digitized; 42 per cent have yet to begin planning for digital projects.

There is much work to be done, but there is also hope. The same survey showed the results experienced by manufacturers who are utilizing digital technologies: 60 per cent experienced a boost in factory productivity; 50 per cent reduced operating costs; and 42 per cent improved product quality.

Improved OEE. Lower operating costs. Improved product quality. There are many reasons to invest in digital technologies. Machine safety is one — a darn good one. Are you ready?

Librestream Technologies assisted with this article.

Jennifer Rideout is the manufacturing marketing manager for Cisco Canada. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies for the manufacturing sector in Canada, including channel alignment and content development. She can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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

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