Innovation in Robotics and Safety

We want to empower our customers with the knowledge they need to keep their production efficient, uninterrupted, and safe. Identifying and eliminating hazards ahead of time are the hallmarks of industrial machine risk reduction. With the right safety plans, application of innovation in robotics and safety, and commitment to maintenance and training, your manufacturing floor can safely accommodate machines and robotics of any size, speed, and power.

Categories of Industrial Robot Hazards

When a machine runs at faster than human speeds near other workers, your integrator safeguards a variety of different hazards, risk areas, and concerns. Knowing the definitions will fortify your risk assessment practices.

Struck-by hazards

These are common hazards defined specifically by forced contact or impact between a person and an object or piece of equipment. Flying, falling, swinging, and rolling objects can all cause Struck-by injuries. They are often confused with caught, crushing, or trapping hazards, but when the injury is caused by the impact alone, this is a Struck-by hazard.

Caught, crushing, and trapping hazards

Like Struck-by hazards, they can also include impact injuries and commonly come from flying, falling, swinging, or rolling objects. The main distinction is that the injury is specifically caused because of a person being compressed between two objects. Proper safety circuit integration can mitigate the sudden failures associated with a machine that might suddenly malfunction. Our NodeUDesign Nodes are a good example of technology designed to increase speed, and precision, for our automation and OEM equipment.

Hydraulic hazards

These hazards come with the use of hydraulics in the movement of your machinery. Exposure to hydraulic fluid during leaks in the machinery can be toxic to ingestion, an irritant to eyes, and poisonous as an inhalant. Hydraulic pressure can be as high as 10,000 psi, sudden pressure loss such as from a rupture in a hose or fastening can cause struck-by and crushing hazards and the high-pressure liquid jets can cut workers and pierce safety guards. Hydraulic fluid can also be flammable when exposed to fire and typically hydraulic fluid operates between 120 and 180 degrees.

Electrical hazards

These hazards are typified by unsafe contact with robot power supply and cords. Exposed electrical parts, improper grounding, wet conditions, damaged wiring or circuits, or defective insulation can magnify the chances for arc flashes, shock, fire, and burns. Safeguarding high power and low power controls separately, sometimes even in separate cabinets, can help mitigate electrical hazards.

Pneumatic hazards

These hazards are caused by the powerful air pressure of pneumatic tools. Air pressure can launch heavy objects at high speed and fasteners and tubing can burst and eject hoses or metal pieces into the air with unpredictable velocity. Unfastened pressurized air lines can hit workers with flailing metal whips or cannons of air strong enough to knock them to the ground.

Slipping, tripping, and falling hazards

These hazards are caused by obstructions or slippery surfaces. Uncovered and unsecured cables and hoses attached to your machine can be tripping hazards. Debris, clutter, and spills from your production can be slipping hazards. Proper housekeeping, lighting, and awareness training can help mitigate these hazards.

Environmental hazards

These hazards have to do with where your robot is placed and what products your robot produces. If interacting with your robot puts your workers in proximity to chemicals, noxious fumes, heat, cold, hot surfaces, dust, radiation, explosive materials, biohazardous material, noise, sparks, and bright light, you are working with environmental hazards. Exposure to violence or stress can even be considered environmental hazards.

Robotic Safety Innovation Types

Effective robotic safety strategies revolve around three categories: Safety Equipment, Orientation and Placement, and Operator Ownership. Proper application of all three of these categories can mitigate the hazards above.

Safety Equipment

Proper safety equipment ranges from advanced sensors to simple barriers. Application of these items in concert with your standard PPE and safety practices can mitigate unsafe contact with your robot or machine and reduce injuries in the event of exposure.

Barrier Guards- These physical barricades keep operators from accidentally or intentionally entering unsafe zones around your robot or machines. These come in three distinct types:

  • Fixed Guards- A permanent fence or cage. These are permanent, enclose all points of hazardous contact, and can only be removed with tools. Whether they are perimeter guards or enclosing guards, they only allow openings large enough for material feeding.
  • Interlocked Guards- These interlocked guards integrate a circuit into a gate or door. All machine activity stops when the interlock circuit is broken. Interlocked guards prevent machine restart until after the interlock is reset (i.e., the gate is closed) AND manual input into control system outside of the hazardous zone. While less permanent than fixed guards, they provide similar perimeter interference with easier access for maintenance.
  • Awareness Barriers- These structures that mark out a safety perimeter can be climbed over, stepped around, or crawled under. They are best used with other types of guards or only in low-risk areas of your facility.

Presence Detection Devices- These are devices that use a variety of area-based sensors to detect the presence of the workforce in proximity to potentially dangerous machine processes. These work best in concert with Barrier Guards but also work alone with interlock style shut down. They are placed to detect well out of reach of your machine.

  • Light Curtains- Using a series of transmitters and receivers, these opto-electronic devices create a vertical or horizontal screen of light. Any physical interruption of the curtain (i.e., a worker walks through the light curtain) triggers an interlock style shutdown of your machine.
  • Pressure Sensitive Safety Mats- These industrial grade floor mats use integrated pressure sensitive plates capable of detecting the weight of a human or object. They come in assorted styles, sizes, and colors customized to the work envelope.
  • Wearables- Sometimes integrated into PPE or uniforms, these small detection devices track and alert workers to unsafe distance from a machine, temperature, or chemicals with visual or audible alerts. They can also connect with interoperable sensors to shut down mobile robots before imminent contact.

Emergency Brakes- These emergency stop buttons, levers, or pull cords dynamically arrest the motion of the robot while counteracting the motion of the robot. These are located within reach of every operator or worker that works near or in the work envelope. Even after power loss and power restoration, the emergency brake prevents the sudden drop of a robot arm or unexpected restart without reengaging the brake.

Control Devices- Located outside of the hazard area and in sight of the machine, these are panels, screens, or pendants that the operator uses to control the robot. These Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) use clear labeling, instructions, emergency stops, robot quality status indicators, and safeguards that prevent accidental triggering of buttons or switches. While an emergency brake can be reengaged, the control device is the only way to reactivate a robot or machine after shut down.

Audio Visual Warnings- Lights, emergency tape, and clear signage alert operators and workers about safe conduct and unsafe zones. Displays, gauges, and monitors clearly display the status of the machine or robot. Separate lights and audible alerts indicate emergency situations. 

Placement Safety

Choosing the correct location, orientation, and position safeguards your equipment and your workers.

Securing- When operating at maximum exertion, your machine should not cause dangers related to vibration, tipping, or movement.

Environment- Your machine should match the Ingress Protection Rating (IP rating) for safe operation around temperature, chemicals, voltage, and other environmental exposures.

Safety Methodology

Here is a list of the best ways to take ownership of your safety technology. Robot and machine safety technology continues to change and advance, but the bedrock of safety still relies on diligence, understanding, and common sense.

Operation Training- Supervisors, managers, and machine operators must fully train in the use, programming, and basic maintenance of your automated machine. 

 

Safety Policy- All employees must agree to a written safety policy, and hazard prevention training. This includes agreements on who is and who is not allowed to operate the robot. Only a fully trained operator or trainee supervised by one should operate the robot. 

Safety Checklists- Make sure there is a periodic condition checklist to evaluate the robot’s working condition. Include a pre-operation safety checklist before activation, this includes a visual inspection and evaluation of gauges and screens. 

 

Regular Maintenance- Respect that when you integrate an automated machine into your business, you need to do regular comprehensive checks and maintenance. An automated machine that is not properly maintained can malfunction. This can jeopardize the speed, consistency, and quality of your production, but it more importantly can jeopardize your workforce. Evaluate the condition of your machine, schedule maintenance, make repairs as necessary, and look forward to longevity. 

 

Qualities of Effective Automation Safety 

Properly implemented robotic safety addresses three main categories. It is important to consider these metrics when following your plan or you risk complacency:

Simplicity- Robotic safety needs to simplify and reduce the steps taken to mitigate the hazard. The steps need to be defined. 

Cost- There are always going to be times when downtime is necessary for your machine. Incentivize adherence to scheduled repairs and part replacements. 

Intuitive- While operation should always require training, knowing what to do to remain safe around the machine should be easy to grasp with context clues, warnings, descriptive labeling, and clear preventative barriers. All safety training materials should be available to everyone on site.

There’s more to managing safety around robotics and automated machines. Tell us more about your project, schedule a virtual meeting, or call (262)-622-6104 to learn how DEVELOP LLC can create a custom safety footprint for your automated machine system.