A great change is occurring in the manufacturing sector – and the potential that it holds for industrial safety shouldn’t be ignored.
That change is smart manufacturing. There are different global initiatives attached to this phenomenon like Industrie 4.0 and China Manufacturing 2025. However, they all revolve around two key elements: real-time data and seamless connectivity.
The ability to unlock real-time data from a fast-growing number of “smart” industrial IoT devices is giving industrial companies unprecedented visibility into their operations. This is helping them better understand and improve virtually every aspect of production. Seamless connectivity is helping share and present information in new ways, improve collaboration among workers, remotely monitor assets from a central location, sync up production around the world and more.
But the benefits aren’t only on the operations side. Smart manufacturing also presents an opportunity for safety professionals to use real-time data and connectivity to improve how they monitor and manage industrial safety.
Gaining Access to Safety Data
Smart manufacturing requires converging enterprise-level IT and plant-level operations technology (OT) systems, which have historically remained separate from each other. Merging these systems results in a single, secure and unified network architecture. This architecture combined with enabling technologies like industrial IoT devices creates the foundation upon which companies can deploy smart capabilities to gain new efficiencies, improve quality, make operations more responsive, and more. Rockwell Automation calls this The Connected Enterprise.
With a Connected Enterprise in place, safety professionals can access data that already exists in contemporary safety technologies and systems. This data can include device and operational status, event sequences, event counters or timers, and error, fault or stoppage codes.
Safety professionals can use the data to gain an unprecedented understanding of the factors that are paramount to their jobs, like worker behaviors, machinery compliance, shutdown or stoppage causes, and safety anomalies and trends. More importantly, they can use the data to significantly improve safety compliance and performance in their organization.
Use Cases: Safety in The Connected Enterprise
Safety professionals can improve how they approach safety by using safety-system data and the greater connectivity available within a Connected Enterprise.
Better Understand Safety Risks: Risk-assessment data is rarely used outside the machine-design stage. But in a Connected Enterprise, it can take on a new role in the form of a safety calculator. It’s a novel yet simple tool that safety professionals can use to measure anticipated risk against actual risk for each machine access point.
First, the calculator can be easily configured as a basic table within an enterprise manufacturing intelligence software. Then, a safety professional can simply enter a risk assessment’s anticipated use-frequency data as the baseline for safety performance and compare it against the machine’s actual use-frequency data. This can be done for individual safety functions like operator access points and gates, quality check points and emergency stop devices.
Lower-than-expected use frequency could indicate that a safeguard is being defeated and needs to be re-evaluated. Higher-than-expected use frequency could indicate that a product or process change needs to be addressed. Any usage outside of the expected frequency or duration could represent a compliance issue, or conversely an opportunity for process improvement benefitting production.
Enhance Safety Performance: Safety professionals can use real-time data and connectivity to improve safety performance in many ways.
For example, employees who work with hazardous materials or in harsh conditions can use real-time data to monitor and track potentially dangerous environmental conditions or manufacturing process states. And the ability to deliver information to workers in more convenient ways using mobile or wireless technology can help improve ergonomics or reduce the strains put on an aging workforce.
Remote monitoring of isolated or dispersed operations also can help reduce the need for workers to travel between sites, such as to check on wellheads, pump stations and storage sites in the oil and gas industry. This has the potential to reduce the risk of transportation incidents, which are a top cause of fatal work injuries in the U.S.1
In some instances, network connectivity could be a company’s last or only link to their employees. Wearable sensors, for example, could be used to locate workers during emergencies in underground mines or other hard-to-reach places. Voice, video and display technologies also could help companies monitor and communicate with workers following a safety incident.
Monitor Worker Behaviors: Safety-system data can help identify discrepancies between how policies and procedures are defined, and how workers actually follow them. It can similarly identify discrepancies between how safety technologies are designed and how workers actually use them.
Workers may be misusing E-stops, for example, to clear jams or stop production at the end of a cycle. This misuse can lead to increased scrap and longer machine startup times, resulting in a loss of production.
In a Connected Enterprise, safety professionals can collect an E-stop activation’s time stamp and downtime duration, as well as the line and shift associated with each activation. They also can create stoppage-reason codes to identify why a machine was stopped, such as for jams, misfeeds, cleaning or other reasons.
They can then analyze this data in their existing metrics and alarms-and-events software to determine if E-stops are being used at an abnormally high rate. Or they might discover that higher activation rates are associated with specific production lines or shifts. Safety professionals can then use these findings to take whatever correction action is needed, whether it’s providing additional training, revising standard operating procedures or updating a machine design. This same information may point to potential improvements in procedures or process, resulting in a “best practice” that could be adopted as a standard operating procedure.
Ease Compliance: Manually auditing safety data for compliance and reporting purposes can be a time-consuming process and subject to human error.
Companies can speed up the auditing process by integrating their auditing functions into the operator interface and controller. In addition to saving time, this can free up personnel for other priorities and reduce the likelihood of manual data-collection errors. Because detected abnormalities can be annunciated in operator interface dashboards or reports, automated auditing can also help workers more quickly identify and address potential issues in their plants. This is because the information is regularly monitored and pulled, making for faster and improved decision making.
Rethinking Industrial Safety
In a Connected Enterprise, companies can do more than improve how they monitor and manage safety – they can create innately safer operations that better complement production.
Oil and gas companies, for example, can now use Ethernet-connected unmanned subsea platforms in place of manned topside platforms. This changes the industrial-safety equation in offshore production because workers on topside platforms face serious inherent risks, such as ship collisions and explosions. In the mining industry, autonomous trucks and trains, which can be monitored and controlled from a central location, also are helping reduce transportation-related safety risks.
The emergence of connected, information-enabled industrial safety is a watershed moment for industrial companies – whether the approach is small, incremental improvements or dramatic transformation. The ability to access, analyze and act on safety-system data in a Connected Enterprise can help safety professionals rethink how safety is realized and set more aggressive improvement goals, much like what many of their counterparts on the production side are already doing today.
1Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2014, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sept. 17, 2015