Conversation with: Matt D., Controls Engineer
Topic: Functional Safety Requirements

Safety has been on manufacturer’s minds since the Industrial Revolution, but ever since the U.S. Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 it has come to the forefront in an even more tangible way. From the 1960s on, robotics and automation have helped usher in many benefits to the manufacturing working environment, including freeing workers from some potentially harmful tasks and reducing injuries. But they have also introduced further safety concerns as manufacturing personnel increasingly work alongside large, powerful equipment. When safety is not properly considered, it has the potential to compromise the health of the workers and the reliability of the system.

Matt D., an expert Controls Engineer, shared his thoughts on how Wes-Tech helps clients to create a safe working environment when humans and machines work side by side, as we so often see in today’s manufacturing environment.

“Safety is more of a focus now than it has ever been. The safety requirements determined by our team inform every other condition of the process. Proper completion of these steps reduces a company’s risks and mitigates liability. There is no room for shortcuts.”

When Wes-Tech begins to design a solution for a customer, Matt and the team spend a good deal of time analyzing the safety risks involved. They work with the mechanical engineers to complete a design review and risk assessment. The use of a risk assessment determines the safety level necessary for a given piece of equipment, and drives the design of safety guards, lockouts, and component selection to meet that level.
It is Wes-Tech’s standard requirement to analyze the components using a software like Systema to ensure our equipment will operate safely. The standard target is to build the equipment so the safety system will be robust and reliable – that is, the safety system will not fail within the next 20 years by following the Systema plan. It is a complex and time-consuming process, but the team at Wes-Tech feels it is worth doing.

The team analyzes the components to determine the long-term viability and reliability of the safety circuit to verify that they will meet the required safety level. They analyze the performance-level requirement (PLR), a measure used to achieve the required risk reduction for each safety function, based on:

1) Potential severity of an injury,
2) How often workers might be exposed to a potential injury, and
3) The possibility of avoiding the injury.

The more potential danger there may be, the more guards and redundancies must be put in place. As an example, consider a car window. 1) If you get your finger caught, will it possibly remove the finger or will it just hurt?; 2) How frequently do you put the window up and down?; 3) How fast does the mechanism move, and could you avoid it if you know the window is going up? These same concepts can be translated to any piece of equipment in the manufacturing environment and answering these questions can help determine exactly what safety measures must be put in place to protect personnel.

Safety equipment is incorporated into the design to reduce risk to the operators. This may include guards to block certain areas from being touched, and lockout capability to ensure the machine is completely off with no potential energy, such as when maintenance is being completed.

“We prioritize safety. We care about the end user, and it’s at the forefront of our thought and is always considered in our design. We’re passionate about making things comfortable to use, but functionally safe. Good design takes both into account.”

Once the design is complete, the safety team creates the necessary documentation to ensure that all requirements are met, and that the end users understand how to properly use the safety features of the equipment. The primary goal of the Wes-Tech team is to protect the people working in the environment, and the secondary goal is to protect the overall organization.

If you need a partner to help you reduce your overall risk by ensuring your equipment is safe for your environment, the Wes-Tech team can help you with a solution designed for safety. The team will leverage our experience with more than 4,200 custom-engineered automation solutions to design the perfect one just for you.

Team Wes-Tech

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