Adoption of robotic automation in both manufacturing and e-commerce has been on a steady rise over the past ten years, as robots can typically do many things more efficiently, more reliably, and consistently while saving operators from difficult, dangerous and demanding tasks. But there are many operations that still need the human element for directing the automation, loading materials and adapting to the ever-changing production environment. So it made sense for automation companies to come up with a way for humans and robots to work together.
Even with the new age of manufacturing coming in and automation becoming more prevalent in factories, there is still always going to be the need for factory workers. Machines today can do more than we ever thought possible, but at least for now, human factory workers are still necessary to keep everything up and running as smoothly as possible. More machines means more moving parts and automated processes. More moving parts and automation means more potentially hazardous situations for factory workers.
And with factory workers, safety has to be considered above everything else. So the question is — how safe is your factory?
Implementation of a new distributed control system is one of the toughest projects undertaken by any process control engineer, with several complexities and risks. In order to do one successfully, the engineer must be well-versed in all steps involved, from documentation to grounding practices. Even though control engineers prepare themselves for such an implementation right from the start of their career, they often develop tunnel vision and find themselves stuck in a mesh of complexities. A couple of best practices regarding DCS implementation can help them navigate through common problems, ensuring that their project is a success.
By using a standard wiring scheme throughout the implementation, it would be easier to carry out maintenance and upgrades. The use of standard, off-the-shelf components would allow future operators to stock and replenish supplies. Another possible addition would be purchasing products from two separate sources of vendors.
Ensure that you use proper grounding and termination for electrical signals. The supplier’s grounding requirements must be understood clearly and objectively. All automation engineers, and not just the electrical staff, need to understand the grounding principles. When international standards are followed, a supporting booklet and/or tutorials should be provided to ensure that misinterpretations do not take place in the future. Before powering up any part of the DCS system, be sure that there are no short circuits. This can be done during the Site Acceptance Test.
Several vendors use different software versions for communication purposes, ensuring that all data is transmitted. Several systems will transmit the basic parameters, robbing the setup of advanced diagnostics. A concept known as “Control in Field” can play a vital role here that transfers the control process from the central control unit for field devices. This gives sensors the autonomy to issue a response to an actuator based on the measured variable.
The I/O structures should be shifted away to the field that would cause a reduction in the cost and space requirements. The electronics manufactured today are usually resistive to high temperatures and may have G3 compliant conforming coating. Fiber optics should be utilized for communication links, preferably in a ring configuration to increase the reliability of the system. Extended I/O terminal blocks can be utilized for connecting the field working directly, avoiding additional costs and weak connections.
A DCS is designed to serve two purposes, to provide a centralized human control and a focal point for MIS information to the management network. Distributed Control Systems shouldn’t be burdened with tasks such as auto-tuning of control loops. Instead, such functions should be restricted to dedicated controllers.
To top it all off, before the shift-over takes place, make sure a detailed Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) is carried out that allows experienced operators to interact with the engineering functions of the DCS. This ensures that all functions operate the way they are expected to operate, and if any ambiguity exists it can be cleared straightaway.
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The value of digitization in the industrial sector has been viewed with renewed importance starting at the beginning of this decade, with companies investing more into adopting it. This has given rise to a new industrial culture; one that moves towards proactive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance.
The use of industrial robots has brought a number of benefits to the workplace, but it has also increased the inherent risk posed to the workers on the plant. Thus, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure a safe working environment is maintained at all times.
Safety is often viewed as an extra responsibility, something that comes with greater paperwork and overhead. The truth, however, is quite different. Having a safe working environment can actually have benefits such as assurance of regulatory compliance and increased productivity from the factory floor.
For decades machine safety systems in industrial complexes have been associated with individual components such as safety interlocks, electromechanical relays, switches, fencing, enclosures, and so on. But with each passing year, this approach seems to be expiring and lagging with the requirements of today.
Machine safety components are tools that can be used in a certain manner to ensure the safety of a machine. The end-goal of machine safety component usage has shifted from installation of safety components to the successful accomplishment of a goal-set and a strategy. This effectively means that a shift needs to occur from the traditional on/off, go/no/no-go paradigm towards a more functional approach that ensures the workability of all safety-related components in a coherent manner. This system-based approach is now the consensus of several safety experts due to the rapidly changing market demands and evolving technologies.
Safety should never be seen as a function, forcefully imposed upon a well chalked-out process. Integrated safety has long been seen a dangerous concept to masquerade with, making manufacturers design safety as a separate component. While doing so may make planning easier by adding another major step into the entire process, it actually adds complexity in the form redundancies.
Companies are now realizing this point and gradually shifting towards integrated safety concepts. For instance, Paper Converting Machine Corporation in Green Bay, Wisconsin uses an integrated safety platform from Rockwell to help its engineers plan upgrades while keeping safety in the equation. The integrated controls mean the engineers can perform all sorts of risk assessment while defining the functional requirements early in the design process. In addition, the engineers work in one programming environment since all the process and safety controls are on the same platform.
Dedicated departments for engineering, environment, health and safety can be found in almost every mid to large sized manufacturing company. These departments have little collective knowledge-pool and coherence, since traditionally their KPIs have very little overlapping. For instance, engineers continuously work with operations to improve productivity & efficiency of the equipment, while safety professionals analyze & reduce risks. Therefore, it’s very rare for the two departments to cross paths. However, this attitude has to change if an enterprise wants to keep itself at par with the competition and adjust according to the latest market trends.
Vibrations, what may seem like so irrelevant and benign are actually quite serious, and possess the tendency to damage a machine’s sensitive components. When dealing with industrial machines, shaking is something for which all damping efforts are made beyond a known threshold. The major task is to determine whether the magnitude of oscillation being faced can be tolerated or if needs to be stopped.