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Is smarter automatically safer?

Industrie 4.0 will have an impact on “safe automation”. If production workflows are becoming more flexible and plant and machine components more autonomous, then safety also needs to be re-assessed.

Modular, flexible production processes go hand in hand with Industrie 4.0. They have an impact on "safe automation". As an active member of the technology initiative SmartFactoryKL we operate within a network of industrial partners and research institutes and participate in various working groups on concepts, standards and solutions, which form the basis for highly flexible automation technology.

Working group 1, "Smart Infrastructure", is working on a dynamic safety concept for simplified, semi or fully automatic certification, which will be tested in the Smart Factory KL Industrie 4.0 plant. The concept is based on an industrial Ethernet communication protocol. The whole plant consists of four physically separate production lines, which are connected using an automated guided vehicle, the "Robotino". If the E-STOP pushbutton PITestop active from Pilz is triggered, provided the "Robotino" is moving freely between modules, only the "Robotino" is stopped. If the "Robotino" is docked on to a production line, the E-STOP pushbutton stops the connected line. Production on the other lines can continue. This can significantly reduce production downtimes. As a result, for the first time it has been possible to set parameters for the E-STOP pushbutton flexibly over individual production lines instead of over the whole plant.

It should also be possible to hot swap individual modules, without significantly affecting production. Each time a modular production line is modified, new dependencies may arise at the interfaces between the safe plant modules. That's why the whole plant must be re-assessed in terms of safety. It's not a matter of simple transferability: CE module1 + CE module2 = CE overall machine!

So smart solutions are not automatically safer, but require the safety solution to be re-assessed. The optimum scenario would be if a simplified, semi or fully automated certification procedure could be used for plant expansions or additions. For this reason the working group is working on a solution that automatically checks whether a new safety assessment is required after two or more modules are assembled.

If you would like to look at this issue in more depth, we recommend the white paper "Safety on modular machines" produced by the Smart Factory KL, of which Pilz is a member.

You should also read our white paper on Industrie 4.0!

Smart Factory KL

Pilz New Zealand
Unit 4 12 Laidlaw Way East Tamaki
Auckland 2019
New Zealand

Telephone: +64 9 6345350