A Holistic Approach to Safety Provides Sustainable Returns

Innovative new technologies and emerging global standards are enabling the integration of safety and automation for bottom-line benefits.

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In the midst of the current economic crisis, those responsible for manufacturing strategies—and in particular, safety strategies within the manufacturing process—may do well to reflect on the Chinese script for the word “crisis”: two characters—one representing danger, the other opportunity.

Historically, safety has been seen with a rather myopic focus on the former character. Understood as a means to prevent dangerous incidents, safety applications often relied only on operators’ and maintenance personnel’s alertness to hazards. Others were deployed as an afterthought, in response to an accident or external (i.e., industry or governmental) standards. The result was a reactive approach, separate from the manufacturing automation system, and exacerbated by the limitations of safety technology. These technologies often required machines to come to a full stop for safe states when repair, maintenance, or operator access was needed. Since this downtime reduced productivity, personnel often bypassed safety systems increasing risk on multiple levels.

According to Dan Hornbeck, global safety market development manager at Rockwell Automation, new technologies and standards provide manufacturers the opportunity to move beyond this shortsighted view to realize the opportunity inherent in the safety dynamic.

“When manufacturers look at safety holistically with automation, and look at the challenges they face today, they will see that safety is a mechanism to provide better manufacturing efficiency in today’s environment and support the sustainable enterprise,” he says.

Sustainability operates at several levels for today’s manufacturing organizations.  At the highest level, it means reducing dependence on fossil fuels, boosting energy savings, and building competitive advantage. At a functional level, it means reducing emissions and waste, measuring and reporting results, minimizing raw material waste, and improving financial performance. At the safety level, it means protecting workers, protecting products and customers, and preserving the integrity of the brand.

Safety Yields Efficiencies    
“When safety was approached from a narrow focus, it didn’t yield much in terms of efficiencies,” continues Hornbeck. “Today it is part of the sustainability process because of new technologies and processes embedded into the overall manufacturing project. When deployed properly within a holistic approach, today’s safety automation systems deliver the best of all worlds—a safer environment for employees, reduced environmental impact, better processes, and optimized efficiency.”

According to Mark Lee, commercial products supply engineering/ELSP director, Commercial Products Supply at world leader Coca-Cola, this makes good business sense.

“Safety has been part of the sustainability agenda at Coke for a number of years,” he says. “Safety has to be embedded into your engineering, capital deployment, and supplier partnerships to make sure you have the ability to be more flexible inside your manufacturing environment.”

“If you look back at our company 30 years ago, sustainability, safety, and those types of issues tended to be managed into the process, meaning you did it because you thought someone was watching you,” says Jim Schultz, director of controls and information systems, CIS, at General Mills. “The shift I’ve seen—as we’ve moved to see safety, environment, and other sustainability issues as ingredients in our formulas—is that this has become a part of how our people think.”

A fundamental shift in two essential and related areas has helped facilitate the functional, integrated, holistic approach to safety. The first is major developments in safeguarding and control technologies, most notably the advent of microprocessor-based technologies. The second is the evolution of global safety standards to allow these new technologies to be incorporated into integrated safety systems.

“The ability to implement safety control within architectures that can perform the four primary control tasks (sequence, motion, drive, and process) delivers major benefits,” says Hornbeck. “Hardware costs are minimized, since safety components can be used by both standard and safety portions of applications. Software and support costs are reduced, as the same software can be used, and personnel need only learn and keep current with one network architecture. And users can deploy and distribute the hardware necessary to meet application demands, be they on a single machine or across an entire facility.”

According to Hornbeck, new design techniques are an important aspect of achieving efficiencies while meeting safety needs. “Many of our customers have established a zoning methodology or zone control methodology that allows the manufacturer to set up a system design that creates zones on their equipment,” he says. “So, you design the machine holistically, breaking it into, say, three sections: A, B, and C. If Zone B is where you need to have an operator or maintenance man access the equipment, you put that zone alone into a safe state. Zones A and C may be able to continue production, or if not, they are not shut down completely, and so avoid the time and energy drain of a long restart sequence.”

Such design approaches not only support efficiency and productivity, but also save power, machine wear and tear, and the potential for scrap that traditional shut downs entail. “Sustainability is part of the relentless pursuit of waste elimination,” Lee reminds. “It’s part of being a world-class manufacturing organization.”

In times where the future seems uncertain if not downright foreboding, it’s good to remember the precept of Peter Drucker, the man considered by many to be the father of modern management practices: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” For those creating sustainable futures, and positioning themselves to accelerate once the current economic downturn begins to abate, safety is seen as a priority of corporate sustainable agendas.

“Safety that is engineered and embedded into systems and processes on the front end of a holistic system provides safe, flexible, efficient systems that increase productivity and provide competitive advantage,” concludes Hornbeck.

The fact is that in times of economic difficulty, sustainable companies become companies that will survive.

For more information, visit the Rockwell Automation Safety Solutions Portal.

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