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Despite Delay, Machines Makers Move On Global Safety Standards

Machine builders prepare for the switch from EN 954-1 to ISO 13849 and IEC 62061.

Aw 1840 1005 Machine
Given the slow move by machine builders to comply with new safety standards—complicated by the global recession—European Union regulators have delayed the compliance deadline for ISO 13849-1 and IEC 62061 until the end of 2011. The previous deadline was set for the end of 2009. While much of the machine-building industry had already made the switch from EN 954-1 to the new standards, a portion of the machine and components industry was lagging in converting to the new standards. The European Union recognized this fact and delayed the deadline.

Even with the delay, the machine industry is in full changeover mode. The new standards are a major shift from the nearly two-decade dominance of EN 954-1, the European Norm safety standard. Risk analysis and quantitative measurements have been added to the foundation of EN 954-1, providing a more complex safety bar for a more complex world of machinery and components.

For those who might shrug their shoulders over standards that apply—right now—only to Europe, keep in mind that we live in a global environment. Directives in Europe, from environmental to safety guidelines, soon become the international norm. Thus, it’s not surprising that Europe chose international standards with ISO 13849-1 and IEC 62061, promulgated by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission, respectively.

European Union regulators apparently recognize that their directives will become international norms. While the standards will not necessarily become government directives in North America or Asia, the end-users of the machinery and components are already looking for products that are compliant. That alone will likely dictate global compliance to the new standards.

Don’t rest

While many machine producers have already shifted to compliance with the new standards, some machine builders are struggling to make the transition. The two-year delay on the deadline doesn’t mean companies can rest. The new standards are complex, and they’re a significant shift from EN 954-1, which means compliance takes time and investment.

The European Union understood in 2009 that machine builders and component manufacturers were not is a healthy position for a major shift in design, given the global economic recession. Many see the delay as a realistic response to an industry under financial stress. “One reason EN 954-1 got delayed is because of the downturn,” says Juergen Bukowski, safety program manager at automation components vendor Sick Inc., in Minneapolis. “People have to invest to re-certify their existing safety lines.”

The European Union also realized a portion of the industry had fallen behind in meeting the 2009 deadline. “Late last year, there were still end-users and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) who were having difficulty adopting the new methodology,” says Mike Miller, safety development leader at Rockwell Automation Inc., the Milwaukee-based controls supplier. “What happened is all of the sudden, the OEMs had to reference ISO 13849-1, but they still referenced EN 954-1, but 954 has been withdrawn. It created quite a rift.”

A two-year delay may seem like a reasonable length of time, but in the business of machine design, those years will fly by. “Many people are breathing a sigh of relief that the transition from EN 954-1 to ISO 13849-1 has been pushed out for a couple years, but unfortunately, that sigh of relief is ill-breathed because December 2011 is not really all that far away,” says David Collins, manager of machine safety products, for automation supplier Schneider Electric, in Palatine, Ill. “EN 954-1 has been around for about 15 years and people have grown accustomed to it, and they don’t want to change.”

Time and risk

The new standards are more complex than EN 954-1, and they add new elements to assessing safety and reliability. The big areas are time and risk. New standards are designed to assess risk over a prolonged period and time and assess potential failures.

The new standards will match the complexity of the machines and components. “The transition from EN 954-1 to ISO 13849-1 will be a major change that will affect safety on a global basis,” says Collins. “The requirements of the risk analysis in ISO 13849-1 will force people to better understand the structure of their safety systems and the reliability of each of their components.”

Greater emphasis on documentation will be a big part of the new standards. “There’s a lot more focus on honest-to-goodness documentation. Everything has to be documented better,” says Kurt Wadowick, I/O systems specialist at vendor Beckhoff Automation LLC, in Burnsville, Minn. “You need to document how long a system can run with no failure at all and time between failures. That tells you how much integrity a safety system has.”

The new standards are designed for machines that run at a higher level of complexity and manage greater amounts of data. “With the new standards, there’s a lot more data to crunch to determine the performance level,” says Robert Muehlfellner, automation director at B&R Industrial Automation Corp., another vendor, in Roswell, Ga. “There’s more and more online calculation on the performance levels, and manufacturers are adding their data into the safety tools. Now, if you have three machines, you can calculate your performance levels.”

While the European Union has provided a 24-month reprieve on compliance with the new standards, the machine industry is in full switch-over mode. All industries are becoming more global. The largest portion of machine and component manufacturers design their products to be sold in multiple regions. The idea of designing products specifically for the requirements of Europe is simply not practical.

Many of those involved in machine safety see the shift to the ISO and IEC standards as a step forward in unifying standards in a world of mixed requirements. “Ultimately, having a number of standards across the globe is a major problem for machine safety. The sheer quantity is almost ridiculous,” says Matthew Thornton, promotions management manager for functional safety at Siemens Industry Inc., the Alpharetta, Ga.-based automation supplier. “It’s about time for these standards to be aligned with each other.”

The machine builders have already started to seek global standards as they design equipment for best practices. “The machine-tool industry is global and there is increasing interest from domestic machine-tool builders and users to comply with international industry standards,” says Kevin Monnin, consulting applications engineer with machine tool applications engineering at Siemens.

U.S. affected

Do European standards mean much to machine builders and plants in the United States? After all, no organization is holding U.S. plants to the new safety standards. For mom-and-pop machine builders and plants with no global reach, the standards don’t apply. But the world of control systems is global now, so most machine builders in North America will likely adopt the new standards.

In the not-too-distant past, the regions of Europe, North America and Asia were mostly insolated. They had their own standards that didn’t necessary bleed into other regions. “Ten years ago, Europe was its own island, the United States was its own island. Now, there’s more coordination between regions, so machine builders and component builders want to design to a global standard,” says Chris Soranno, safety compliance manager, Omron STI, a North American provider of automation safeguard products and services with U.S. headquarters in Fremont, Calif.

Standards bodies don’t want to implement standards that are in conflict with other regions, and OEMs don’t want to build different machines for different regions. “The standards and regulations bodies in the United States are looking at how to implement these standards into our U.S. standards,” says Monnin, from Siemens. “So there’s a United States consensus to become more global. They’re embracing international standards.”

The new standards could become de facto standards without an official blessing. “In the Unites States, we have traditionally been behind Europe in adopting safety standards, and currently, our standards do reference some of the European standards, so these standards can be brought into the inspection of the machine if the inspector believes it is a commonly accepted industry standard,” says David Arens, food and packaging applications engineer at supplier Bosch Rexroth Corp., in Hoffman Estates, Ill. “It is important to recognize that these standards will be applied to the United States eventually.”

While U.S. plant are free from official requirements to comply with ISO 13849-1 and IEC 62061, the entire machine-building and component-producing industry is moving toward compliance. Europe may have kicked it off, but it did so with international standards, and those new standards are drifting across every region. Customers are beginning to expect that machines will comply with global standards. That alone will likely ensure eventual worldwide compliance.

Related Sidebar - The Details of the Safety Standards
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