Safety’s Place in the Connected Enterprise

May 26, 2018
Drawing on the simple but ubiquitous e-stop button to make his point, a system integrator explained the insights that could be gained by taking a closer look at safety data in your operations.

Not too many years ago, safety components were entirely separate from automation components. They have started blending together, with safety increasingly viewed as an option built into your automation. The same holds true for industrial architectures, with integrated platforms enabling access to all kinds of data, including safety-related data.

And yet, as manufacturers embark on their digital journeys, creating a strategy for their connected enterprises, it is all too common for environment, health and safety (EHS) teams and safety strategies to be left out of that discussion, according to Jeff Winter, director of safety practice for Grantek Systems Integration.

“Your EHS team not only can be a part of your connected enterprise strategy, but really should be a part of your connected enterprise strategy,” Winter told the audience at the Automation Conference & Expo, put on this week by Automation World and its parent PMMI Media Group.

The connected enterprise is enabling manufacturing customers to increase productivity through the collection of information from its connected devices—connected people, process, technology and knowledge enabling actionable change. Despite the hubbub around this topic, however, less than 14 percent of machines are connected to an enterprise, Winter said. “We’re at the very early stages of this journey,” he said. “Now is the time to get involved, and now is the time to address safety.”

Though manufacturing intelligence is not particularly new, more of it is being automated, providing more capabilities in real-time visualization and analysis. Likewise, there are safety dashboards available that provide reporting capabilities for inspections, incidents, hazards, etc. “The only problem is it’s not tied into your manufacturing system at all,” Winter said. “It’s not tied into what’s going on on the manufacturing floor.”

But with all the integration of safety with automation components and with automation control architectures, there is a great deal of safety data available from production environments. Device status, operational status, error/fault codes and event sequences are just a few examples.

“More and more and more information will be transferred from integrated safety solutions from the machine level to the enterprise system,” Winter said. “Are you taking advantage of that data?”

You might not think the simple e-stop button is the piece of your operations most likely to inspire you toward manufacturing intelligence. But there is actually plenty of data available through this machine component to help you improve production operations.

Winter drew on this ubiquitous component that everyone can relate to in order to make his point about the benefits of safety data. “If I can inspire you to see the benefit of tracking emergency stops,” he said, “imagine what you can do with your other safety systems.”

Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the e-stop that makes it a straightforward example. The button, by definition, has one purpose: to remove power from the machine in case of an emergency. So plantwide data on e-stop activations can provide insight into the operation of the plant’s lines.

Winter showed examples of data in a plant with three lines. His first example detailed 26 e-stop activations on Line 1, 4 activations on Line 2, and 18 activations on Line 3. That might not give you a lot of insight, since it’s difficult to know whether the deviations had to do with staffing, machine issues, or something else. However, looking at that data by shift instead of line, you can see that all 48 of those e-stop activations happened on the third shift. Suddenly you have a real situation that you can zero in on.

Diving deeper into his example, Winter was able to show that the operator on the third shift was incorrectly using e-stops instead of cycle stops. Given that the average downtime of an e-stop is 94 seconds while the average downtime of a cycle stop is 6 seconds, that's an error worth rectifying. And though the data was safety-related, the ramifications relate to plant productivity as well.

The point is that there are all kinds of data points available from your equipment, and there is a lot to be learned from them. Other questions that your existing machine data could address include:

  • How often are my safety systems tripped?
  • Are the safety systems being used properly?
  • Are safeguards being defeated?
  • How often is lockout/tagout being performed?
  • Where are current safety systems impeding productivity?
  • How often and why is machinery power being removed?
  • Are certain individuals, shifts or areas of production “better” than others?
  • Are particular machine types causing more safety problems than others?

“Would you like to know the answer to any of those?” Winter asked. “Because it’s real easy to figure out if you look at the data.”

Answers to these questions could help identify if unsafe conditions are created by the personnel or by the safeguarding systems themselves. They can help prioritize risks, provide real-time feedback for operator behavior, and drive safety and productivity awareness. But they can also help improve productivity and support other business cases.

As a system integrator, Grantek has grown over the years from its traditional role in controls operating projects to include making sure machines are safe and compliant. But too much of that is not planned out from the beginning. “After the fact, people call and say, ‘Hey, can you make this machine safe?’ Then we add something to it,” Winter said.

“You need to build this into your culture, so you know what to do daily with that information you’re getting,” he added. “You need to make sure you’re looking at your people, your processes, your technology and your knowledge to make sure you’re tweaking the right things to drive the right changes in your organization.”

Your company has likely developed or is developing its strategy for a fully connected enterprise. Now is the time for EHS teams to get involved in business and operational decisions, Winter urged.

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