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Strong Growth Seen for Safety Automation

European influence and standards globalization are among drivers for U.S. safety product sales.

A number of factors are driving strong growth in the U.S. market for automatic safeguarding products, and for programmable safety systems in particular, according to Venture Development Corp. (VDC), a Natick, Mass.-based research firm.

VDC published its first edition study on the U.S. market for machine automatic safeguarding products in the summer of 2002, and is now planning a second edition study, based on industry reports of accelerating market growth, says James K. Taylor, VDC group manager, industrial automation. The forthcoming study is planned to look at both North American and European markets.

At the time of the 2002 study, programmable safety systems represented only a tiny portion of the U.S. market for automatic safeguarding products, accounting for just $1.3 million out of a total U.S. market of $196 million in 2001, VDC said. But while overall market growth at the time was projected at 9.5 percent compounded annually between 2001 and 2006, programmable safety systems were expected to grow at a 53.3 percent compound annual growth rate, with U.S. sales for programmable safety systems rising to $11 million in 2006.

Now, recent VDC discussions with automation suppliers indicate that U.S. sales of programmable safety systems, as well as automated safeguarding products in general, appear to be accelerating, Taylor says. VDC cites three developing trends mentioned by vendors that are driving market growth.

European influence

First, countries within Europe started developing machine safety standards long before North America. Because the European community is further advanced in this regard, this region has significant influence regarding the migration toward uniform international machine safety regulations, including IEC 61508, promulgated by the International Electrotechnical Commission and EN 954 (for European Norm). The globalization of standards will present new opportunities and challenges for suppliers of machine safeguarding products, VDC says.

Second, while North America has historically used 120V AC power, the same global influences that have affected standards have led to a proliferation in the use of 24 V DC power in safety automation equipment. As a result, VDC believes, opportunities for safety automation vendors could multiply as customers look to either retrofit or replace existing systems.

Third, industries are increasingly realizing the value and cost savings of implementing safety bus networks in manufacturing processes, VDC says. For instance, European automotive original equipment manufacturers, such as Volkswagen and BMW, have installed digital safety networks in an effort to reduce costs of robot installations. Unlike hard-wired systems that employ mechanical relays, safety bus networks digitally monitor the status of safety equipment through software platforms.

Taylor says the undertaking of the updated study is dependent upon VDC obtaining sufficient multiple client support for the effort, which he believes to be likely.

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