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New Robot Safety Standards To Spawn Tech Changes

Forthcoming changes in U.S. robot safety standards will open the door to new robot technologies, says committee chair.

Roberta Nelson Shea
Roberta Nelson Shea

Change is afoot in the world of robot safety standards. 

The current U.S. robot safety standard—ANSI/RIA R15.06—has held up well with the passage of time, notes Roberta Nelson Shea, chair of the R15.06 standard committee. But the standard was last revised in 1999. And various newer technologies have since emerged that are not specifically covered by the current standard. The list includes cableless, or wireless, robot teach pendants, for example, safety software-based robot limiting systems, and synchronized robot arms controlled by a single controller. 

According to Nelson Shea, however, U.S. robot users may soon gain greater access to these and other emerging technologies. That will come with the expected approval by ANSI—the American National Standards Institute—of ISO 10218 Part 1, an international robot safety standard that was published last June by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).  

ANSI approval of ISO 10218-1 is expected by early summer, says Nelson Shea, who also heads up the U.S. delegation to the ISO 10218 committee. “So we’ll probably see it announced at the Robots & Vision Show (June 12-14 in Rosemont, Ill.) that ISO 10218-1 has become an ANSI standard,” she predicts. Besides her volunteer committee work, Nelson Shea also serves as general manager at safety products vendor Pilz Automation Safety L.P., in Canton, Mich.  

New technologies 

ISO 10218-1 covers only robot arms and manipulators, and not the entire robot system. It is thus equivalent to Clause 4 of R15.06. So once ISO 10218-1 achieves ANSI status, any robot complying with 10218-1 “would be considered acceptable as meeting R15.06 Clause 4,” Nelson Shea explains. Because 10218-1 covers issues involving wireless pendants, safety software-based limiting systems, and other areas for which R15.06 is silent, ANSI approval will pave the way for robot vendors to bring new technologies to the U.S. market, she says.  

One example involves “synchronized robots, where you might actually have two robot arms and one controller,” says Nelson Shea. “That’s talked about in 10218-1 and not mentioned at all in R15.06, because it didn’t exist back then [when standard was last revised]. So this does open the door for some newer technologies to be considered for implementation.” 

In fact, according to Nelson Shea, robot vendors including ABB, Fanuc, Kuka and Motoman are all planning near-term introduction of the kind of safety software-based limiting technology discussed in 10218-1. The result, she says, should be leaner robot systems that can operate safely within a smaller factory footprint than robots using traditional technology based on mechanical safety stops or external sensors and apparatus. Stopping times for the robot arm initiated through internal safety software may be quicker as well, she says, “because it’s not some external stuff talking to the robot.” Near-term introductions of cableless teach pendant technology that takes advantage of the 10218-1 guidelines are also expected.  

Revisions are currently underway on ISO 10218-2—the second of two parts of the international standard—which covers the integration, installation and use of robot systems, says Nelson Shea. An ISO 10218-2 document is expected to be released for a vote by early 2009, and will likely be passed and approved as an international standard by late 2009, she predicts. Once that happens, the entire revised ISO 10218 standard will likely be quickly adopted in a newly revised version of ANSI/RIA 15.06, says Nelson Shea. “We should have R15.06 updated and approved in 2009 also,” she says. 

Robot safety conference 

Nelson Shea will review these and other robot safety standards developments during a presentation at the 2007 North American Robot Safety Conference, March 26-28 in Toronto, sponsored by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based industry trade group. As one of several featured speakers at the event, Nelson Shea is also expected to describe the Technical Report on Teaching Multiple Robots released last year by the R15.06 committee.  

Intended as a companion piece to R15.06, the Technical Report covers another area in which R15.06 lacks detail, says Nelson Shea. “It puts forth a few different ways in which you can teach multiple robots when more than one teacher is involved, and still be in compliance with R15.06.”  

Other workshop and speaker sessions at the Toronto Conference will cover topics including the Z434 Canadian robot safety standard, an introduction to risk assessment and control reliability, safeguard device selection and use, and an overview of safety control circuitry. For more information on the conference, visit

Robotic Industries Association

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