Safety and compliance considerations in the age of Industry 5.0
According to IDC, there is a growing preference to invest in manufacturing automation compared to investment in innovation processes as it offers more tangible benefits and a clear return-on-investment (ROI). Particularly in countries where wages are increasing, companies will be looking for fast productivity gains that allow organizations to continue to be competitive while guaranteeing high wages.
Moreover, as we move closer to achieving the Industry 5.0 vision - where man and machine work together on the smart factory floor - the need to consider the safety and compliance requirements of this new kind of workplace has become paramount.
This is especially because unlike traditional factories, the smart factory depicts a scene in which employees work side-by-side with collaborative robots or “cobots” using these robots as a multi-functional tool, like a screwdriver, packaging device or palletizer.
Ensuring the safety of this type of working environment becomes particularly vital when bearing in mind that 85 percent of manufacturers now consider the connected workforce being commonplace in manufacturing by 2020.
Taking into account the changing nature of manufacturing processes globally, new guidelines on how to ensure the safety of human workers in collaborative robotic systems were published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in February 2016.
The ISO/TS 15066 guidelines were developed as a supplementary document to support the ISO 10218 “Safety Requirements for Industrial Robots” standard. ISO/TS 15066 is a comprehensive document that aims to help integrators of robotic cells conduct risk assessments when installing collaborative robots.
At Etalex in Quebec, Canada, a safety scanner alerts the UR10 robot tending the press brake to slow down to 20% of regular speed as soon as employees cross the yellow line.
As a leading manufacturer of collaborative robots, Universal Robots has spent a significant amount of time ensuring that its robots are not just meeting compliance standards, but that they are taking safety to the next level in the same way Universal Robots’ technology helps advance productivity and process innovation for companies across the globe. In fact, due to the advanced safety functions embedded within Universal Robots’ patented safety system, robots can be operated cage-free (subject to risk assessment) in the vast majority of the thousands of applications now installed worldwide.
Universal Robots’ patented adjustable safety system allows users to adjust a range of parameters in order to reduce the risks involved with implementing an industrial robot application. These include limiting the force, speed, power or momentum of the robot, or restricting its workspace using safety boundaries, in order to reduce risk of injury. For example, the speed of Universal Robots’ cobots can be reduced while the worker is working beside it to minimize the possibility of contact with staff.
Undoubtedly, the collaborative workforce featuring human and robots complementing each other in their roles - offers significant opportunities to enhance manufacturing productivity, innovation as well as safety and overall job satisfaction in the workplace.
While a conventional approach towards robot safety is necessary, there is still a lot of ongoing research into how we can define practical guidelines to ensure safe human-robot interactions in order to ultimately unleash the full potential of collaborative robots. It will certainly be interesting to see how this work evolves.
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