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Yet, for many production environments, any such wholesale changes may seem at least a little unrealistic, if not completely unaffordable.
Instead, experience tells us that staying ahead of the game is often more about incremental progress than radical change. It can mean aggregating many small improvements made to even the most prosaic of equipment and processes.
In the world of sports science, winning through ‘marginal gains’ is a well-established formula that has propelled elite teams to the top of their game. Famously pioneered by Sir Dave Brailsford, general manager for Team Sky and one-time head coach at British Cycling, it goes like this: hunting down opportunities to make a 1% improvement across a wide range of parameters can add up to a cumulative effect that helps you beat your opponents decisively.
In British Cycling, lots of small, seemingly insignificant improvements, like taking the athlete’s mattresses with them to each hotel so they were guaranteed a good night’s sleep, added up to success that brought home unprecedented Olympic medal hauls.
Safety and productivity
SICK’s approach has always been that safety and productivity are two sides of the same coin: if you can protect employees whilst enabling them to work faster, with less downtime and in more effective collaboration with the machines they are operating, then you are on to a winner.
Hunting down those tiny improvements might seem prosaic, but together they could add up to uninterrupted operation at greater throughput.
The humble safety relay is a case in point. Safety relays are an everyday device for monitoring safety sensors and switches, but there is a plethora of different devices on the market. Even though there may be little to choose between some products, selecting the best-performing relay can be time-consuming and laborious.
Take SICK’s new ReLy safety relay. Not, you might think, a product to set the world on fire – just one of those utility devices many safety systems need. However, the ReLy was developed to offer some great “new tricks” from an old friend. SICK’s aim was to achieve true gains in performance and usability, while making it easier for engineers to stay with a high-performing range they can rely on, saving their selection time and reducing stock inventories.
To begin with, the ReLy was developed to achieve half the response time of comparable safety relays. A 10ms gain may not be much by itself but multiply that across a number of uses and it could add up to 160/170 ms – that’s about a 300mm reduction in the safety distance and a productivity improvement worth having. So, a machine builder can achieve a more compact design, and operators can interact more quickly with their machine, whether it’s a press or a cobot.
The addition of a ‘reset-required’ output to the ReLy relays and on-board diagnostics via an LED status display enables easy maintenance with minimal downtime. The SICK ReLy is also capable of operating for a class-leading number of switching cycles before replacement is needed.
The ReLy’s narrow 18mm-wide housing takes up minimal space in the control cabinet, with easy push-in front wiring and a one-click fit-and-release mechanism for simple set-up and quick replacement.
SICK has rationalised the ReLy range to just four products that meet most needs for monitoring safety functions or safety sensors up to PL e (EN ISO 13849) and SIL3 (IEC 61508), while enabling simpler selection, installation and maintenance.
No magic formula
The same principle of marginal gains holds just as true for other areas of machinery safety. For example, when designing safety laser scanners in Automated Guided Vehicles and Carts (AGVs and AGCs) it’s tempting to follow the trend that suggests the technology leaps that have achieved longer detection fields represent a magic formula for success.
However, smaller protective fields are actually better suited to high output efficiency and space utilisation in a modern production environment. Rapid system safety response times in an integrated safety system enhanced by devices such as safety encoders to control acceleration and braking, can achieve the required safety in AGV operation in a smaller footprint.
So, it’s more important that field sizes are are kept to a minimum, by optimising the total response time of the safety devices and associated control system and using scanners like SICK’s MicroScan3 that have the highest possible detection reliability to enable multiple field evaluation without compromising performance.
In machinery safety, hunting down multiple marginal gains can ensure safe, compliant operation whilst enabling greater efficiency. Finding those improvements comes down to choosing the right safety device and control system with the right performance capabilities and consulting with qualified experts to do the number crunching.
For more information about the SICK ReLy Safety Relay or any of SICK’s machinery safety products, please contact Andrea Hornby on 01727 831121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author:
Seb Strutt has been the senior product manager at SICK for over 15 years. His own product speciality is in Machinery Safety. He is also a qualified FS Engineer (TUV Rheinland) and can often be found providing a practical consultative approach on site. As a machinery safety specialist Seb is regularly called upon to be one of the SICK Functional Safety trainers and also to present company and machinery safety topics at SICK’s customer events.
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