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Integration also means that all the machines in a production line can communicate with each other and operate seamlessly, helping to boost efficiency.
Integration also allows for central monitoring of the operating condition of all the machines on a line, which can further improve efficiency and quality. By monitoring all the processes and flagging up any potential problems, processes can be adjusted, maintenance scheduled, and repairs made before failure. This reduces unscheduled downtimes and helps keep the whole line running optimally.
There is also one additional, huge benefit of integration: safety. Interconnected machines and systems in smart factories offer exceptional safety, both in terms of the operators’ work environment and overall system security.
What exactly is integrated safety?
Traditionally, production lines were built to perform a specific role. Individual machines in the process were designed to fulfil very specific tasks within that process. For example, fitting two components together or putting a completed part into a package. Typically, these machines were designed to perform the task first, with safety measures only considered afterwards. This is also true for the production lines into which they were integrated.
Integrated safety simply means considering safety during the initial design phases, both of the machine and the production line. In this way every aspect of the machine’s operation is taken into account as the solution is built and is captured in the data being used by the control system.
Total safety without total shutdown
Without integrated safety measures production lines typically come to a complete stop if there is a problem anywhere along the line. An emergency stop like this cuts power, requiring all the line’s robots and equipment to be reset to their ‘home’ position and then restarted after the issue has been resolved. This is costly in time and production.
This is not the case in a production line made up of integrated machines. Each component and activity in the line is closely monitored – in real time – by the control software. A control system, like Omron’s Sysmac, brings together the intelligent, integrated, and interactive elements of the system. This allows problems, or even potential problems, to be identified early and very specific actions to be taken. These actions can, for instance, modify production to compensate for an isolated issue without shutting down operation completely. Even if a complete halt is required the system can decide whether the machine/line can remain powered, moving to a standby condition rather than a complete or emergency stop. And as long as it has power, data continues to flow so the controller still knows what is happening. This means the controller, or operator, can maintain optimum performance even during times of operational disruption.
Just as important, it is also safer and more efficient for the maintenance personnel. They have full information on any issues even before going to the line, so they can be correctly prepared to fix it. They know what tools might be needed and what safety precautions to take. Furthermore, the line’s safety functions are also still active to protect them should an issue arise during the maintenance.
Example of integrated safety
In a non-integrated system a basic programmable logic controller monitors and executes motion, while a separate on/off safety relay safeguards operation. In an integrated system all signals and inputs are merged in an intelligent controller which replaces discrete safety relays with advanced logic.
Integrated safety also takes away the uncertainty present when relying on humans to record data. Knowing when to carry out maintenance is a critical factor in reducing the chances of parts breaking down, which could directly affect not only production but operator safety too.
In a non-integrated system, accurate maintenance scheduling means operators need to keep a reliable and accurate log of incidents and operations. In older systems, this may simply be a handwritten journal kept at the operator station! And even if the journal is well-maintained, the information is not available in a digital format. Hardly the best way of keeping track of a machine’s condition to ensure safe operation and schedule predictive maintenance.
With an integrated system, all the information is automatically tracked and available online. Every event, such as each time a door is opened and closed, is recorded digitally so the mean time between failures can be checked and maintenance scheduled.
Implementing safety services
For many years, Omron has been offering a variety of services aimed at giving manufacturers the best integrated safety available. The primary goal is to have zero accidents while improving production, by increasing safety and making the line more flexible.
Tailor-made solutions optimise safety case-by-case, and machine-by-machine. A machine safeguarding assessment provides a diagnostics rundown of equipment, highlighting areas that can be improved. Following this, a customised solution can be designed and, if requested, implemented, including training on new features.
Validation of safeguards can also be delivered, ensuring machines and systems meet the region’s equipment regulations. In the EU, machines must be maintained correctly so having all the data recorded and stored in the cloud makes everything traceable.
For more information, visit www.industrial.omron.co.uk
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