In today’s world, safety seems to be at the forefront of many people’s minds. However, in the last century (particularly in manufacturing), that was not always the case.
Recently, I was involved in an upgrade project of which the sole purpose was to add complex safety protection to an old, yet powerful line of equipment that previously had none. The equipment was designed and placed into production sometime in the mid to late 70s- in a time when it appears safety was out of sight, out of mind. Back in those days, there wasn’t as much thought put into “potential hazards” such as protection from pinch points, the machines potential to grab a fingers, hand, clothing (or worse yet, an arm) and overall a consideration of the machine’s fast motions that cannot stop quickly enough in event of emergency.
In order to address these problems, the brains of the project included a new Safety PLC Processor combined with several safety input and output cards. This processor was programmed to monitor an array of safety rated limit switches, light curtains, and emergency push buttons. The limit switches were partnered with electrically lockable guarding gates that were designed to keep the operators out of critically dangerous areas until the process came to a complete and safe stop. The light curtains were designed to bring the process to a safe state if an operator crossed over one or more of the beams in the sensing field. The production line was seperated into several safety sections. Depending on which safety inputs were tripped in each section, the PLC would instantly shut down corresponding safety air valves, hydraulic valves, or motor starter contactors. This set up allowed some pieces of equipment to be safely locked out, while other sections were able to keep producing, as long as the safety permissives needed for those sections were met.
While many companies claim that safety is their number one goal, it’s all too common that safety upgrade projects, such as the one above, are put into place too late – only after damage or personal injury has occurred. Most manufacturing companies know, and understand the importance of allocating resources to protect, maintain and improve their capital assets. But what’s a company’s greatest asset? It isn’t the equipment or physical plant and it isn’t data. The most valuable part of a company is its people- the human capital. By investing in workplace safety, companies can attract and retain quality employees, operate more efficiently and enjoy a healthy bottom line.
How is your company making appropriate provisions to protect its most important assets?
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