I'm seeing a lot of press releases and story submissions on the need to design in safety features into various automation equipment. Is this more than marketing positioning? What do you see or think?

Leslie Langnau
Managing Editor, Design World magazine

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I spent many years designing control systems for automation. It is absolutely essential that controls be idiot proof, sabotage proof, and that they anticipate common failure modes. This is especially important when a machine has the potential to stop the production line in a large plant. Such stoppages can easily cost $20,000 to $100,000 per hour of plant down time.

There is also the potential to cost the plant hundreds of thousands of dollars in machine or product damage as a result of poorly designed automation.
Are control systems lacking in these features? I was under the impression that they do a good job of anticipating failure modes, including the ones involving sabotage and "idiots." I would like to hear more about your experiences.

Best,

Leslie

Ronald J Riley said:
I spent many years designing control systems for automation. It is absolutely essential that controls be idiot proof, sabotage proof, and that they anticipate common failure modes. This is especially important when a machine has the potential to stop the production line in a large plant. Such stoppages can easily cost $20,000 to $100,000 per hour of plant down time.

There is also the potential to cost the plant hundreds of thousands of dollars in machine or product damage as a result of poorly designed automation.
It's my experience that the safety features are incorporated in the integration design and programming, not necessarily in the design of the equipment.
I don't think its a marketing thing...it's a hightened sense of safety requirements in manufacturing facilities. Engineers need to find that perfect balance between designing and integrating a system that should DO something vs. a system that should NOT do something. It's not that machinery is more dangerous, its that the level of experience, comprehension, respect, training, and overall skillset of the operators has decreased for various reasons...mainly costs. Regardless, I think we all seek to disprove Murphy's Law somehow and by adding as many safety features as cost effective as possible, well then that's just one more point for the home team.
Thanks David. This is helpful information, especially the aspect that the skill set has decreased a bit.

Thanks much,

Leslie

David Rojas said:
I don't think its a marketing thing...it's a hightened sense of safety requirements in manufacturing facilities. Engineers need to find that perfect balance between designing and integrating a system that should DO something vs. a system that should NOT do something. It's not that machinery is more dangerous, its that the level of experience, comprehension, respect, training, and overall skillset of the operators has decreased for various reasons...mainly costs. Regardless, I think we all seek to disprove Murphy's Law somehow and by adding as many safety features as cost effective as possible, well then that's just one more point for the home team.
For 15 years I ran my own company building high precision dicing saws for the semi industry. We always tried to incorporate safety features into our products. We felt that we needed to make them idiot proof but also realized that the world would breed smarter idiots. It was a never ending task.

In our case it never was a marketing position but common sense safety. My sales people used it as a tool to sell but that wasn't the reason we did it. I don't know about others and what drives them but I would hope it's safety for the operators.

Happy New Year,

Michelle
While companies can use safety as marketing material I believe that it is also an ethical issue. It should be our duty as engineers to provide a machine that is intrinsically safe to operate. While operators will always find a way to subvert safety interlocks and guards it is not an excuse to not design them into the machinery.

That being said there are levels of safety and costs associated with these levels.

-Sean Dotson, PE
www.rndautomation.com

An interesting question, Leslie. Could it be marketing positioning or just a reflection of our increasing need for safety measures (are we just getting more reckless on the roads?). 

Or it could just be that there happen to be a lot of projects coming to a head at the same time. 

e.g. the co-pilot technology being developed by the MIT (interesting article on it here http://www.topengineeringjobs.com/article/5588/the-intelligent-co-p...) is only starting to be developed, but they've been testing and researching for quite a while.

Suddenly the news has gone crazy about it, but should our focus be on the underlying cause of this type of development? Do we need this type of safety mechanism in our cars, or should we? It's a good way to try to make an impact on the worryingly high numbers of accidents on the roads, but should we not be assessing why these types of measures are even necessary in the first place? 

I believe that in many aspects, building automation promotes safety in any facility, giving more control on the equipment and electrical and related systems ina building.

I dont think that it is for marketing. Safety is very important topic in automation. The safety of each and every equipment should be properly tested.

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