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Intelligent Sensing Systems Boost Machine Safety and Productivity

Intelligent sensing systems

The development of intelligent sensing systems has opened up more opportunities to optimize the flow of goods in high-speed production environments using robust safety systems. High productivity and dynamic automation often depend on the optimization of material flow between individual processes. Achieving near-continuous flow is the ultimate goal, including at the end of the production line where goods need to be packed, palletized, and transferred for subsequent distribution.

As the level of material handling automation increases, for example with the use of mobile transport systems, conveyors, or articulated robots, the risk of injury to personnel increases. At the same time, production teams may be under pressure to introduce greater manufacturing flexibility, minimize machine set-up times, and improve shop floor utilization. In this context, safety systems can easily be deemed necessary but can be counterproductive to achieving the fastest, uninterrupted processes. Disruptions caused by physical guarding or manual stops and restarts can be seen as barriers to increased productivity. They can even irritate, tempting impatient operators to cross the system and adopt unsafe practices.

The good news is that the development of intelligent sensing systems offers more opportunities to optimize the flow of goods in high-speed production environments using robust safety systems. They avoid unnecessary stoppages and downtime while continuing to keep people safe.

Physical Protection

For small objects such as bottles, workpieces, or chocolate bars on a conveyor, it is often possible to protect personnel by using physical access routes that are at the correct safety distance from the hazardous area, and this can be achieved with a lower level of technology.

However, in some other types of production installations, physical guards or access routes may be less suitable or take up too much space. Once built, they usually cannot easily accommodate changes in product or carton shape or accept objects larger than the guard. For this reason, electrically sensitive protective equipment (ESPE) such as safety light curtains and safety laser scanners are used on many machines, such as conveyor lines.

Physical protection

Protected Zones

To ensure a continuous flow of material, the ESPE must allow objects to pass through the protection zone without triggering a shutdown safety response but must react if a person reaches the protection zone. The most common way to achieve this is to temporarily “shield” the ESPE as material passes through, using additional sensors to detect recognized objects or people. However, this has some drawbacks, as there is still a residual risk of the shielding system remaining in place when the protection system is briefly bypassed. Shielding sensors require additional space, take more time and effort to install and maintain, and risk displacement or damage.

Light curtain systems offer greater flexibility in installing secure access protection with integrated access monitoring (muting) devices. Pre-configured plug-and-play solutions can be specified as complete muting kits for quick installation, connection, and commissioning.

Safety Laser Scanners

Like the Safety Light Curtain, the Safety Laser Scanner is an ESPE that can be used for human/material differentiation. the Safety Laser Scanner is often used to set up horizontal protection fields, e.g. on AGVs, but it can also be used in vertical applications. The advantage is that where safety light curtains can only bypass a certain number of beams, the safety laser scanner can be set up to recognize more complex shapes with more complex contours and can dynamically change its scanning field. This eliminates the need for additional guards or sensors to detect if someone is approaching the machine while the ESPE is shielded.

In addition, using scanners with safe communication interfaces such as CIP Safety, ProfiSafe, or SICK EFIPro, multiple fields can be evaluated simultaneously to develop more complex people and material recognition applications. SICK‘s Safety Application is a pre-certified solution originally developed for material transfer stations in automotive assembly. It uses intelligent protective field evaluation to enable adaptive production processes so that different vehicles or other objects can pass through. The detection field dynamically changes, e.g. allowing vehicles to pass through, while the rest of the grating still fulfills its protective role.

The development of intelligent sensing systems has also enabled safety light curtain solutions to be promoted as a pre-certified alternative to typical muting. Any type 4 ESPE can be configured as a secure entrance/exit by evaluating multiple material gates simultaneously using only one safety controller.

Protected zones

Intelligent Safety Light Curtains

Recently, plug-and-play safety light curtain solutions have emerged that use intelligent pattern recognition to detect pre-determined objects without the need for muting sensors. the SICK C4000 Fusion and deTec4 Intelligent Safety Light Curtains promote the safe flow of materials without the need to receive signals from an external machine controller. With programmed settings, the C4000 Fusion can allow complex shapes to pass through its array of horizontal light beams.

It is often surprising to learn that the manufacturers with the best safety records are often also the most productive. Of course, machinery safety codes and standards are designed to protect employees, but a well-designed safety system will also improve operational efficiency, not hinder it. Choosing the right safety solution is therefore critical to achieving optimized material flow.

Intelligent sensing systems and software for machinery safety are being developed to enable operators to quickly install and obtain fully certified systems, avoiding unnecessary machinery downtime while continuously protecting employees.

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