Global manufacturers face the challenge of running operations in multiple countries around the world where safety is often dependent on the ability of personnel to comprehend instructions for operating critical safety equipment. Although manufacturers of safety equipment typically translate their manuals into languages native to the areas where they are used, operators of the equipment may be left scratching their heads when the safety manual is mistakenly provided in the wrong language or gets misplaced. Omron makes light curtains that are used to protect the perimeter of machinery and equipment presenting a danger to individuals approaching the equipment while it is running. Light curtains control access to the hazardous equipment by emitting harmless infrared light beams across a plane, typically the entrance to the hazardous area. When any of the beams are obstructed, the light curtain control circuit initiates a stop signal to the guarded machine. Light curtains can be mounted in either a horizontal or a vertical plane and can guard areas many meters wide—sometimes as large as 20 m.
According to Mike Frey, product marketing manager for safety light curtains and laser scanners at Omron, light curtains are inherently reliable, but the potential exists for problems such as a DIP switch being set to the wrong value or a wire being pinched. Internal diagnostics are used to provide information about the cause of an error, but these diagnostics are only useful to the extent that the operator can understand them.
"Omron has an interesting and possibly unique answer to this problem." says Frey. "Our new F3SG-RA global safety light curtain comes with stickers in eight languages—English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German and Italian. Each sticker has a QR code that can be scanned by an operator with a smartphone or tablet whenever a problem arises. Scanning the code brings up a website that provides online support and troubleshooting in the user’s language, keyed to the diagnostic signals provided by the light curtain. The QR code also provides quick access to a manual in the user’s language."
For example, the lockout indicator on the light curtain receiver might be blinking along with the on/off indicator. "When users go to the troubleshooting website, they will be first asked to select the component with the indicators blinking," explains Frey. “When they select the receiver, they are asked to select the status of the lockout indicator. The user selects blink and then chooses the number of blinks—in this case, one. Finally, the user is asked to select the blinking indicators and picks the on/off indicator. The user is then presented with a graphic showing the lights that are blinking and is asked to confirm the combination to see the solution. The answer instantly appears: 'Safety output lines may be short-circuited to each other, or another signal line may be short-circuited to the safety output line. Wire the safety output lines properly.'"
Omron also provides a feature that allows manufacturers to select one light curtain regardless of where the machines may ship. In Europe and North America, PNP outputs are normally used, while NPN is the standard in Asia. So manufacturers typically must use two different models in their Asian and North American/European plants. The situation is further complicated because companies manufacturing outside of the home territory, such as plants operated by Japanese auto manufacturers in the United States, often follow the standards used back home. "Omron is perhaps the only light curtain provider that makes it possible to switch from PNP to NPN and vice versa with a DIP switch, meaning a single model can be used around the world," explains Frey.
The new light curtain also simplifies the installation process, continues Frey. "The traditional approach for mounting light curtains typically involved mounting a bracket to the top and bottom of the emitter and receiver and then lining up the brackets with holes and fastening it to the machine. The F3SG-4RA series features mounting brackets that slide onto channels in the light curtain body with just a single 3-mm hex head to tighten, which enables positioning the bracket anywhere along the light curtain's length without additional screws, washers and clamps. To reduce wiring and installation time, the unit also comes with Omron Smartclick M12 connectors, which require just a 1/8 turn to get a secure and reliable IP67 waterproof connection," he says.