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Machine Builders Define Needs For Machine Safeguarding

April 24, 2003
Customer requirements and automation reliability are paramount in selection criteria

Having earlier reported encouraging growth projections for the purchase and use of machine safeguarding equipment, newly released results from a Venture Development Corp.(VDC) survey examined the process by which system designers and engineers select components for machine safeguarding applications.

The study reviewed selection criteria for safety barriers, electronic safety edges, laser scanners, light curtains, mats, single and multi-beam opto-electronic devices; emergency-stop palm buttons; two-hand safety controls including ergonometric, electromechanical, and pneumatic; safety controllers/modules/relays; programmable safety systems; and safety interlock switches.

These products are used by nearly every segment of the industrial machine universe including assembly, material handling, metalworking, packaging, and robotic machinery, for a wide range of industries such as automotive, electronic components and products, food and beverage, paper converting, primary metals, and semiconductor.

During this study VDC asked end users, OEMs, and system integrators a series of questions about their selection of machine safeguarding equipment and how they chose the vendors of this equipment. Not surprisingly, protection of personnel was easily the most identified selection criterion. Meeting OSHA requirements was a distant second. The study concludes this indicates that, despite all the publicity surrounding new safety standards and European safety standards, users understand that only OSHA has enforcement authority in the U.S., and that since the safety products on the market meet OSHA standards (obsolete or not) they are acceptable. For the most part, the study concludes users are not presently concerned with the prospect of potential new and/or revised standards.

Choosing Automatic or Manual

Users were asked to identify how they choose between use of automatic rather than non-automated machine safeguarding products.

The industrial OEMs and system integrators made it clear that one of the prime motivations (31% of the respondents) about how they specify is based on what customers tell them. Another 19% chose automatic systems for better reliability. It's clear that meeting OSHA requirements is generally not a factor in these choices either, with less than 5% of the respondents indicating that as a consideration.

The study asked users about the most important performance and feature considerations in their selection of automatic machine safeguarding products. Reliability was by far the most cited consideration, with 76% signing on to that need.

The results point out, based on survey interviews with vendors and commissioning, certifying, and servicing organizations, that reliability and other performance criteria are pretty much discounted by users due to product similarities, and is usually secondary to price in selection of the products and vendors.

Most vendors, particularly those that supply products rather than complete safety or automation control systems, argued that users are unwilling to pay more for additional performance and/or features, and will only consider these when prices are relatively equal. This has led to a trend by vendors to re-engineer their products to include more features, without increasing prices.

The Effect of Standards

An overwhelming majority of respondents indicated the standards they have to meet now and expect to meet in the future are one and the same: OSHA standards. About 40% of the respondents indicated they expect standards changes over the next five years because of worker safety, labor union demands, and legal liabilities issues. About 50% of the responders, moreover, believe that European standards would be incorporated into the requirements through more strict OSHA standards and/or ANSI guidelines.

The participants were asked what changes they thought would be required in the automatic machine safety products they purchase as a result of those anticipated changes in safety standards. Those most identified in ranked order of responses are:

1. More electronics/more automated

2. Better/more consistent performance

3. Higher quality/reliability

4. More built-in redundancies

5. Easier to use and configure

In addition to the comments of users, VDC asked vendors, ANSI and OSHA representatives, and commissioning, certifying, and servicing organizations how changing safety standards will alter the automatic machine safeguarding products. These groups listed more built in redundancy and dual channel control capability as the two major anticipated changes.

More information about the study is available at www.vdc.com.

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