Flexibility and productivity are major trends in the field of industrial automation. However, increasing one needn’t mean decreasing the other. There are already some initial approaches, such as flexible production cells and systems, which can help you strike the right balance. These pose new challenges for functional safety if a person interacts directly with the automated environment. To ensure that this does not lead to bottlenecks when implementing this “flexible manufacturing” solution, linking in automation and safety expertise is essential.
As a result, flexible safety concepts, which meet the requirements but leave enough scope for flexibility in production processes, are currently being developed in collaboration with customers. The wide range of safety-related sensor and controller solutions from SICK allow you to design protection mechanisms in a flexible manner and adapt them to the situation at hand. The Flexi Soft safety controller offers a wide variety of options for programming monitoring scenarios and integrating various safety sensors. In addition, Flexi Soft can also process the signals from non-safe sensors from SICK such as cylinder sensors on robotic grippers, thereby simplifying the automation solution as a whole.
With the certified Safeguard Detector functional safety system, the safety and productivity of packaging machines can be increased. The system has a modular structure and consists of a Flexi Soft safety controller and two MultiPulse MultiTask photoelectric sensors. The Safeguard Detector securely detects whether a movable physical guard is located at a previously defined position, e.g., the packaging material in the carton magazine of packaging machines. If there is sufficient packaging in the carton magazine, then it is not possible to reach into the hazardous area while the machine is running. Safeguard Detector provides flexible protection for machines which are constantly adjusting packaging formats and production ranges during operation. In line with the trend toward modular systems, an ingeniously simple solution for safely connecting system modules in a network was developed together with a system manufacturer: the Global E-Stop. System operators need to be able to replace individual machine modules, integrate new modules into the overall plant, and combine modules in new ways. However, this must work without having to invest huge amounts of time and money in wiring or programming in order to ensure the safe and secure networking of machine modules.
Intelligent hazardous area protection
Robots are already able to operate without being surrounded by a safety fence. Safety laser scanners from SICK monitor the precisely defined robot surroundings and are connected to the safety controller of the robot. The easy-to-program protective field geometries can be easily adapted to the individual layout in question. Countless monitoring scenarios can be set to automation mode at any time. Downtime is also reduced by an automated restart.
Modern robot systems feature safely monitored axles and drives. Safety limits can be set for the robot operation space in the robot’s controller. These make sure that the robot reference point (tool center point) does not leave the defined working area under any circumstances. Various protective fields are activated in the safety laser scanner on the basis of these safety limits. The protective field is always larger than the working area of the robot. Stopping/run-down times and approach speeds must also be taken into account. This ensures that any personnel are detected in good time and that the robot is stopped before a hazard arises for the person.
Building flexible production processes with a high level of automation while also protecting personnel, machines, and entire plants, is a challenge which is already giving rise to step-by-step solutions. The new communication options and the functionalities of safe sensors, combined with non-safe sensors, represent beneficial application solutions – reliably and with an increase in productivity.