How to combine safety and productivity? What international developments are taking place in the field of machine safety and how is SICK responding to them? An interview with Dr. Georg Plasberg, Head of the “Industrial Safety Systems” division at SICK, about safety as added value: added value in terms of functional safety but also legal safeguards.
SICKinsight: safetyPLUS® is the global competence label for functional safety from SICK. Dr. Plasberg – what does the “PLUS” in safetyPLUS® mean for SICK’s customers?
Dr. Plasberg: safetyPLUS® stands for the comprehensive services that SICK provides in relation to all aspects of machine safety. Plus stands for the extensive support that we provide for our customers in regard to the functional safety of their machines and systems. For example, global advice, on hand knowledge, a simplified engineering process, and above all, support aimed at increasing the production efficiency of our customers. In short: safetyPLUS® creates safety – in terms of legal safeguards and functional safety – as an individual added benefit for our customers. Our aim is to provide optimum support to our customers, wherever they are in the world, from development of the machine, commissioning and use, to retrofitting and modernization.
SICKinsight: How is SICK able to do this?
Dr. Plasberg: SICK is directly represented by a worldwide network of 140 safety experts in over 80 countries. We have consistently expanded our portfolio in recent years so that we are able to offer the right services and solutions for both simple and complex safety issues. Our product portfolio which features safety switches, opto-electronic protective devices, and safe control solutions, including Motion Control safety controllers, provides our customers with all the components they need in a wide range of versions suitable for different applications.
SICKinsight: Is it only large global companies, such as Continental, which benefit from safetyPLUS®?
Dr. Plasberg: Many small machine building companies rely on advice and external safety expertise, as they focus on their core area of knowledge, the automation functions. The heads of these companies also want to sleep soundly so they send their employees to seminars and workshops.
SICK shares its knowledge and experience with over 3,000 participants at these events each year. For example, our “Six steps to a safe machine” guidelines are a practical reference for all machine builders. These guidelines have been one of the most popular SICK publications for a number of years. These are continually updated as can be seen from the latest edition.
SICKinsight: What do you think of international developments in the area of machine safety?
Dr. Plasberg: We keep an eye on significant developments in the industry to increase efficiency and flexibility for machines and systems and the accompanying more stringent requirements of our customers, which we support with corresponding safety concepts. At the same time, increasing international regulations are arising in relation to the safety of machines and systems to protect workers. In Brazil, for example, the NR12 has come into effect as a type of Machinery Directive while in China, binding standards exist and are arising for machine operators and manufacturers with ever increasing frequency. Europe, in particular Germany, continues to be the leader in the area of functional safety.
SICKinsight: How does SICK react to this type of global challenge?
Dr. Plasberg: The challenge is to actively help to shape this progress. It is important to us and our customers, that our solutions meet worldwide requirements, technically, legally, and in terms of standards. To do this, SICK devotes considerable resources to research and development and we play an active role in around 65 standards committees with 18 representatives.
SICKinsight: There are also noticeable developments in machine safety requirements outside of Europe. How does SICK meet the requirements in new markets?
Dr. Plasberg: As already mentioned, transparency in the development of regulations is a basic requirement. At the same time, we provide our sales organization with a training program which is tailored to the region so that they are able to advise customers and develop individual solutions. These are important steps in providing competent global support. Our customers benefit from our global presence, for example, if they operate globally distributed production sites or export their machines to other countries.
SICKinsight: Does this mean that all SICK’s sales employees are safety experts?
Dr. Plasberg: Due to the size of the SICK portfolio, the wide range of technologies, and the variety of applications, this is simply not possible. However, each sales employee possesses a firm understanding of all our products and the most common applications. Our training and tools enable sales to ask customers questions which will allow them to quickly find the right solution or to provide our experts with the information they need to find a solution.
SICKinsight: Where are the 140 safety experts you mentioned based?
Dr. Plasberg: In our subsidiaries around the world and in our competence centers in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Our on-site knowledge sets us apart from many other large machine safety providers.
SICKinsight: Can customers also find the right safety solution themselves?
Dr. Plasberg: We try to guide customers toward a technical protective device which meets their requirements. Many of our customers carry out important preliminary work, such as a risk analysis, themselves. However, this can also be performed by SICK.
We developed our “Safety Tasks” for use as guidance. These show application descriptions and are used interactively and in print as a graphical aid or guide. The customer is able to rapidly identify their application and is directed to product recommendations. Our “Six steps to a safe machine” guidelines are ideal for gaining the necessary knowledge or for explanations of special terms and functions. Our website also contains white papers which explain technical matters.
SICKinsight: And what issues will SICK focus on next in product development?
Dr. Plasberg: Simplification of safety engineering, efficient commissioning of safety functions, and intelligent support of our customers’ production processes are at the top of our priority list. This will minimize sources of error and prevent options for manipulation. This means we are making products and tools that are increasingly intelligent, which provide a simple interface for users or to customers’ systems. In this way, we are also meeting the requirements for increasingly complex applications with a high level of interaction between safety and automation technology.
SICKinsight: Can you name a few examples?
Dr. Plasberg: A current example is our V300 safety camera system, which can independently teach-in the protective field or the automatic scanning range setting of our new generation of deTec safety light curtains. There’s also our S3000 laser scanner with direct and safe PROFINET interface or the Flexi Loop safe sensor cascade, where safety and diagnostics operate via a cable and standard sensors are connected.
SICKinsight: And how will development progress?
Dr. Plasberg: We still see a lot of industrial and commercial areas where the necessary protection for systems and persons hasn’t taken root, in some cases because the technology is not available. And it’s here that we have identified starting points for future developments. Another strategic focus, as already mentioned, is to make it easier for our customers to ensure their machines are safe.
- Overview and download: Guide for Safe Machinery
- Product portfolio: Opto-electronic protective devices, safety switches, sens:Control – safe control solutions
- All articles: Machine safety