August 4, 2020

Industrial, Manufacturing and Commercial Robotics Safety Standards

person in hard hat standing next to large autonomous machines in a manufacturing setting

Industrial, manufacturing, and commercial robot safety standards play a key role when using autonomous technology in the work place.

There are over 1.5 million robotics machines operating in industrial settings worldwide.

The vast array of functionality and abilities of these robotics machines lends itself to some key safety standards as companies work to keep employees safe on the job.

What Is Robotics Safety and Why Is It Important?

Robotics technology has its advantages, from helping to take on dangerous work in manufacturing settings to relieving staff from routine cleaning in commercial and office settings, it can help people in many ways. Finding reputable companies and equipment with enhanced safety features is key to ensuring workplace safety for all people involved.

Robotics Safety in Industrial Environments

In industrial environments most robotics equipment is stationary—the robotics operations happen with large arms and moving parts. These machines work alongside people or autonomously and most companies have added a maintenance technician or operator position to program and run the machines—this person also functions as a safety monitor, as these machines are generally large and handle dangerous operations.

Unfortunately, cases of injury in manufacturing settings largely happen during the repairs or maintenance of these machines—affecting the machine operator. According to OSHA,

“The proper selection of an effective robotics safety system must be based on hazard analysis of the operation involving a particular robot.”

OSHA outlines a hazard analysis that includes “the start-up and the programming procedures, environmental conditions and location of the robot, requirements for corrective tasks to sustain normal operations, human errors, and possible robot malfunctions.”

Essentially, a full assessment of location and operating procedures should be conducted to determine any risk involved in operating robotics technology in a planned space.

Robotics Safety in Commercial and Manufacturing Environments

Non-stationary robotics safety in commercial and manufacturing environments can have a separate set of safety issues but all are important to consider when employing robotics equipment as part of the team. Choosing robotics equipment from companies that put emphasis on safety and create equipment with safety features is important.

The risk factors with commercial or service robotics has more to do with people and objects in the path of the equipment rather than risk of injury during maintenance or operation. This is due to equipment like floor scrubbers or sweepers that are run by a person, or autonomously, but move around a space to complete the work. Safety features in this case are created to detect objects in the robot’s path.

Steps to Ensuring Robotics Safety in the Workplace

Step One: Strategic Floor Plan Route Mapping

No matter the industry, mapping the floor plan for placement of and route of robotics equipment is essential to understanding any potential risks involved in operation.

Stationary Robotics Equipment

In industrial settings, it is imperative to have the proper size operating space. Much of the robotics used in manufacturing and industrial settings have robotic arms that move and shift. The area of operation needs to be large enough for the machine to function without potential harm to operators and passersby.

OSHA offers a list of suggestions for barrier guards, such as Interlocked Barrier Guards and Fixed Barrier Guards.

These are structures built around the robotics technology that either shut down the equipment when a person is present, or in the case of Fixed Barrier Guards, need to be removed to get to the equipment—they are a fence like structure that prevent people from accidentally wandering into the potentially dangerous work space.

Non-Stationary Robotics Equipment

For non-stationary robotics equipment, it is best to map the floor plan to be aware of any potential collision or high traffic points. Floor route mapping capabilities are designed to prevent collision and to detect high traffic points—increasing safety around people and objects.

The technology for this type of use has become even more advanced using autonomous floor sweepers and floor scrubbers that are designed for strategic floor plan route mapping. Robots such as these are built to navigate real-world settings, working alongside people and objects reducing risk of injury or human error.

The route mapping works as a safety feature in these instances.

Step Two: Emergency Stop and Brakes

Stationary Robotics Equipment

Safety devices like Presence Sensing Mats and Curtains can be used around manufacturing robots to work as a type of emergency stop, however, they have not been proven to be the most reliable and research and testing is still being done to enhance these tools.

According to OSHA, the best type of emergency stop for industrial robotics are Dynamic Braking systems as hitting an emergency button, that suddenly cuts power, could cause more harm to the operator due to sudden or reflex movements of the equipment.

Choosing the right braking system is a complex task based on the type of robotics equipment and is typically part of the manufacturing process of the actual equipment. These braking systems are designed to slow or stop the machine, if an issue should arise, without an immediate loss of power.

Emergency buttons are typically installed in a location outside of the robotics operating area so anyone nearby can access the emergency stop in case of emergency.

Non-Stationary Robotics Equipment

Moving and Autonomous robotics are equipped with different safety features due to the constant movement throughout a space. Some of these are:

  • Safety zone: Sensor-enabled system that allows the robot to continuously scan and sense its surrounding environment. (*Note: robotics machines in industrial settings have safety zones as well—typically mapped off areas with caution tape or the barrier methods noted above).
  • Machines run between 1.2 mph and 2.2 mph and adjust speed as appropriate.
  • Autonomous robotics stops 3-4 times faster than a human operator, due to continuous decision-making processes.
  • Multi-layered set of redundancies: using a combination of LIDAR (a light-based surveying method) and 3D time-of-flight depth sensors.
  • Are built with easy to recognize emergency stop buttons in easily accessible locations on the equipment.

Step Three: Light and Noise Indicators and Operational Logic

Light and noise indicators are some of the most noticeable safety tools simply due to the flashing lights, colors, and alarming noises. Each one plays a key role in keeping a space safe while the machine is running.

Light Indicators: Blinking lights of differing colors installed on all robotics equipment to signal any issues with the robot. Red, for example, can mean there is an obstacle in the way, or the robot is stopping. Green, typically indicates robot is working and functioning properly. Autonomous technology is often built with overlapping sensors so that the robot can detect and avoid people and objects while working. The machines also have easy to access emergency stop and power buttons.

Audible Alerts: Autonomous robotics are designed to give audible alerts when there is an obstacle in the way or when the machine travels around blind corners, making its presence known. This is a common safety feature to industrial, manufacturing, and commercial equipment.

Operational Logic: Technology like that of BrainOS, created by one of the leading autonomous navigation companies in the U.S., BrainCorp, allows the robot to detect static obstacles and moving obstacles. The robot will stop, navigate around the obstacle, and then return to its route when clear. The robot will only continue once safe passage is detected and will alert the mobile user if it cannot go ahead with the job.

Step Four: Installation, Training and Testing

Proper installation, testing, and training are key to ensuring safety on job sites and during operation.

Installation is key to ensuring robotics equipment is set to operate properly from the beginning. This can be a detailed job depending on the type of robot and the scope of its work, however, the time should be spent to take all steps necessary for proper installation.

Some of OSHA’s recommendations for installation of robotics equipment are:

  • To follow manufacturer’s guides and codes for all operations
  • To make sure power to the robot complies with manufacturer’s standards
  • To make sure robotics equipment is stable and will not tip over
  • To make sure robots are compatible with environmental conditions
  • Installation for collaborative or autonomous robotics may have slightly different recommendations due to the non-stationary nature of the robot but most will follow these standards as well; it is also important to remember to store the equipment away from heavy traffic areas and that training is key.

Training employees correctly and giving them time to adjust to working with robots is a crucial step in ensuring safety.

Training should include a full overview of the machine, safety features, locations of emergency stop and brake buttons, as well as making sure the employee feels comfortable working with the machine. Having an operator nearby when robots are working will also ensure safety standards are being followed by others on the premises.

The importance of testing cannot be stressed enough. Testing robots in their unique environments with their unique operators is a step that should not be skipped. In line with training, testing will help to increase performance and decrease risk of emergency situations.

ICE Cobotics is a leading manufacturer of autonomous floor cleaning equipment in partnership with SoftBank Robotics for Whiz, our autonomous sweeper. We specialize in the subscription model that includes training through multiple platforms, enhanced safety features through BrainOS technology, and an expansive fleet management tracking system. We are here to help with any floor cleaning safety related questions or concerns.

Contact Us to learn more about our services and equipment.

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