Embracing the Future of Collaborative Robots

Collaborative robots is one of the hottest topics in manufacturing right now.

This exciting technology is being enabled by advances in safety technology, including sensors, robots, and cell controllers.

And it’s attracting manufacturers, OEMs and system integrators alike with promises of increased productivity, reliability and cost savings.

For example, FANUC last year introduced the first-ever force-limited robot: CR-35iA. The robot has a soft outer shell and sophisticated sensing technology. It is designed to work alongside humans collaboratively in a variety of applications and can provide support in areas such as lifting heavy objects, mechanical assembly, palletizing and packing, and material handling.

But before manufacturers and industrial operators can reap the benefits of collaborative robots, they must first understand the safety implications and human impacts of having employees and robots working together on the plant floor.

Standards for Safe Collaboration

In some cases, collaborative robotic applications can reduce the need for safety fencing, which can free up valuable floor space and cut costs for operators. At the same time, they also introduce new safety risks.

The standards ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 and ISO 10218 outline four approved methods for using collaborative robotics on the plant floor:

Safety-rated monitored stop: Safety sensors detect a human’s presence and stop the robot if a worker gets too close.
Hand-guiding operation: Operators stop the robot, enter the work cell and then manually control or reposition the robot based on the task at hand.
Speed and separation monitoring: Operators and robots work in the same space while maintaining a pre-determined distance between them.
Power and force limiting: In this method, if a robot accidentally comes into contact with a human, the robot reduces its force or torque so the human isn’t hurt.
Power and force limiting is an emerging method where the robot may come into contact with a human during its operation. The ISO/TS 15066 standard outlines findings from one study on pain tolerance to help identify just how much force or pressure certain body parts can withstand.

A Learning Process

Collaborative robotic applications are changing the way humans and machinery interact, and they represent an exciting future in manufacturing.

But in order to implement these systems effectively and most importantly safely, manufacturers and industrial operators will need to adopt a new set of standards, tools and approaches to analyzing risk.

Additionally, workforce acceptance of closer human-machine collaboration will require increased diligence on the part of system designers and integrators to be sure of the continued safety of all stakeholders.

Rockwell Automation and FANUC are working together to speak about the future of collaborative robots at the EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference in September. The session, “What You Should Know About Collaborative Robots,” will address the impact that collaborative robotics is having on industrial environments and provide safety guidance for implementation.

Registration for the conference is still open.

This blog was co-authored by George Schuster, TÜV functional safety expert (FSExp), business development manager, Rockwell Automation.

By Paul Santi, General Manager, Powertrain Systems Group, FANUC America

Smart Manufacturing Initiatives Lead to Future Production

The goal for a Connected Enterprise is a secure, productive, and profitable organization guided by data-driven intelligence.

But what if a manufacturer has to make basic improvements before reaping digitally enabled benefits: predictable processes and equipment, a safer workplace, environmentally sound practices?

Here’s the good news: The effort to stabilize operations also can be the first step toward aConnected Enterprise — and generate immediate return on investment.

Stability is elusive for many industrial firms: There were more than 483,000 recordable injuries and illnesses among U.S. manufacturers in 2014, of which 126,000 required time away from work and 341 were fatal.

In 2014, EPA enforcement actions forced companies to invest more than $9.7 billion to control pollution. Nearly one-quarter of U.S. manufacturing plants report machine availability at a pathetic 70 percent or worse, wasting nearly a third of their production capacity. Even worse, many plants suffer from all three issues.

Smart Manufacturing technologies won’t magically fix safety, environmental, and reliability problems; there’s no digital elixir that can cure a toxic culture.

But data drawn from automated equipment can connect to dashboards, can illuminate key performance indicators, and can lay the foundation for intelligent improvement. Integrated sensor technologies and the data they offer (e.g., vibration, temperature, energy draw, exhausts) are key to:

Improving Employee Safety and Environmental Compliance

Manufacturers can systematically address safety problems by designing solutions that integrate safety and machine functionality.

This process begins with heightened awareness of problems, identification of new requirements; system redesign (i.e., designing hazards out mechanically, removing hazards, or building in automated alerts); and implementation of safer production systems.

All these require 24/7 monitoring and periodic reviews and upgrades as technologies and standards evolve.

Increasing Machine Uptime

Connecting smarter machine assets improves control of complex production processes and helps to reduce equipment downtime by replacing obsolete or hard-to-connect automation systems.

Intelligent sensors and controls deliver data — such as equipment status for analytics, visualization, and exception-based reporting — that surface downtime issues.

Pushing this information to mobile devices on the plant floor offers access to real-time production information — e.g., machine availability, overall equipment effectiveness — and delivers diagnostics data to maintenance personnel.

Management will know the location of a downtime problem, the specifics of the machine failure, and what will be required to fix it.

Are you ready for safer, compliant, smarter, and more profitable manufacturing?

By Beth Parkinson, Market Development Director, Connected Enterprise, Rockwell Automation

Be Honest: How Secure is Your Enterprise?

Security is the number one concern of manufacturers looking to bring Industrie 4.0 to life. Statistics show that people are right to worry.

Forbes estimates that the annual cost of cybercrime to the global economy will rise to as much as a staggering $2 trillion per year by 2019, and as many as one in every five companies has suffered a security breach leading to intellectual property loss according Kaspersky in 2014.

It’s often hard for the manufacturing community to talk about its experiences – businesses have a multitude of reasons not to freely admit to security vulnerabilities.

Talking to manufacturing executives throughout EMEA, I’m at times pleasantly surprised and at times slightly concerned by the levels of security understanding I encounter.

Some companies have an established security strategy and embedded security culture, and their leaders want to talk to me about how our alliance with Cisco and The Connected Enterprise concept can help deliver some of the most secure networking protocols commercially available into the industrial space.

Other companies are less advanced and know that security is an issue but have very patchy understanding and knowledge –such as “don’t use memory sticks.”

That’s good advice of course – we all remember the Stuxnet virus that hit the headlines six years ago by attacking specific PLCs is widely thought to have propagated through USB sticks, but it’s a drop in the ocean of a proper defense-in-depth industrial security approach to counter the highly evolved methods used by cyber criminals today.

Let’s quickly put to bed the notion that any manufacturer can realistically avoid security risk by keeping their businesses “offline.” The evolution towards more integrated and connected manufacturing won’t go away.

The drivers for this are numerous – productivity, efficiency, maintenance, uptime, and supply chain benefits not only make it appealing, they make not embracing the new era an unsustainable approach. Some industries, such as pharmaceutical, are moving towards a legal requirement for data visibility to provide the serialisation and traceability information needed at point of sale for their products.

It’s hard to think of a good analogy, but perhaps you could say trying to keep production “offline” would be like trying to run a business without email.

Yes it was possible once, no, it’s not possible now. Moreover, most manufacturers already have one foot through the door with IT and ERP systems online. It’s vital that such businesses have an active strategy for industrial security.

For companies embracing the Industrie 4.0 principles, any point of weakness in either IT or OT potentially exposes the whole enterprise, so even if you have the latest patches and a state-of-the-art firewall, if the latest addition to the production line was installed with (cheaper) unmanaged network switches, for example, anyone could potentially plug in directly and gain access to your entire business.

So, what do I tell people to do? Well, no matter how developed your approach to industrial security, it’s a journey, not a destination. It requires constant vigilance and a security culture within the company.

Most importantly, the starting point is to assess where your security is and to adopt that layered, defense-in-depth approach I mentioned.

As more and more operational technology (OT) is connected to information technology (IT) there become more potential points of entry to business critical information.

Controlling the levels of access for employees and contract workers, actively managing security patch updates and using the full extent of physical and electronic mechanisms should be twinned with company policies, procedures and guidelines.

How safe is your enterprise? If you’re not sure, it’s definitely time to evaluate your approach and look for the right technology allies.


By Thomas Donato, President, EMEA, Rockwell Automation