As more companies adopt Industry 4.0 technologies, the factories of yesterday are getting smarter and turning into—well, smart factories. These changes are helping manufacturers become more efficient, effective, and profitable.
Though humans may be doing less physical work, safety is just as important as ever.
When deciding to move toward becoming a smart factory, attention needs to be given to safety. Any automation project, no matter how small, needs to go through a rigorous safety and risk assessment evaluation. Only when this is done and all potential safety concerns are addressed and mitigated should you move ahead with the project. No short cuts on safety or potential issues are acceptable.
When selecting your solution or automation provider, questions need to be asked about what they do to assess safety, as well as what risk mitigation solutions they provide. If the answers are not solid and convincing, shop for another provider.
As tools and automation have become smarter, so have many safety devices. Industry 4.0 has brought a wide range of safety devices that could help protect your most valuable resource—your employees.
For example, Lidar uses laser beams to measure and establish a D3 image of its surroundings, mapping out distances and slowing or shutting equipment down if a safety concern is detected. Safety floor mats that shut down robots or other automated equipment when humans get too close are another example.
Regardless of the safety measures in place, it is important to ensure your employees understand that protections could fail. They need to be aware that machines can suddenly start or change directions.
Tools like VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) can help improve training. For example, VR can be used to train staff offline, having them walk through tasks to see if they have struggles or issues. This technology can be of great value for confined space, LOTO, or other hazardous training. You can train employees in a real-world setting without exposing them to the hazards, only letting them perform the task once they have mastered it in VR. Or you could equip your staff with AR goggles, allowing a trainer to remotely monitor and assist them. AR and VR can also be used in classroom settings to allow everyone to see and experience a task before they are exposed to potential risk. Both tools can be used to train and test employees on forklift duties, spray painting, welding, and more.
Another tool is the exoskeleton, which can be worn by employees who perform repetitive or heavy-lifting tasks. An exoskeleton reduces the load and can be set to ensure the employee performs the task using the correct motion.
Smart gloves have advanced to include built-in scanners, motion detectors, cameras, and much more. Smart gloves can eliminate the need for an employee to carry a bar-code reader and can also be used to ensure tasks are performed in the right sequence and with the correct motion. Smart gloves can improve ergonomics and accuracy while reducing fatigue, stress, and assembly errors.
Industry 4.0 has also brought micro-sensors and Bluetooth connectivity to the factory floor. This allows manufacturers to retrofit legacy equipment with remote monitoring of oil viscosity, temperature, and bearing, screw, or slide vibrations. Early detection can help prevent machine breakdowns, fires, and safety hazards to your employees.
In conclusion, Industry 4.0 can improve your operational indicators and help protect your employees from potential hazards and dangers.