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Editorials

Rigorous Standards Help Matrix Deliver Safer Robotic Systems

Matrix Design, LLC

Let’s get one thing straight. Robots are not running wild in the workplace. In reality, robot incidents are rare. According to OSHA, there were 37 robot-related accidents between 1984 and 2013. There were 4,585 workplace fatalities from other causes in 2013 alone. However, robots do demand respect. That’s why Matrix goes to extraordinary lengths to deliver safer robotic devices.

Extraordinary Lengths Defined

Did you know that safety certification of robotics is not required under US law? Some integrators may not even be up to date on current standards. We believe our customers deserve better than that. That’s why Matrix is certified by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). We’re not talking about just hanging a certificate on the wall. Certification involves a demanding process that includes an on-site audit, assessment of key personnel, hours of specialized safety training classes and rigorous exams.

Sounds very impressive – but how exactly does all this carry over to the shop floor? The answer is found in our Matrix 5-Point Safety Checklist that we developed based on the RIA guidelines and that we employ on every installation.

  1. Documentation of Risks

The heart of the checklist is the Task Based Risk Assessment process. Each cell is analyzed, considering each person who might work in or near it to determine the risk exposure for each individual throughout its complete life cycle, from design to it’s decommission. RIA also recommends end users perform their own risk assessment, since they have first hand knowledge of their own facilities working environment. Matrix project managers work with our customers to ensure all risks have been identified. We’ve also employed a risk assessment system that rates risk levels based on severity, level of exposure and avoidance data entered for each hazard. Once the risks have been determined, steps must be taken to mitigate them. 

  1. Making It Safer

Risk reduction measures come in a variety of forms. One of the more common ways to reduce risk is to apply hard guarding such as wire mesh fencing, sheet metal guarding or hoods. These fully welded steel enclosures provide maximum safety by creating a physical barrier between operator and robot.

Another form of risk reduction is sensor type guarding, such as safety scanners, safety light curtains and safety mats. Unlike hard or fixed guarding, sensor type guarding relies on safety sensors that detect someone’s presence, similar to a garage door sensor, automatically slowing or shutting down the robot.

  1. Dual Check Safety

If you can’t keep the human from the robot, keeps the robot from the human. The most advanced safety technology that we employ is the Dual Check Safety (DCS) introduced by FANUC in 2014. Instead of hard guards or sensors, DCS uses internal software that limits the robot’s movement to predetermined boundaries within the work envelope, keeping operators, robots and tooling completely safe. The most significant benefit of DCS is in applications where the robot’s travel needs to be restricted due to floor space or in processes that limit the full reach of the robot. Reduction in floor space can be reduced by as much as 50% by simply setting up these safety zones that restrict the path of the robot.

  1. The Human Element

Customer training is an essential element in our safety program. Making sure the customer has all the documentation and understands each system allows them to train their own employees on the proper operation of the robot within the cell. Plus, proper lockout procedures are prominently displayed outside each cell and are included as part of the standard training we provide every customer.

  1. Final Check

After all mitigation is in place, our application engineers re-assess the risk level at our location once the safety features are employed, and one final time at the customer’s location, ensuring all safety features are working properly on site.

Proactive for Safety

Not all integrators follow RIA safety measures but as an RIA certified integrator, we go above and beyond. Our reward is knowing our customers can trust we’ve made every effort to ensure the safety of their equipment and employees. It’s the way we do business, and we wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

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