A safer workplace can lead to healthier workers, lower injury costs, less stress and higher employee retention.
As the manufacturing industry has become more competitive, many manufacturers have turned to automation to improve their efficiency and productivity while cutting costs in the long run. Automation reduces repetitive tasks, provides greater uptime and improves the quality of products.
On top of that, automation can also contribute to worker safety in multiple ways. A safer workplace keeps workers healthy, reduces the costs of injuries, creates a stress-free environment and helps with employee retention. Here are some ways automation can make your plant a safer place.
Automating the High-Risk Production Tasks
Automating production processes is one of the central parts of creating a smart factory. CNC machines, robots, turn-over machines, conveyors and others are widely used to improve productivity and efficiency.
Most plants tend to run manufacturing processes which feature some hazardous conditions for the workers. It might be working close to a large lathe machine or using machining tools (like a drill) that can cause severe injuries when they break down or get mishandled. For such tasks, automation becomes a safety investment which might also improve efficiency as a byproduct.
With automation for high-risk tasks, the workers stay away from hazardous conditions, and the chances of incidents and injuries get reduced.
Energoinwest Serwis achieved that by switching from manual to robotic welding in their bucket teeth manufacturing process. The main issue with manual welding was harmful fumes—their workers were endangering themselves every day with exposure to ultraviolet and infrared radiation.
They installed two robots that are programmed to weld bucket teeth, and equipped their workstations with extraction hoods that prevent welding fumes from spreading. That way, their workers could perform the remaining tasks in a safer environment.
Using AS/RS and AGVs for Material Handling
Material handling refers to any short-distance movement of material—like transportation or loading in a manufacturing plant. It is an important but repetitive task that is always taking place, across the entire production system. Material handling regulations demand the safety of workers working with manufactured products and equipment like forklifts, trailers and handheld machining tools.
Automating material handling can ensure worker health and safety by removing repetitive tasks from the production line. Two of the most popular automation technologies for material handling are AS/RS and AGVs. They reduce the human-machine interaction and reduce human errors which cause 19 percent of all downtime.
Having manual workers use tools and vehicles inside the plant also increases the risk of accidents; this can be mitigated by automating the material handling.
Workers in proximity to hazardous materials—like harmful gasses, powders or liquids—face some of the most challenging working conditions. Using AS/RS and AGVs also makes handling and storage of such hazardous material safer by removing human interaction.
Helping Workers with Cobots
Cobots are smart, collaborative robots that can do tasks like carrying materials, handing the tools or providing support during processes. Instead of classic robots that only perform the same repetitive processes, they provide a flexible alternative that makes them useful in various settings.
Cobots can improve safety by doing the high-risk parts of a job, like using a grinder or manually lifting heavy parts. They are equipped with sensors and run on programs that allow them to sense humans and avoid accidents. As they improve over time, workers will start feeling more comfortable working around them, and the plants will be able to mitigate risks even further.
Sanofi wanted to optimize its packaging lines and upgrade to three operators for packaging lines instead of two. Aside from that, they wanted to reduce the load their workers carried throughout their work day (which went up to 1,500 pounds per person). To solve these two challenges, they came to a decision to implement cobots.
One of the most important benefits they reap now is increased safety—instead of their workers, cobots load and unload the pallets, travel around the factory and work on the packing line. Their workers point out how they love collaborating with them and feel safe around them since they stop working as human contact approaches.
Keeping Workers Safe using Sensors
Industrial Internet of Things can be utilized for safety using sensors on workers and assets and tracking workers inside the plant to ensure they don’t enter a restricted area. Many plants have warning and penalty systems for workers found breaking such rules, and sensors can help with efficient implementation.
The use of wearables enhances safety through proactive injury prevention and improved situational awareness. Wearables warn workers about hot surfaces, malfunctioning equipment and physical overwork. Additionally, such technology helps them be more aware of the environment around them—such as moving machinery. Sensors can also help and create mechanisms that stop machines when a worker enters an unsafe perimeter.
Investing in workplace safety is vital for a manufacturing plant to ensure the well-being of workers and to stay competitive. Any work hours lost to an avoidable incident or injury hampers the productivity and efficiency of the plant. Automation creates a safer workplace by taking away high-risk jobs from the workers and provides an opportunity to bring the entire plant under one system through systems integration.