The introduction of collaborative robots (cobots) in manufacturing has presented some unique safety challenges for production workers, engineers, managers, and safety professionals. In my opinion, cobots represent the ingenuity driven by continual process improvement for sustainable and safe work.
Following up on my last blog post, I continue the discussion acknowledging that safety is not trivial or to be taken for granted. It is multi-level and is tied to the long-term success of each project and every client. The first three levels of safety covered were operator, consumer/customer, and product/process. This post covers the remaining two: equipment and environment.
Safety is not trivial or to be taken for granted. It comes in multiple varieties, is multi-level, and is inherently tied to the long-term success of each project and every client. These levels of safety include operator, consumer/customer, product/process, equipment and environment. Each level requires and receives due diligence, understanding the unique parameters of the project and the measures of success that bound the work. Several of these levels will be described further here, highlighting the value delivered to the project in the safe and efficient process and outcome of the work. The remaining safety levels will be discussed in a subsequent post.
When you stop and think about it, what control system integrators are brought in to deliver is some specific capability with our expertise and experience that ensures the safe and efficient accomplishment of the mission. If the client’s own internal experts, or certified integrators, are not able to do the job, then other resources (uncredentialled, unverified) might be asked to do the work, jeopardizing the processes, procedures and qualitative metrics.
Pet food manufacturing is a 20-billion-dollar industry. In the United States, the manufacture of pet food is regulated in the same way and with the same rigid requirements that are required for the manufacture of any food. At Optimation we are engaged in the construction of pet food plants as well as facilities for the dairy and other food products. We know that the facilities for both are the same. They must be sanitary, easy to maintain and clean. The control systems must maintain the same high standards for metering, mixing and packaging.
The pet food industry in the United States is huge and growing. In 2017, American families spent over 30 million dollars on pet food. On average that’s about 800 dollars per year per pet. There are about 300 manufacturers making this pet food in the United States. If you’re a pet owner yourself, these numbers may not be much of a surprise! What you may not realize is that just like food for people, pet food is regulated.
Today there are stringent regulations put in place by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the manufacturing of food for pets. These regulations are strict enough that some feel they hinder the growth of the pet food market. The regulations were put in place to assure several things. It’s mandatory that pet food be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, free of harmful substances, and labeled truthfully. Canned pet food must also comply with the regulations for any low-acid canned food. Much of the motivation to enhance regulations for pet food was driven pet food recalls that took place in 2007.
When news such as this most recent E. coli outbreak striking romaine lettuce hits the industry and the food chain, it is cause for concern and action. Safeguards get challenged, systems audited, processes analyzed, and conventional wisdom is questioned. There can be no areas off-limits, no “sacred cows” that avoid scrutiny. Everything must be assessed to ensure we protect the security of the consumers and all the elements of the world’s most complex and efficient system feeding Americans and people worldwide.
Getting employees to follow the rules, even rules that keep them safe, is difficult. For some segments of the population this seems impossible. Everyone knows, for example, that talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous, and against the law in most states. But a large percentage of the population continue to talk on a handheld phone while driving anyway. This is even more true of texting and driving. And accidents and deaths continue.
When challenging and important manufacturing tasks get tackled, risks abound. Materials choices, volatile material handling methods, confined space working areas, complex machinery, and many more factors and conditions apply pressure to safe and efficient work. We can take lessons from past events and near-misses and remind ourselves to study our practices to ensure that corners are not cut and best practices are employed to assure workplace safety.