New robot safety standard: best practices for a burgeoning productivity tool

Nov 06, 2014

Robot safetyCSA Group's new robot and robot systems safety standard, to be released any day now, includes new user-friendly tools to help workplaces conduct risk assessments, build a safe robot system, and quantitatively measure its functional safety. "This latest version of the standard makes risk assessment priority one," says Tom Eastwood, a WSPS machine safeguarding specialist and chair of the technical committee responsible for CSA-Z434 - Industrial Robots and Robot Systems. "Workplaces need to conduct risk assessments for all aspects of the automation cell they're putting together."

It's a timely approach as more and more workplaces introduce robots, including such innovations as simultaneous motion and collaborative robots. Here in Canada, robot sales grew in 2013 by 29%. Around the world, annual worldwide sales of robots are also growing by double digits.1

The standard's focus on risk assessments is all about implementing best practices, says Jim VanKessel, principal of JVK Industrial Automation Inc. and vice-chair of the technical committee. "To take a piece of hardware and put it into operation is one thing; to do it in a safe manner is quite something else. This standard is the best practice guideline for anyone conducting a Pre-Start Health and Safety Review of a new or modified piece of equipment."

Another key enhancement for users: this version incorporates international robotics design standards. According to VanKessel, "CSA-Z434 is now a world safety standard, not just a Canadian standard."

"This is a boon to Ontario workplaces because so many businesses are multinational," explains Eastwood. "It means they can be consistent from country to country in the design and application of their robotic cells."

International standards are written to address new machines being built, whereas Canadian standards have always included sections on safety training and procedures for end users. CSA-Z434 combines both by providing requirements for:

  • industrial robot manufacture, remanufacture and rebuild,
  • robot system integration or installation,
  • safeguarding methods to protect workers.

These features make the new standard useful to firms of all sizes, including those considering introducing robot systems. "The size and price of robots have been dropping, especially with smaller robots with smaller payloads," says Eastwood. "They're becoming much more accessible, even for smaller firms looking to innovate. Firms that wouldn't have looked at robots previously can now think about introducing them into their process."

Who uses robots

Annual worldwide sales of robots are growing by double digits. These industries are the primary users of robots, or automation systems, based on annual supply:

  • automotive
  • electrical/electronics
  • metal
  • rubber and plastics
  • food
  • pharmaceuticals and cosmetics

What's driving automation

Robots are taking over dangerous, tedious and dirty jobs that are impossible or unsafe for people to perform. Here are some other drivers:

  • a need for greater energy efficiency and the availability of new materials such as carbon composites, which require new production processes,
  • global competition, requiring greater productivity and higher quality,
  • growing consumer markets, requiring expansion of production capacities,
  • shrinking product life cycles,
  • a growing variety of products requiring flexible automation.

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1 Source: International Federation of Robotics