Smart Safety Increases Productivity & Operational Resilience in The New Normal

Author photo: Craig Resnick
By Craig Resnick


The COVID-19 pandemic has quite possibly disrupted and changed industry more abruptly than any other single event. This has drastically impacted the need for manufacturers and processors to accelerate their digital transformation Smart Safety Solutionsjourney from years to weeks in order to respond in real-time to abrupt market changes and become more agile, productive, and operationally resilient, which is the only way that companies can thrive today in what is now known as the “new normal.” Manufacturers and processors had to initially deal with this new reality by running their operations remotely with employees working from home. Digital transformation accelerated the ability for physical and organizational boundaries to be broken to engage a real-time workforce, connect teams, and drive collaboration. These companies are also under pressure to manage their supply chains to maintain their integrity and flexibility to respond to market demand shifts, also doing this from remote locations with the tools to monitor production with real-time visibility and control. There are new methodologies and technologies required for this new normal, driven by the need to monitor and protect against failures, ensure product fulfillment and high productivity, protect personnel, and do all this while leveraging enhanced safety and security architectures. This digital transformation acceleration is driving the demand for smart safety solutions, which are now an essential component of a manufacturer’s and processor’s operational resilience strategy and a key enabler of achieving the productivity required to thrive in this new normal. To meet this demand, Rockwell Automation has further enhanced its broad portfolio of smart safety solutions designed to help its customers accelerate their digital transformation journey.

The Convergence of Smart and Safety Increases Productivity

There is no question that the digital transformation journey requires end users and OEMs to obtain much more production and machine information, which means that more industrial components need to have the ability to collect production operations or machine data, process that data into meaningful information, and send that information to the edge, to a control system, to a cloud, or some combination of those options. This has led to the development of smart solutions that have these built-in capabilities to help production lines and machines to be more productive and information-enabled to increase production efficiencies and decrease unscheduled downtime.

Smart Safety SolutionsSafety continues to increase its importance for manufacturers and processors, especially when these companies discover how safety helps to provide a competitive advantage rather than solely an increase in costs. Beside minimizing risks, increased safety helps these companies to improve productivity and profitability by reducing unscheduled downtime and increasing Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) and Return on Assets (ROA). In addition to helping to protect workers from injuries or potential life threatening situations, such as cutting power while clearing a jammed machine, opening a high voltage machine or panel, or entering a work cell, the time saved by not having to, for example, continuously use the e-stop buttons to resolve machine jamming situations greatly minimizes the frequency and duration of unscheduled downtimes, significantly increasing productivity, and providing a quick Return on Investment (ROI).

Integrating safety to leverage the full capabilities and benefits of smart devices, such as gathering and processing data in real time at or close to the point that the data is gathered, but still able to leverage all safety functionality, represents a convergence of the two technologies. Just as many companies are seeing their OT and IT functionalities converge, these devices used in processing and manufacturing applications are seeing their safety and smart devices converging for the benefit of persons who install, program, operate, and service the automation equipment, such as PLCs, PACs, drives and sensors, as well as the manufacturing assets itself, such as machinery, material handling equipment, pumps, conveyers, ovens, batch reactors, etc. So, this not only makes these assets safer to operate, but also provides valuable insight as to what is occurring, since the smart devices are designed to gather key data that can be analyzed and leveraged to make the overall production process safer, more efficient, productive, and profitable.

Operational Resilience Requires Smart Safety Solutions

One of the objectives of a company’s digital transformation journey driven by the new normal is to ensure resilient operations to improve its capabilities to overcome business risks, such as increasing cybersecurity threats, new regulatory compliance mandates, and more strenuous plant and personnel safety requirements, all of which drives demand for smart safety solutions.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers and processors faced numerous challenges, such as market and Smart Safety Solutionscommodity uncertainty, rapid fluctuations in demand, supply chain disruptions; and the need to become more agile, efficient, and sustainable, all while maintaining a safe and productive working environment. However, the pandemic magnified those challenges, leading manufacturers and processors to strongly focus on operational resilience as a key corporate objective during the digital transformation process.

To achieve operational resilience, companies must often break down physical and organizational boundaries to fully engage its workforce, connect teams, and enhance real-time collaboration in an environment where safety is designed into the process. Operational resilience also requires supply chains to be managed in real time to maintain their integrity, agility, and flexibility, enabling the supply chains to respond to market demand and shifts in material availability. Companies are deploying new methodologies to protect against unscheduled downtime and asset failures, ensure product fulfillment, protect personnel, and enhance security architectures, all of which require a broad portfolio of smart safety solutions.

Smart Safety Solutions Help to Overcome Operational Challenges

Smart safety solutions are also critical to help companies solve a variety of operational challenges. For example, smart safety solutions are designed to require employees to follow standard operating procedures, account for any procedural anomalies, and prevent anyone from bypassing these systems and putting themselves and others in possible danger. This is especially critical with a workforce that is both evolving and becoming more remote, with older workers leaving or Smart Safety Solutionsnearing retirement, and younger workers more susceptible to injury due to inexperience. Worker injury is often caused by trying to repair machinery or process downtimes caused by, for example, jams, misfeeds, and product changeovers.  Smart safety solutions increase the visibility of downtime information, providing context of the cause of downtime to the workers, such as a machinery fault, and then offering remedies to resolve these issues.

Another area where smart safety solutions can provide help with operational challenges is with data management, ensuring that data collection and reports are based on the latest data and information. Also, smart safety solutions eliminate the practice of manually entering safety data for inspections, compliance logs, and incident reports since these solutions are connected to the plant floor systems, which helps to eliminate errors. Regulatory compliance is also strengthened with smart safety solutions, helping to overcome the challenges of working with industry standards regarding documentation and reporting. Smart safety solutions can also be easier to install and maintain. Usually, safety solutions require more complex wiring to obtain additional diagnostic data. However, an integrated smart safety solution can access critical diagnostic data with traditional wiring, thus saving time and costs, and helping to create a complete picture of the health and status of a machine or production line.

Rockwell Automation’s Portfolio of Smart Safety Solutions

To address the market demand for smart safety solutions that increase both productivity and operational resilience in this new normal market that was driven by the pandemic, Rockwell Automation has been adding smart capabilities to its broad portfolio of safety solutions. Its smart safety solutions that converge safety and smart are designed to Smart Safety Solutionssimultaneously improve safety compliance and production performance by analyzing and diagnosing data from these converged solutions, and then converting it into meaningful information that can be used to increase productivity and decrease unscheduled downtime while maintaining safety integrity and compliance, all as an integral part of Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise strategy.

Rockwell Automation’s broad portfolio of smart safety solutions includes safety input devices, which consists of presence-sensing safety devices, safety interlock switches, emergency stop and trip devices, and operator interfaces.  The company’s smart safety solutions portfolio also includes  safety logic controllers, which consists of safety relays, configurable safety relays, integrated safety controllers, and safety I/O devices. In addition, the smart safety solutions portfolio includes safety actuators, which consists of safety contactors, PowerFlex AC drives, and Kinetix integrated motion controllers. Finally, there are connection systems and networks designed specifically for smart safety solutions, including quick connect connection systems, safety over EtherNet/IP, and GuardLink linking technology.

Smart Safety Designed for Both On-site and Remote Workforces

The traditional value of safety solutions was to protect on-site workforces and increase productivity. But the workforce of tomorrow will be a combination of on-site and remote, and will seek smart safety solutions that leverage the technology required for digital transformation. This has led Rockwell Automation to design a number of remote monitoring and control capabilities into its smart safety solution portfolio. For example, to perform remote troubleshooting, smart safety device performance can be communicated over its EtherNet/IP network, which allows both standard and safety data to be captured on individual device operation and then visualized by workers from any location. Setup and monitoring of Smart Safety Solutionssmart safety devices and access to device profiles can be performed from any location utilizing Rockwell Automation’s Studio 5000.  

The EtherNet/IP network also enables predictive maintenance routines established from historical data to be sent from the historian to the smart safety devices, with the data collected from device operation, then being time stamped and sent back to the historian. It is also possible for remote workers to request safe access to smart safety devices over an EtherNet/IP network, such as indication of guard door position and guard lock status. Historical data access request can also be used for application adjustments. This is possible because of the safety over EtherNet/IP simplified network architecture, designed for standard and safety control managed over standard unmodified ethernet.

Rockwell Automation’s smart safety devices provides data access into a specific asset or machine through individually identified access points, which allows data to be captured on individual device operations. Having smart and safety on a single device helps to  simplify wiring and system complexity.  In addition, smart safety devices can also be used with existing safety devices on assets and machines to leverage the existing installed base and prevent the need for rip and replace. Smart safety devices also allow predictive maintenance procedures to be adopted based on device usage or age.

CIP Safety Enhances Operational Resilience and Productivity

One of Rockwell Automation’s smart safety device differentiators is the use of CIP Safety over its EtherNet/IP network. CIP Safety is an extension to the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP), the application-layer protocol for EtherNet/IP. This capability also provides workers, regardless of their on-site or remote location, with greater access to the critical data needed to create a more comprehensive picture of machine or production line status. The combination of smart safety devices connected to a CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP network helps to create machines or production assets that can provide meaningful information, so workers from any location can better monitor machine health, decrease unscheduled downtime, improve flexibility and enhance safety, while helping to lower total cost of ownership and increasing the company’s operational resilience.

These Rockwell Automation smart safety devices connected to CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP network provide diagnostic information that can deliver more valuable insights, such as where safety-related failures are occurring or if workers are following standard operating procedures.  Processors and manufacturers can put these insights to work to help improve the productivity and sustainability of their production equipment. These capabilities can help to improve productivity, Smart Safety Solutionssuch as by notifying workers with an alarm if they are nearing a hazard to help prevent a machine from slowing down or stopping. In addition, the CIP Safety capability expands available diagnostic data to alert workers of common failures, such as the presence of dust on the scanner’s lens.

Rockwell Automation has recently introduced a number of new smart safety solutions that leverage the CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP network, such as the new Allen-Bradley SafeZone 3 laser scanner with CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP and the new Allen-Bradley GuardShield 450L light curtain with CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP plug-in.  The new SafeZone 3 laser scanner with CIP Safety provides area detection inside a work cell.  The addition of CIP Safety allows workers to simultaneously operate multiple safety zones instead of switching from one to another. It also extends the scanner’s field range and can provide vital diagnostic data over a single EtherNet/IP connection.

The GuardShield 450L light curtain with CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP plug-in can protect workers from injuries related to hazardous machine motion.  The CIP Safety plug-in gives workers more access to diagnostic data to help improve productivity and flexibility. For example, workers can see exactly which beams are tripped on the light curtain to better understand the cause of a downtime event.  Or they can take a sample of the light screen every 100 milliseconds to track profiles of products running through it and help identify potential quality issues. Rockwell Automation’s smart safety solutions that use CIP Safety with technologies, such as GuardLink, further help to improve safety and productivity and simplify wiring.  They also offer premier integration with an Allen-Bradley Compact GuardLogix SIL 3 control system by using the Studio 5000 Logix Designer application.

Conclusion - Smart Safety Fully Integrated into The New Normal

The digital transformation process was certainly underway before the pandemic, which included growth in smart and safety solutions to increase on-site worker safety and operational productivity. However, after the pandemic struck, manufacturers and processors needed to accelerate the digital transformation process to focus on operational resilience, ensuring that operations can continue regardless of where their workers were located and that supply chain changes could be detected and reacted to in real-time. This mandated the convergence of smart with all critical automation technologies, most notably safety devices and systems.

Rockwell Automation had been aggressively introducing a broad portfolio of smart safety solutions before the pandemic, but post pandemic these smart safety solutions are shifting to a mandatory technology that manufacturers and processors will need to be able to thrive in the new normal, where access to real-time data and seamless connectivity is transforming the production environment. Adding smart capabilities to safety enables manufacturers and processors to gain new efficiencies, improve product quality and make operations more responsive and safer for what is often a smaller number of on-site workers. Smart safety solutions help to standardize process, machinery, and safety control, making systems less susceptible to unscheduled downtime and helping to improve productivity and profitability.


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Keywords: Rockwell Automation, Smart Safety, Productivity, Digital Transformation, Operational Resilience, CIP Safety, EtherNet/IP, Rockwell Automation, Connected Enterprise, ARC Advisory Group.

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