The evolution of robotics has been imminent ever since George Devol developed the first robot arm, which revolutionised assembly lines in 1948. According to the International Federation of Robotics, 2.7 million robots are working in factories globally as of 2020. A study by Oxford Economics predicts that this number could grow up to 20 million by 2030.
The thought of machines operating an entire section of a factory 24/7 without any human intervention still mystifies some people. But these robots resemble nothing like their talking and walking sci-fi counterparts. They typically look like heavy and powerful arms that perform assembly, packing, lifting, painting, and welding, often within the confines of an enclosure such as a cage.
Undoubtedly, the use of robots can lead to a decrease in human labour. While this will replace millions of jobs, it can also create millions of new ones. Regardless, companies are embracing robotics and automation. And it is easy to see why. Robots are capable, cost-efficient, and help improve working conditions significantly. Let’s look deeper at how robotics is impacting the health and safety aspects of manufacturing.
Automation in Manufacture is Taking People out of the Risk Areas
The first industrial robots handled jobs that were undesirable for humans. These tasks were typically called dull, dirty, and dangerous. Presently, robots do more than perform unwanted chores. Robotics and automation contribute to making the work environment better by lessening employees’ exposure to hazardous tasks and preventing injuries and adverse health effects that result from dangerous conditions.
Many manufacturing companies are using robotic machines to carry out unhealthy, tedious, and monotonous tasks. It helps avoid exposing workers to unsafe situations and reduces physical, emotional, mental, and psycho-social hazards. For instance, repetitive motions and constant lifting of heavy objectives can cause musculoskeletal disorders. Robots can take up these duties, preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and even fatalities in the work environment. Architecture and maintenance of the manufacture automation and robotics can be completed my singularly recruited industrial automation engineers and thus limit the about of human in danger, therefore limiting any potential accident payouts.
Robots can also take the place of humans in sites or factories where there are harmful substances such as asbestos. In the automotive industry, for example, robots apply paint on vehicles. This practice prevents humans from being exposed to chemicals emitted from gas and paint.
Another way robotic machinery improves health and safety is by minimising the risk of falls from heights. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), falling is the top reason for non-fatal injuries and deaths in the workplace. Robots can reach areas too high for workers, eliminating the need for employees to climb, thus reducing the risk of falls and trips.
Machines can also decrease injuries related to fatigue. When people are exhausted, they face a greater risk of injury. The possibility of committing errors also increases when employees have been working for long hours. A robot does not need a break to continue performing. Its accuracy and productivity do not decline even after working for days. In this way, machines prevent injuries and errors attributed to fatigue.
Health and Safety is Being Built into Robotic Systems
The benefits of automation and robotics are many and impressive. However, there have been some injuries and fatalities that resulted from people’s interaction with robots. Older conventional industrial robots often lack the sensory ability needed to detect nearby humans, which led to accidents.
But developers are creating next-generation robots with the ability to work closely with humans. Collaborative robots have built-in safeguards incorporated into their programme and design. These safety measures include safety-rated monitored stop, hand guiding, speed and separation monitoring, and power and force limiting.
Safety-rated monitored stop detects human presence, allowing the robot to stop when a worker enters its workspace. Hand guiding is putting a robot under the operator’s control. Speed and separation monitoring tells a robot to slow down its speed when an employee approaches. Power and force limiting happens when a machine limits its force so as not to harm a worker.
Collaborative robots are not only safer but also more valuable for a broader range of functions. And when you combine robotic capabilities with human sensibility, you get the best results. For instance, you benefit from the strength, endurance, accuracy of a robot, but at the same time also profit from the flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving skills of humans.
Technology Improving Standards
The manufacturing industry is naturally full of work hazards. However, technology has helped improved health and safety in the production sector. Robotics and technology go hand-in-hand in revolutionising manufacture.
Technological advancement has enhanced monitoring, storing, and analysing data, enabling workers to relay information in real-time and improve workplace safety. Ergonomics technology aids in relieving pressure, helping prevent injuries, and allowing employees to work comfortably. Flexible safety barriers protect workers from mobile machines, forklifts, and hazardous spills. Digital signages warn employees of hazards and provide crucial instructions, particularly where noise can affect communication.
Moreover, laser barrier safety systems protect the workforce from direct and scattered lasers by containing them within a specific area. 3D imaging software makes employees more aware of their surroundings and the risks they may encounter. For instance, 3D visualisations let workers see what is happening around, above, and behind them. This method reduces the likelihood of employees falling victim to incidents, including being hit by moving machinery, falling objects, or debris.
Employees Still Need to Think About Health and Safety Compliance
While robotics is not new, the technology is still rapidly evolving. There are no specific health and safety rules concerning the use of robotic machinery at the moment. However, this does not excuse companies from wholly understanding and mitigating the dangers that may stem from the implementation of robotics. They are responsible for the safety and well-being of their employees. Accidents may result from a lack of information, knowledge, and control of automation work systems.
Companies must also conduct a thorough risk assessment to guarantee the machines are well installed and maintained. They must also educate their workers appropriately using manufacture industry health and safety training courses, particularly the operators, and require everyone to adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations and government compliance. Apart from training employees, employers must define areas where workers can enter, limit the speed and force machines can operate, and ensure that robots meet the required safety