Safety as a service: From risk assessment to validation at Eternit
Complex regulations, demanding technical implementation and meticulous documentation – machine safety is a real challenge. Many top machine builders therefore rely on collaboration with external partners. The in-house mechanical engineering department of Eternit in Austria brought the experts from SICK on board for their recently completed loading station.
When it comes to roofs and facades, Eternit is known worldwide for its extremely durable but lightweight panel solutions. This success story began over 125 years ago in Vöcklabruck (Upper Austria). Starting in 1894, Ludwig Hatschek researched a revolutionary building material that would be lighter than brick, cheaper than slate and better than sheet metal. The result was a special combination of fibers, cement, pulp, air and water that helped him achieve a breakthrough in 1900. He named this world's first industrially produced building material “Eternit”, derived from the Latin “aeternus”, meaning “eternal”.
Impressive properties – and made of 100% natural materials
Thanks to its special constructional properties, such as frost resistance, fire resistance and a low weight, Eternit quickly gained in popularity. The Expo Pavilion in New York by Gustav Peichl, the church at Steinhof in Vienna by Otto Wagner, the Ortsstockhaus in Braunwald by Hans Leuzinger and the Maison Blanche in La Chaux-de-Fonds by Le Corbusier are just a few examples of Eternit’s architectural might. All products of the manufacturer have been asbestos-free since 1993 and are made of 100% natural materials. In addition to roofing and facade panels, Eternit now also produces furniture, flooring, accessories and plant pots based on the versatile fiber cement.
Safety in man-machine interaction in production processes
A glance at the production area shows that there is a lot going on at Eternit. A wide variety of panels can be seen on large machines. Forklifts are constantly bringing in huge pallets of new panels or taking them away. Speed is essential here, and the interaction between man and machine must also work perfectly. Safety is therefore a top priority at Eternit. This also applies to the new loading station, which handles and transports the semi-finished panels upstream of the drying and coating line.
The panels are fed to the system by forklifts lying on pallets. These pallets travel on a roller conveyor to the loading station, where a linear unit equipped with vacuum suction cups takes the panels from the stack and deposits them on a transport track. Then the panels travel individually on several roller conveyors and a belt conveyor towards the dryer. Everything is flawlessly coordinated, everything runs perfectly in sync. And everything is getting faster and faster. This also made it necessary to build a new loading station, as the old system was already getting on in years and no longer met current requirements in terms of speed and reliability.
Machine safety was a key issue for the new loading station. In order to really play it safe, the company decided to work closely with SICK. Roman Felbinger, Maintenance Planning, Eternit: “Machine safety services from SICK provided us with valuable, external safety know-how and additional expertise for protecting the new system. We put together an individual service package from the modular range of services that perfectly met our requirements."
The long road to comprehensive machine safety
The risk assessment, the creation of the safety concept, the safety design for hardware and software, the installation, the commissioning and the final verification and validation of the measures taken – these are the basic milestones for safe machines. Martin Wimmer, certified expert for machine safety at SICK: "The road to comprehensive machine safety is long. In addition, employees need training, and after a certain time you have to ask: ‘Is my machine still safe?’ In addition, regulations or standards may change or new technical solutions may be better or more efficient – this is simply too much for designers and mechanical engineers to handle on a day-to-day basis. They bring with them a wealth of application-specific expertise – staying on the ball is extremely demanding. It is nearly impossible for non-experts to deal with the topic of safety technology in depth on an ongoing basis. That's why we launched SICK Machine Safety Services, where we provide manufacturer-independent advice, guidance, and support.”
Perfect teamwork for the safety solution
Dietmar Futterknecht, who is responsible for electrical and automation engineering at Eternit, and his colleagues took care of determining the functions of the loading station as well as risk assessment and evaluation in collaboration with SICK. Then the experts from SICK created the safety concept and, in the next step, completed the first part of the safety design by selecting the safety-related parts of the controller (SRP/CS – safety-related parts of control system). Then it was again time for the specialists from Eternit to take charge. The team ensured the integration of the SRP/CS into the hardware of the control and the design of the safety-related user software. Installation of the protective devices and commissioning of the safety functions were also the responsibility of Eternit. Then SICK again took the reins for the final check within the scope of verification and validation. This seamless interaction resulted in an completely sophisticated safety solution.
High speed - limited space
Dietmar Futterknecht: "The machine and its environment were extremely time-critical. We run at high speed here. Of course, this also placed high demands on the feeding of the panels and, consequently, on the safety concept and its implementation in a very confined space. This is because space was limited and the forklifts need enough clearance to move with the large pallets. That's why we wanted to have someone on board at the loading station who deals intensively with the topic of machine safety on an ongoing basis. With SICK, we found the perfect partner who accompanied us step by step whenever we needed them.”
Critical areas: Forklifts and pallets
Modular safety controller
Maintenance: Quick repair option
Of course, the key issue of maintenance was also considered as part of the safety concept. Roman Felbinger, Maintenance Planning, Eternit: "Accessibility and fast repair, especially when it comes to the drives, were essential for us. We have therefore installed several E100 enabling switches, which allow us to perform selective maintenance operation. It was also important for us to work as much as possible with safety components that we had already been using. Because that makes it easier for us to keep stock. Thanks to good planning, we were able to make it all happen.“
Safety for everyone involved
Modular machine safety service from SICK enables customers to concentrate on their core competence – mechanical engineering – while still optimally fulfilling all safety requirements, including documentation. This creates security for all involved. It's not for nothing that a German saying goes, "He who writes is eternal!". Dietmar Futterknecht: "We took machine safety into account back during planning and design and involved the experts from SICK at an early stage. This definitely paid off and the result is impressive. The first expansion of the system sis already being considered, and SICK will certainly be there again from the start.”