Functional Safety in Industry: Thinking Outside the Cage
Advances in functional safety technology may offer an alternative to physically distancing humans from their mechanical counterparts
By Neil Stroud, Senior Director, Industrial Sector, Arm
Industrial manufacture is inarguably safer than it used to
be. In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports an 84
percent reduction in fatal injuries within the workplace since 1974.
While part of this reduction is undoubtedly due to more
robust training and regulation, the automation of potentially hazardous
machinery is surely a key factor. Fundamental to this is electronic control
technology, supplying the central intelligence to control a wide range of
machinery from robotic arms to heavy duty metal bending presses without the
need for a human operator.
Yet humans still play a vital role in any manufacturing
environment, and many of today’s machines operate in close proximity to humans.
Functional safety is therefore a critical element for any system deployed
within a robot, factory or vehicle and is the system’s ability to detect,
diagnose, and safely mitigate the occurrence of any fault, preventing harm to
people and the environment.
Functional safety at
its most basic
Traditionally, hazardous machines are isolated within a
metal cage to distance them from their surroundings and—most importantly—from
people. When the cage door is opened, the machine shuts off. This is functional
safety at its most basic.
Yet a cage can take up an area of floor space far greater
than the machine contained within it. With floor space a premium in many
factories, fewer robots could mean reduced efficiency resulting in a negative effect
on the factory’s performance.
But recent advances in functional safety may offer an
alternative solution to lock and key. By implementing key safety technologies, robots
could be uncaged, allowing “co-robots” to work alongside humans on a production
This collaborative approach to manufacturing allows the
robot to take care of repetitive and mundane tasks, leaving the human to focus
on critical thinking and more complex decision-making elements of the
production line. However, safety is even more critical with man and machine
working in such close proximity and control systems must constantly monitor the
integrity of the robot and react appropriately under error conditions. This
drives the need for functional safety.
For example, a co-robot has a number of sensors that can
detect resistance to motion— perhaps the human is reaching across the path of
the robot. In this situation, the machine should of course ‘back off’. However,
if this particular system were to fail, the robot may continue its task—resulting
in potential injury. This highlights the need for functional safety that designs
with these cases in mind and reduces the associated risk by ensuring that any
systems are monitored for correct operation and any problems are suitably
diagnosed and reported.
starts at the IP level
Conforming to safety standards is a vital step in solving the problems of deploying safety efficiently in industrial applications. Arm processors already power a broad range of applications throughout modern factories across a range of use cases from small sensors and actuators to complex robots and vision systems. Arm therefore has a robust process in place for ensuring our products conform to safety standards, including third-party assessment.
Arm Safety Ready products meet the IEC61508 standard for industrial applications, and supporting collateral is made available to all partners using Arm IP to build safe devices. Our functional safety support scales across this range of processors and also into other IP such as interconnect, interrupt controllers and memory management units.
But functional safety is not just about the hardware: software
plays an important role. A reliable software toolchain, containing Software
Test Libraries (STLs)—sets of tests that can be run at start-up or during
operation of a system to check the processor’s internal logic—is vital to developing
a functionally safe device. Arm’s toolchain contains STLs as well as a safety
qualified compiler and certified code libraries to help software developers
design a functionally safe system.
With the cages removed, companies looking to design products
for the factory environment need to be sure that the IP they choose meets
stringent functional safety criteria, whether developing a tiny sensor or robot
handling dangerous materials. Whatever the application, OEMs need to be able to
provide the right kinds of products for the right applications, both safe and
non-safe, with the ability to scale efficiently across both.
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