The Evolution of Safety Systems

  • November 21, 2011
  • Feature
November 2011
By Nuris Ismail, Research Associate at Aberdeen Group
In today's economic environment, manufacturers are under immense pressure to contribute value to the organization's bottom line by cutting costs and improving productivity wherever possible. In fact, in the Aberdeen Business Review study of over 170 manufacturers revealed that their primary goals for 2011 were profitability and cost reduction. In such an environment, it is unfortunately far too easy for organizations to singularly be focused on improving manufacturing productivity at the sacrifice of the safety of employees. Aberdeen’s November 2011 Integrated Safety Systems: Ensuring Safety and Operational Productivity focuses on how the industry leaders are looking at new ways to improve productivity without compromising safety. The study highlights the role that business processes and safety technology assumes in improving safety and productivity in industrial plants.
To better understand how the most successful companies are implementing the latest safety technology, Aberdeen used four Key Performance Indicators (KPI) criteria’s to distinguish the performance between the Best-in-Class (top 20% performers) from Industry Average and Laggard Organizations:
Table 1: Top Performers Earn Best-in-Class Status
Source: Aberdeen Group, October 2011
The Best-in-Class are better equipped to create a safer working environment for their employees but are also able to gain a competitive edge in the market place. In fact, across the board, Best-in-Class manufacturers were able to effectively manage safety incidents by realizing a 0.2 injury frequency rate, while at the same time performing at 90% OEE. These manufacturers were also able to achieve a 2% unscheduled asset downtime rate, while their peers in contrast experienced a 12% rate. In short, these industry leaders are able to provide a safer working environment for their employees, while simultaneously improving productivity and achieve higher operational efficiencies.
Best-in-Class Capabilities
Historically, investments in plant and factory-level real-time systems were mainly driven by the need to control and safely operate large investments in plant and equipment. This objective often warranted physical and technical isolation between the control systems and safety systems. In this approach, manufacturers would have dedicated personnel who would monitor and control the safety systems. The idea was that by implementing such architecture, there would be less risk of the safety system being compromised by events on the control system. This approach generally costs more and raises a number of complex design and integration issues.
Figure 1: Safety System Architecture
Source: Aberdeen Group, October 2011
Aberdeen’s Integrated Safety Systems: Ensuring Safety and Operational Productivity uncovered that with the recent changes to safety standards and technology advances, this isolation between the two systems might not necessarily be needed. In fact, the research revealed that Best-in-Class companies are 48% more likely than Laggard companies to integrate their safety system with their standard control system without sacrificing productivity or worker safety (Figure 1). Having such an architecture enables these leaders to have a single platform to perform defined safety functions, more effectively operate the plant and adhere to safety standards. In addition, having a single also means reduced hardware, software and support costs because the same software can be used and personnel only have to learn and keep current with one architecture.
Integrating safety systems with standard controls systems is one sign of the technology breakthroughs in this space. Another is communication integration using non-proprietary protocols. In the past, seamless communication was practically impossible, because there wasn't a single network that was able to integrate safety and standard control systems, and simultaneously transport massive amounts of data across the plant floor networks. This has since changed with the recent advances in networking, manufacturers can ensure the same level of availability, reliability and security through the use of open protocols (such as: PROFIsafe, CIP Safety, FOUNDATION Fieldbus SIF, Safety over EtherCAT to name a few). These open protocols greatly improve the level of integration and interoperability between standard and safety control systems, and are supported by numerous vendors. This seamless communication provides manufactures with better visibility into reasons for and frequency of safety events. Because these open protocols are supported by numerous vendors, an added benefit is that controllers from different suppliers can be interconnected throughout a plant. Thus, allowing manufacturers to combine best-of-breed products to produce the most efficient safety and control system, rather than being restricted to specific vendor products.
While Best-in-Class are leading the pack with adoption of the latest technology advances, they wouldn’t have been able to do so without their unique organizational capabilities. Best-in-Class are differentiating themselves is in their ability to establish a corporate program focused on safety. The Best-in-Class are creating such a culture in multiple ways. First, they are more likely than their competitors to have safety at the top of the executive agenda. It is extremely difficult to change the culture without having a true budget holder driving the philosophy of "safety first" before anything else. In addition, a true budget holder would be more willing to invest funds to upgrade assets, safety systems and control systems as well as investing in resources to manage the systems.
Secondly, the Best-in-Class also understand that safety needs to be ingrained from the top floor to the shop floor. Safety cannot be managed in a silo'ed manner and thrown over the wall to the next group to deal with. Indeed, Best-in-Class companies understand the importance of managing in a holistic manner and are establishing cross functional teams (from safety, maintenance, manufacturing, production to corporate) to implement the strategic decisions made in the board room. In addition, cross functional teams enable the ability to identify and share best practices across these different departments in various job roles, functions and groups.
Aberdeen's research has seen the progression and adoption of integrated safety systems in the manufacturing environment. Best-in-Class companies recognize the many benefits that an integrated safety system can deliver. Before an organization plans on implementing an integrated safety system, they need to understand that it takes a combination of organization restructure and the ability to have real-time visibility into manufacturing operations. Indeed, a well implemented safety system can do much more than simply emulate the functions of a traditional safety system. To find out more about how the Best-in-Class are successfully implementing an integrated safety system, read Aberdeen’s Integrated Safety Systems: Ensuring Safety and Operational Productivity.


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