Benefit from Safe and Efficient Plant Vehicles
Gary Parr | February 2, 2023
Automating plant vehicle behavior reduces incidents while advancing production efficiency.
By Claudio Salvador Advanced Microwave Engineering (AME)
Safety is often viewed as an inhibitor to efficiency, forcing vehicles and machines to move slowly to avoid collisions. After all, if an accident happens, the resultant overhead costs can be high, with investigations and possibly even a halt to operations. Contrary to this thinking, safety and efficiency can be increased in concert.
The Heinrich, or ‘safety triangle,’ provides a visual representation of different types of accidents, with the number of fatal or serious accidents at the top, and minor or near-miss incidents in the middle and lower part of the pyramid. In 2003, the model was modified to include other levels with the addition of ‘risk behavior’ at the base of the pyramid.
The pyramid clearly shows that there are many more ‘at-risk’ behaviors and near misses than accidents, illustrating that there is much more data to help us understand behaviors and risks. This presents an opportunity to identify and correct problems at lower levels and reduce the likelihood of those issues escalating into more serious accidents. Overall, this should result in an improved culture of safety within a company.
One of the challenges is that objectively identifying and quantifying near misses relies on correct reporting by individuals, which may be impeded by the fear of judgment or perception. What if data collection and analysis could be automated? Site managers and operators would then have clear, objective data about incidents and, as a result, the information they need to proactively improve site safety.
Today’s technological advancements are ushering in a new approach to prevent accidents, ensure workplace safety, and place a digital safety net across the whole site. Vehicles (AGVs, forklifts, other motorized-cart devices) with interactive safety displays, and pedestrians, using wearable tags, can be equipped with ultra-wide band (UWB) technology so that each is aware of its location and potential hazards in the area. This creates an environment where operators can be warned if a pedestrian is nearby, through visual and audible alarms.
As well as helping to proactively avoid collisions, this also means that any ‘near misses,’ where vehicles or vehicles and pedestrians go inside predetermined proximity deemed as safe, can be automatically logged and recorded to provide a site-wide analysis of where the highest risks lie. Operators and managers can clearly see information such as the number and size of vehicles in an area with blind spots or obstacles, the speeds at which vehicles are operating, times when there is greater congestion in an area, and the number of pedestrians. Operational processes can then be reviewed and adapted to further enhance site safety.
What does such a safety-net system mean for operational efficiency and productivity? Whereas companies want to increase safety, they do not want to do this at the expense of productivity. However, such a system will actually increase productivity. Here’s how.
We can say with absolute certainty that if all vehicles and machines are stationary, there is no risk of them being involved in a collision. Of course, this would also mean a total loss of productivity and efficiency, which is unacceptable. Equally, vehicles operating at maximum speed without regard for their surroundings will optimize productivity, but present unacceptable levels of risk to personnel. The answer lies in ensuring vehicles operate at the optimum speed according to the area they are in and the potential dangers that are around them.
With this in mind, we can take automation to the next level by automatically slowing or stopping vehicles if they are too close to other assets or pedestrians, adjusting how they operate in a given location, and modifying proximity areas for vehicle use. For example, if an area is clear of all other vehicles and pedestrians, the system and the operator will know this, and vehicle speed can be increased. Equally, if the area is busy, a speed limit can be applied. The system will also know about requirements within a zone so, if a pedestrian is detected nearby but they are in a safety walkway with a barrier, the vehicle can continue to work at optimum efficiency.
One safety and efficiency KPI
While safety and efficiency measurements can be put in place, what we really want to know is the combination of the two. By merging safety and efficiency into a single number, managers can start to see the true measurement of safety performance and take actions to improve both factors.
A single Efficiency Safety Indicator is a coefficient that combines real-time data and measurements about all aspects of a vehicle, fleet, or site zone, including speed, distance travelled, location, proximity to other vehicles or pedestrians, and whether a complete stop is required. This then provides a clear picture of the operational efficiency and safety for individual vehicles, fleets, or site zones across a site and makes it possible to identify trends and high-risk areas. Managers can then determine best practices, where additional training may be required, or identify areas that may need strategic adjustment to increase safety and efficiency.
An easy way forward
The technology needed to implement a proactive safety system is easy to install and use and can be fully configured and adapted to the unique needs of individual sites and areas within a site. UWB does not rely on other systems being online and the technology is agnostic to vehicle type. This ensures there is no inhibition on operational flexibility or adaptability. Touchscreen displays in vehicles make it easy for operators to see what is around a vehicle and effectively eliminate blind corners throughout the site. Pedestrians simply have to clip a wearable tag to their clothes and they immediately become visible to the entire safety network.
Safety should not be limited to the impact of an accident or the cost of reduced efficiency and productivity. Modern technology enables a proactive approach and the ability to combine safety and efficiency so that both critical areas of site operations can be optimized.
As well as reducing the risk of collisions and optimizing vehicle movements, by collecting and collating real-time data and generating a single, objective, automatically generated numerical indicator, businesses can further monitor their safety and efficiency performance and look to implement solutions to further optimize business performance. Overall, there is a new era in safety technology. It is easy to use and install, will significantly reduce the risk of collisions or accidents, and will enable greater productivity and safety throughout the site.
Claudio Salvador is President and CEO, Advanced Microwave Engineering (AME), Firenze, Italy (ameol.it). Along with Filippo Bonifacio, Salvador one of the co-founders of AMEHe holds a bachelor’s degree in Electronic Engineering with a specialization in microwave antennas, and a PhD from the University of Florence. He has designed microwave RFID identification systems since his time at university and holds multiple international patents.