How Worker Safety Influences Industrial Equipment Design

April 25, 2022 - Author: David Suehs - Engineering Manager, Machine Design

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Worker safety influences industrial equipment design

Why Designing for Safety is Important to Keep in Mind

Worker safety is a top priority for most manufacturing companies. Protecting workers means providing proper training, adequate safety gear, and industrial machines designed to minimize the risk of injury.

Testing equipment with rotating parts, high-pressure fluids, and combustible materials is inherently risky. ACS supplies industrial machines designed to keep workers safe while delivering outstanding performance.

“A health safety assessment happens between the conceptual and preliminary design stages,” ACS Engineering Manager, Machine Design David Suehs said. “Safety needs are a top priority in a system’s final design.”

Designing for Safety

Engineers designing custom machines identify any health and injury risks inherent in the system. Then they work to mitigate those risks. They consider factors like temperature, air quality, moving parts, slip hazards, pressure, and debris.

“For instance, if I have a rotating shaft, I may put a mechanical guard around it with a safety lock so the operator can’t access it when the machine is operating,” Suehs said.

As an industrial equipment supplier, ACS makes designing for safety a top priority in every industrial equipment design project. Even a system that appears basic, like an overhead lift, requires careful consideration. Hand controls must be ergonomic, springs must be rated for weight and movement, and the lift’s grip must be secure so that it won’t send hundreds of pounds of product crashing down on someone below.

Rising battery use has led to increased interest in safe thermal management systems. Destructive battery testing, for example, presents a hazard with long-term potential. ACS has designed modular enclosed test stands that allow companies to move burning batteries out of their facility to a safe location.

“If you have a 2,000-pound battery on fire, it’s going to burn for days,” Suehs explained. “The trick is keeping everyone safe while it burns. We’ve built enclosures that essentially act as a burn box.”

Machines can be designed to prevent worker injuries, Suehs said, but worker training is also critical. A person determined to defeat safety features will usually find a way. Safety features that successfully protect operators can shorten the lifespan of equipment. As an example, Suehs pointed to a popular model of power saw that drops its blade to the floor if the operator touches the blade.

“That’s terrible for the saw. But it’s really good for you,” Suehs said. “The best thing for the operator is usually not best for the product. You need personnel training to make sure you don’t destroy your million-dollar test article prototype.”

Many safety features focus on keeping operators away from energized components. Engineers must also find ways to dissipate energy once the test has stopped, especially if it stops suddenly.

Budgeting for Safety

“Every customer out of the gate wants the safest, most inexpensive custom machine, and they want it to do everything they can imagine,” Suehs said. “In reality, you have to develop a project that keeps personnel safe, keeps the product safe, and is manageable within schedule and budget.”

In the example of a machine with a rotating shaft, Suehs said, putting a lock on the door to keep the operator away from the moving components may be more cost-effective than implementing a mechanical guard. Motion sensors are another way of keeping workers out of areas they shouldn’t be.

“Every application is different,” Suehs said. “You can’t speak in generalities when you’re talking safety.”

ACS’ unique position as both an industrial equipment supplier and a system integrator gives companies confidence their test system is safe and effective from end to end.