Simply safety

By John Loos

The functionality of today’s cell phones is nothing short of a marvel. Nowadays, the average cell phone comes equipped with text messaging, a high-resolution digital camera, a video camera, countless games, the Internet and anything else one would want in the palm of his hand. Pretty soon these slivers of silicon and plastic will be able to make toast and brew the morning coffee.

This all-in-one concept has taken hold in many facets of society and can be quite rewarding if executed properly, meaning the consolidated functions are as useful as they are easy to use. Banner Engineering Corp., Minneapolis, took this all-in-one idea into the vast and complex arena of machine safety in automated manufacturing.

The result? The SC22-3 safety controller, a completely configurable, intensely flexible safety module that houses a multitude of functions in one easy-to-use controller.

Replacing headaches
The SC22-3 can replace a myriad of individual safety modules and integrate safety components such as light screens, E-stops, interlocking switches, two-hand controls, safety mats and muting functions, just to name a few. This all-in-one approach dramatically reduces design, wiring and installation costs.

"One of our primary goals was to bring a lot of safety functions into one area and allow the user to be able to control several things at once," says Mike Carlson, safety products marketing manager for Banner. "While the industry is doing a good job at safeguarding, the problem we have seen consistently over the years is that they are struggling with getting the safety signals back into the machine control, that is safety interfacing. The SC22-3 really does help solve that problem. It manages a lot of different safety-related functions easily and quickly."

Another goal in developing the SC22-3 was to enhance risk assessment. A simple info button, once pushed, gives the operator instant access to the product manual, which helps make decisions such as selecting certain safeguards or circuits.

"It’s a neat function," says Carlson. "We give you a bunch of different circuits that you can hook a light curtain to, and if you want to know the pros and cons or what safety category you would get if you chose a certain circuit, you can hit the info button and it drops you into that section. It really goes a lot further than a lot of competing products and you don’t need to buy additional software. I think it’s going to help a lot for people doing risk assessments."

The SC22-3 features 22 configurable inputs for both safety and non-safety input devices as well as a built-in, five-line LCD display screen, plugable terminal strips, push buttons for onboard interface and LED status indicators. Beyond that, it offers simple configuration by way of an intuitive PC interface or the on-board interface via the front panel, both of which are available with each controller. It has an easily configurable click-and-go system for monitoring safety and output status functions. Configurations are easily transferred and duplicated by the external XM memory card, and there’s the ability for safety configurations to be stored on hard drives, flash drives, CDs or e-mailed as attachments. All of this is combined under the umbrella concept of simplicity of use.

"The most striking thing [about the SC22-3] is the ease-of-use," says Carlson. "When somebody opens up the software and starts playing with it, in 10 to 15 minutes, they’re designing circuits."

Ease of use is another crucial necessity for the all-in-one concept to work. If certain functions are more difficult to enact when they’re combined compared to when they’re separate from one another, the whole concept is rendered moot.

Fortunately, Banner went to great lengths to ensure the SC22-3 would be as user-friendly as it is unique.

A lengthy genesis
Banner got its start in the 1960s with photoelectric sensors but has been providing safety solutions since 1990 and is known for its popular Mini-Screen and EZ-Screen safety light curtains. As the company’s machine safety branch grew so did the scope of its safety products as it developed items for guarding a variety of machines, from small tabletop robots to large automotive cells.

The development of the SC22-3, specifically, was years in the making.

Following the success of its fiber optic safety system Pico-Guard, which like the SC22-3, was designed around the concept of combining multiple safety functions into one spot, Banner noticed a market need for consolidated safety capabilities. The company took that concept and ran with it, and the result, after years of research and development, was the SC22-3.

"The SC22-3 could not have occurred without the input of dozens and dozens of customer interviews, data site trials and the years of research that went into it," says Carlson. "This isn’t something we just developed overnight. A lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of resources went into getting a good safety solution to market. There were a lot of customer interviews and it went through several variations. Customer input was invaluable."

Designing simplicity
SEC Design Technologies Inc., Lake Forest, Ill., has been a custom automation builder since 1992 and today serves a variety of industries including telecommunications, automotive, health care and sporting goods. The company wanted a safety product that would simplify the zoning of safety circuits and found a solution in the SC22-3.

"A benefit of the SC22-3 that we’ve seen is that it’s no longer difficult to do different safety circuits for different zones of the machine," says Rory Gahart, owner of SEC Design. "Before, the wiring was extensive and it was cumbersome to do. The SC22-3 made it programmable. So the other nice thing is when the customer does get here, if there’s something they want to change, it’s just a matter of reprogramming it."

Gahart was also struck by the controller’s ease-of-use factor, something he sees as a benefit in more ways than one. For starters, the SC22-3 saves SEC Design precious time thanks to its easy programmability, specifically with recovery conditions for E-stops, a particularly tricky undertaking for the company in the past.

"The trend nowadays is to have control engineers on your staff to handle a lot of this kind of stuff, to think through all the hardwire and the field wiring, how its going to link up and how it’s going to affect your machine," says Gahart. "With something like the SC22-3, you can just put a module in and the programming is dirt simple. You can have your machine builders do that on the fly. You don’t need to have a controls person out implementing this. I think that’s another benefit to the actual people who do automation."

The ability for machine builders to program the controller themselves is a big cost-saving point, Gahart says.

"The SC22-3 is costing us more for our initial run," he says. "But when you look at what it’s saving us and what it’s going to save us when we go into debug mode and any changes that might have to occur, it’ll save us a ton of money."

The simplicity and flexibility of the controller software is a big asset and time-saver, agrees Carlson, but the SC22-3’s software also comes with some other individualistic capabilities.

"With the software, we can export the wiring diagram and the logic diagram via PDF and AutoCAD DXF files, which is also unique," says Carlson. "With troubleshooting, we have a fault log. The unit itself will remember a number of faults on a runtime basis, but if you have a PC hooked up to it, the PC will do a time and date stamp and will log until you run out of memory. And that’s somewhat unique."

The controller also allows a user to troubleshoot using the intuitive front panel display if so desired, eliminating the need to bring a laptop onto the shop floor.

While the safety controller may not be the best fit for operations requiring a single E-stop module or applications of 100-plus cells, it can effectively enhance and simplify safety functions for the abundance of operations between the extremes.

By replacing multiple safety modules with a single, easy-to-use controller, Banner has made safety monitoring simpler, quicker and more unified than ever. Not unlike the cell phones we carry in our pockets, the SC22-3 is the product of intense engineering and inspiration. And that’s something worth marveling. FFJ


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