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Flexible safety network boosts cobot and AGV productivity

25 February, 2019

The German sensor-maker Sick has developed an intelligent safety network for collaborative robots (cobots) and AGVs (automated guided vehicles) which, it says, will deliver flexibility and productivity. The Safe EFI-pro system combines safe sensor and control technologies with open Ethernet networking, supporting application-specific safety concepts for AGVs and cobots that also improve their performance.

The system includes sensors that monitor the working environment, and a safety controller that implements the appropriate safety functions, depending on the situation. The use of Ethernet-based networking minimises the need for cabling and simplifies integrating the safety system with AGV and cobot controls.

An interface based on the ODVA’s CIP Safety protocol allows both safe and non-safe diagnostic data to be exchanged at high speeds across all levels of machine communications.

The Safe EFI-pro system links Sick’s modular Flexi Soft safety controller to sensors such as its microScan3 safety laser scanner. It can also integrate safety PLCs, remote I/O and actuators from other manufacturers via an EtherNet/IP-CIP Safety gateway. Additional gateways can support non-safe communications with other networks, such as Profinet or EtherCat.

The safety system is said to minimise design and integration risks for vehicle and robot manufacturers, while allowing end-users to use their AGVs and cobots more productively. If a person is detected in the path of an AGV or cobot, it does not cause an immediate stop, for example, but initially reduces the speed of movement, based on the distance from the hazard. The system continues to monitor safety, resulting in higher productivity than if a complete shutdown occurred immediately.

Sick’s Safe EFI-pro system integrates safety controllers with safety sensing devices such as a laser scanners via Ethernet and CIP Safety

A key element in the system is Sick’s new microScan3 EFI-pro safety laser scanner. Up to six of these can be networked together, with each scanner providing up to eight simultaneously monitorable protective fields, and up to 128 individually configurable fields and monitoring cases.

In cobot applications, the safety system can be integrated with robot controllers from various manufacturers via EtherNet/IP-CIP Safety. The automation systems can provide safety-relevant information and functions relating to force and power limitation that can be used in Sick’s Safety Designer engineering tool, and for the central safety logic.

The Safe EFI-pro system offers safety to SIL 3 / PLe and complies with all relevant safety standards, including ISO 10218-1/-2: “Robots and robotic devices - Safety requirements for industrial robots, Part 1: Robots; Part 2: Robot systems and integration.

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