Modern business, if it wants to remain successful, is forced to continuously solve more and more tasks in a resource-constrained environment.
At the same time, striving to save costs and optimize production, companies should not forget about the basic principles and new trends in the labor protection system.
Today, occupational injuries place a heavy burden on every employer. According to an estimate of the International Labor Organization (ILO), about 2.3 million women and men around the world annually become victims of industrial accidents or diseases caused by working conditions. As a result, it is about 6 thousand human deaths per day. In particular, most often death is caused by diseases the employee got at the enterprise. For example, hazardous substances, according to ILO estimates, cause more than 650 thousand deaths per year.
A few decades ago, it was extremely costly for the company, and often even impossible from a technical point of view, to completely protect an employee in hazardous working conditions. The existing production dilemma was being partially resolved with the development of robotic technologies.
Companies first started using industrial robots to work in aggressive environments or to perform tasks where human participation can be reduced to almost zero. The main areas of application were cargo handling, mining and assembly of products that do not require complex manipulations. One of the drawbacks of such robotic solutions for a long time was the need for complex setup of units for each task, but presently, manufacturers produce self-learning robots with adaptive control systems.
Ralawise, a large UK distributor of clothing, handles thousands of boxes with goods a day in its warehouses, so the most common accidents are torn wounds from cutting tools that are used to open boxes and remove packaging. Last year, the company relied on an automatic box unpacking system and as a result received a significant reduction in the number of work injuries, as well as increased speed of operations. Using sensors and photography, the robot measures the dimensions of each box and correctly places it on the stand before cutting it. Unpacking is going on according to the specifications set by the operator.
Along with the development of fully automated robots, collaborative robots (cobot) appeared on the market. These technical solutions are actively used in the automotive and electronics manufacturing. The devices work alongside with the person, performing the more dangerous and unhealthy parts of the production process. Also, collaborative robots are in demand in the pharmaceutical industry, since it is often difficult to install a large automated system within laboratories. In course of a research, employees of medical companies carry out manipulations with various kinds of chemical and biological substances in different conditions, in which case the substances often can be dangerous to humans. Therefore, work with biohazardous substances is carried out by robots, at other stages of study and testing of drugs people are getting involved in work.
A notable trend in the cobot market is the development and implementation of wearable robots and exoskeletons. Mechanical devices repeat the shape of the limbs, joints and muscles of the operator, while working with him in tandem, increasing his physical abilities or reducing fatigue and tension. This market is actively developing and there are a number of concepts of industrial exoskeleton, which differ primarily in the scope of application. Automakers were among the first to begin using such solutions. In October 2018, Hyundai Motor Group announced that the testing of its Hyundai Vest (H-VEX) exoskeleton, which reduces the pressure on the workers’ necks and backs, will be launched at the North American plant. Previously, the use of exoskeleton claimed Ford and BMW automobile companies. This technological solution is also in demand in the construction industry, where it is necessary to carry a large amount of weights. Not only the injuries number reduction is included by the developers to the advantages of technology, but also the employees working age extension, including the ability to use the work of older people.
However, even the most advanced robots will not be able to create completely safe working conditions without a comprehensive labor protection system. The main players in the robotics market and a number of promising IT companies are already offering their own solutions. In a number of industries that have always been considered conservative, in the coming years, the active introduction of smart solutions to reduce the number of injuries and deaths among staff may begin. Significant steps have been taken in the mining industry, where market leaders are striving to implement the idea of a “smart” mine.
One example is the integrated solution of the VIST Group company (part of the Zyfra Group), in which the company creates at the enterprise an automated security management system called VG Safety. An enterprise using an IT product can analyze staff performance, check qualifications, and assess risks before each shift. Also, areas with violations and location of personnel are displayed on the map of the enterprise on-line, while alerts about threats to employees appear in a special mobile application. The system allows you to form teams for complex or dangerous work automatically, taking into account the rating/competence of personnel. Technical solutions, such as Orlaco surveillance cameras, reduce injuries, increase mining safety and increase productivity through faster and safer maneuvers. Cameras warn drivers and machinists about approaching objects and obstacles in dead zones due to special radars and a 360-degree view. The condition of truck drivers is monitored by a special system that analyzes the degree of fatigue based on continuous analysis of facial expressions and pupils. Radar systems are used to prevent collapses during underground mining.
According to statistics from the Siberian Coal Energy Company, which uses VIST technology solutions, occupational injuries at the company’s enterprises decreased fourfold from 2006 to 2016.
The implementation of a serious project with a large industrial player becomes the goal of many technology companies, but manufacturers should not focus only on traditional for robotization areas of production and services. Probably, in the near future, companies will pay more and more attention to creating a comfortable and safe environment for their own employees.
At the moment, robot technology, for example, is being actively implemented in professional sports. American football coaches began to use the moving humanoid robots in training for practicing body-checks by the players. The trajectory of the robot is programmed from the control panel in order to simulate real game situations and to allow players work out the combinations better. Such know-how, according to experts, reduces the risk of injuries that often happen with athletes during the monotonous work with static dummies.
In the near future, robotics and smart technologies will be used not only by enterprises in developed countries, but also by players in emerging markets. Technology companies should not forget about the possibilities of production diversification, as well as increase the reliability of their own decisions.