What will lockout tagout look like in the future?
As the robotic hoist sweeps across the nearly vacant factory, it is followed by a nearly silent self-driving fork truck that is destined to retrieve more inventory from the warehouse. As the fork truck lifts the pallet from the loading rack that is equipped with load cells, the inventory management systems recognizes that the inventory is below a critical threshold and schedules a replenishment order that is received at the speed of light half way around the world. The factory that is part of this program comes to life immediately with notifications and instructions on production speeds and run times to fulfill this special order request. As the factory hums along attended by only a few humans, something happens that upsets the normal operation. A case packing machine at the end of the production line jams and threatens the entire operation if it’s not fixed immediately. The production line signals management that there’s an issue and requests a maintenance tech.
The plant manager looks out his window, he takes a sip of freshly brewed coffee and reflects back to just over a decade ago when the floor was filled with dozens of employees loading cartons, inspecting packages, and helping the production process along. All those tasks are nearly entirely automated now leaving a dull roar of the equipment and the occasional alarm. Just then, he receives a message on his smart watch notifying him that production line 5 has an urgent issue with the case packing equipment and needs attention or production will halt in less than 4 minutes.
The line manager clicks the button on his watch that sends the message to his lead maintenance technician to inspect and repair the case packer on line 5 immediately.
The maintenance technician reads through text message on his smart phone and re-prioritizes his digital schedule to take a quick look at the case packer. “Probably just a sensor.” He says out loud even though nobody else is around to hear. On arrival, he realizes that it’s more than the sensor, it’s a fairly substantial jam. A carton of titanium parts have come through unboxed which have found themselves wedged all over inside the equipment. Recognizing the need to enter the equipment and proceed past the safety of the interlocked guarding, he takes out his smart phone and holds it up to an RFID badge that uses NFC (near field communication) to capture the information that is crucial about that equipment. Instantly his phone displays critical safety information about that equipment and digital pictures showing the location of all incoming energy source isolation points. The procedure also shows potential energy that needs to be dissipated prior to servicing. He follows these steps in less than 40 seconds and tests the equipment at the main start to ensure the procedure worked. After clearing out the parts, he exits the machine, closes the guarding and scans the RFID tag again. He then follows the lockout/tagout steps in reverse order to restore the equipment to life. As he restarts the equipment to verify operation, the production line automatically senses the correct operation and diverts the boxes from the accumulator and resumes normal operations. No lost production was recorded.
Meanwhile in the global headquarters located nearly 1,500 miles away, the CEO sees a report from his team that recommends several major updates to their production process. The report shows the most problematic equipment that has been down for unscheduled maintenance more than 5% of the time. The report shows that replacing this equipment with more reliable equipment will pay them back in less than 6 months. The report they reference has data showing the frequency of lockouts, reason for service, how long each lockout/tagout process took, and how long each restore back to service process took. Unrelated to the equipment, the report also shows which authorized employees have honed their skills to provide service that follows all company policy and gets the equipment back online the quickest for comparative service. From here, the CEO approves the order for new updated equipment and issues incentive bonuses to reward the top workers who were able to service the equipment the most safe and efficient. While the safety record remains perfect with zero accidents related to lockout/tagout, they are now utilizing their energy control safety program to target inefficiencies to optimize their process.
While some of what was said above seems like science fiction, the truth is, these products and solutions are here today and being utilized by many of the most cutting edge companies around the world. Those companies have their varied reasons for investing in this technology, but the common theme is their need to keep their employees safe while minimizing impact on production.
Two decades ago, the end solutions we have today to address lockout/tagout were not considered because they were not available. By taking advantage of the widely available tools to construct a modern lockout/tagout program companies are reaping the benefits over their competition who choose to do nothing more than comply with the minimum requirements.
By using widely available hardware platforms such as Apple iPads™, companies are realizing benefits of industry proven applications that are specifically designed to enhance lockout systems with all the features and capabilities that have become less of a luxury and more of a necessity to stay competitive in today’s marketplace. Features that once cost millions or were impossible are now available at the click of an icon and swipe of a credit card.
As companies are faced with a modernization decision to make, many face tougher challenges than others such as areas that do not allow for electronic tools that are not certified intrinsically safe. Recently several companies have developed add on hardware that once permanently sealed will upgrade the chosen tablet to certified intrinsically safe status. This now blows the doors down on industry resistance when the tablets are ruggedized, waterproof, drop proof, dust proof and now certified intrinsically safe.
Lockout/tagout, once associated with burden and inefficiency, is now known by the elite few as a program to be invested in that pays dividends.
How to modernize your company
If a company is still utilizing an old text based system or no system at all for their machine specific lockout/tagout procedures, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from upgrading today. The biggest question when upgrading is not if, but how. Two approaches are available, but only one is most likely to succeed – outsourcing the implementation and insource the maintenance.
The most important aspect to consider when selecting a company is their core focus. If the company’s main focus is creating printers and stickers, for example, it’s unlikely they are qualified to provide modern lockout/tagout compliance service for your facility. Likewise, if the company says they specialize in everything, well that kind of runs against the very definition of “specialize”. To read more about aspects to consider, click here.
If lockout/tagout is being targeted as a number one investment area for both safety and efficiency, choosing a company that has lockout/tagout as a core focus and one that employees full time engineers (not contracted through a temp agency) is the choice that is most likely to lead to a solution that gives you peace of mind that it’s done right and enables your company to own the program.
In the end, safety and OSHA compliance should be the primary goal, but with all else being equal, your company deserves a program that will also provide the most modern solution available with industry proven results. To learn more about how ESC can help your company, visit our contact us page and submit a question today. We’ll be happy to get you pointed in the right direction with a free consultation and a site visit if you’re ready to get started.