Risk Assessment for Collaborative / Autonomous Mobile Robots, and Case Studies

Mollie Anderson & Daniel Chodos

Automation is taking place at a wide scale across industries and across the globe, and is projected to scale even faster and deeper into global industries. Market growth for industrial robots is at a record rate of nearly 20 percent per annum since 2012. Accordingly, companies are challenged to be nimble, with fast integration of new technology and processes in their R&D and testing labs, high- technology / volume production manufacturing sites, and warehousing. Collaborative robots continue to be one of the top growth solutions to keep pace with this rapid change and maximize safety and efficiency.

Additionally, and with recurrent issues to automate internal logistics in this era of e-commerce warehousing and high tech/pharma manufacturing, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are drawing more attention. By automating material transport via AMRs, companies can optimize productivity and schedule deliveries more effectively to debottleneck critical paths. Why Risk Assessment? There are many different methods to conduct risk assessments, and just as many ways they can fall short in their usefulness. New applications, work environments, and safety standards remain challenging. Safety professionals must continuously advance their understanding, re-evaluate risks, and update their methods to ensure safe teaching, use, and maintenance of robots and their associated systems. The guiding industry consensus standard for robotics is ANSI/RIA (Robotic Industries Association) R15.06-2012. This standard and its companion standards, ISO/TS 15066: Robots and Robotic Devices – Collaborative Robots, and the newer ANSI/RIA R15-08, Industrial Mobile Robot Safety, all cite that “a comprehensive risk assessment is required to assess not only the robot system itself but also the environment in which it is placed, i.e. the workplace.” Accordingly, then, risk assessments must be conducted to ensure robotic users and related personnel are safe, and that processes are designed with specific safeguarding and controls that address issues identified during the hazard analysis and risk assessment. Risk assessments may have several formats, from simple to more robust.

This presentation will discuss a risk assessment approach to identify and address associated risks within the robot cell or as part of the robot process, including risks from lasers, gasses or fumes, etc. Key risk assessment process elements will be identified and explained, including the evaluation of risk, risk acceptability (what is acceptable risk?), and risk reduction process and considerations. Additionally, methods and findings will be provided from actual, client-confidential robotic risk assessments conducted for several global, process-intensive manufacturing companies, warehousing, and R&D labs.

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