Ensuring safe mobile robot installations

16 March 2020

The robot manufacturer, integrator, and customer all have responsibilities when it comes to ensuring a safe automated mobile robot system workspace, says Ross Lacy.

A safe workplace requires joint effort from the automated mobile robot (AMR) manufacturer, the integrator of the end user and it is essential that roles and responsibilities between the parties are clarified. The guidelines provided by the European Machinery Directive help customers and integrators ensure a safe workspace as it takes into account both the AMR and the full AMR system. 

The manufacturer of the AMR must provide a vehicle that is designed to be commissioned in a safe AMR system and provide adequate information for integration and operation. This means the manufacturer is responsible for specifying intended use and limitations of the AMR, which is typically to transport materials without a driver in industrial environments. The manufacturer must CE-mark the AMR according to intended use through compliance to safety standards for AGVs, comply to complementary standards to address all risks and provide integrated safety functions to address hazards expected in the intended use. In addition to designing a safe robot, the manufacturer must also provide adequate documentation, including instructions regarding commissioning of the AMR into an AMR system, operating instructions for operation and maintenance of the AMR, and a list of identified residual risks for the AMR. Ultimately, the manufacturer is responsible for providing a safe AMR out of the box with all the required documentation.

System integration
At the time of installation, the responsibility moves to the system integrator who is responsible for providing an installation where all hazards are addressed or identified and providing adequate information for operation. Because AMRs can be programmed to move throughout a building, factory, or warehouse, the integrator who commissions the AMR must anticipate potential safety hazards and program the robot to act appropriately in compliance with safety standards.  Commissioning also extends to the top module. If the robot is commissioned outside of those limitations, the integrator (or user) must incorporate additional protections to ensure that safety standards are met for the full robot application. The integrator must therefore specify the intended use and limits of the AMR system and make a risk assessment in the light of the AMR manufacturer’s specifications, intended use, and limitations. As the application changes from an AMR to an AMR system, the integrator must CE-mark the AMR system according to the new intended use, and provide documentation consisting of operating instructions for operation and maintenance of the AMR system and a list of identified residual risks from risk assessment for the AMR system.

End-user responsibility
Once the AMR system has been deployed, the end user is responsible for setting up and following procedures for operation and maintenance of the AMR system. The end user must ensure that the intended use and limitations are met, and set up procedures for inspections and maintenance for the AMR system, including warning and markings. The end user should define safe operating procedures for operators and define training for operators, other staff, and visitors for safe operation.  

The state-of-the-art in the design and implementation of mobile robots is changing rapidly, and standards organisations are challenged to keep up. Compliance with current standards developed for logistics systems is still relevant, however. Many factors must be taken into account when deploying not just an AMR but an AMR system, which is often working in many different locations of a facility and in different applications. Users and integrators should expect guidance from robot manufacturers in order to reap the benefits of AMRs while ensuring worker safety. At the same time, users must ensure that chosen AMR manufacturers are up to date with current and future safety standards and laws not limited to the AMR itself.

Ross Lacy is mobile robot product manager at RARUK Automation.

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