"Open systems are better equipped for the future"
First introduced in April 2012, the Safety Alliance is an association of automation manufacturers, technology and solution providers, specialists and service providers for functional safety technology. Franz Kaufleitner, product manager for integrated safety technology at B&R and member of the Safety Alliance association committee, explains what this cooperation can offer manufacturers and users of industrial safety technology.
automotion: Mr. Kaufleitner, who is behind the Safety Alliance?
Franz Kaufleitner: Members of the Safety Alliance include control technology providers like Phoenix Contact and Baumüller, operating system and tool manufacturers such as Wind River and Esterel Technologies, engineering service providers like ISH and innotec as well as the leading certification authorities TÜV Rheinland and TÜV Süd. All of these companies use software products from KW Software. KW Software was the first independent provider of safe editors and safe runtime systems that formed the basis for safety-oriented software layers, controllers and applications.
What motivated all of these very different companies to form the Safety Alliance?
What the members of the Safety Alliance all have in common is an interest in helping to spread this technology and participate in its ongoing development. These goals are easier to achieve in a formally organized group.
Why does B&R participate in the Safety Alliance?
We are convinced that open systems are better equipped for the future than proprietary ones. A prime example is the open and bus-independent safety protocol, openSAFETY. When B&R began developing an integrated safety control system back in 2004, we steered away from proprietary software, unlike some of our competitors, and instead built on the open standards from KW Software.
What content does the Safety Alliance promote?
The fundamental principles of the Safety Alliance are openness and standardization. Embedded software components and operating systems, for example, are available for various PLC architectures such as ARM, PowerPC and Intel. All major communication networks, fieldbus systems and safety layers are supported, and the full spectrum of PLCopen function blocks are used. The ability to use uniform editors, configuration and parameterization tools makes it easier to develop and use function blocks for specific industries and applications.
How do B&R customers and openSAFETY users benefit from the Safety Alliance?
All of the members of the Safety Alliance develop and implement safety-oriented devices and solutions in addition to providing consultation on the implementation of development and management processes. As part of the Safety Alliance, they use a common safety platform, that they enrich with their own components, software modules and methods. They also influence the continued development of the core technology itself – in the interest of their customers' requirements.
Alliance members all use the same software tools. Does that reduce the number of interfacing problems?
Solutions that integrate components from multiple Safety Alliance members have proven to be exceptionally compatible since they are based on the same core technology. This raises the level of standardization that can be achieved with safety-oriented automation systems. Developers of machines and systems with integrated safety technology can definitely expect to spend less time and money on integration – particularly when incorporating auxiliary options and modules, such as handling equipment, or when integrating groups of machinery to form a safety cell.
There is a pervading sense of uncertainty throughout the durable capital goods market as to the future of various technologies. Can the Safety Alliance bring some clarity to the situation?
The Safety Alliance represents a number of well-known system suppliers, consulting firms and leading certification authorities – all of whom stand behind the SAFEPROG programming system and the SAFEOS operating system from KW Software. They work together to promote its widespread use and develop it to meet real market demands. This secures the future of the de facto standard for many machine generations to come.
Can manufacturers of machines and systems interact with the Safety Alliance directly?
Of course! The Safety Alliance is fully committed to the interests of our users. In our upcoming technical workshop, for example, we will be addressing the requirements and documentation that machine and systems manufacturers need to provide in order to comply with applicable safety standards. We will also be looking at what assistance is available as well as how this assistance can be best utilized in conjunction with products from KW Software.
What is your take on the future of industrial safety?
Over the past few years we've observed a shift in consciousness. Machine safety is no longer begrudgingly accepted as a "necessary evil". Instead, it is being recognized for its potential to improve the effectiveness of machines and systems by reducing the frequency of unplanned outages. It's no longer just a European issue either – discussions are now taking place at a global level. More and more companies are upgrading existing systems with safety technology, not because they have to, but because it is simply a sensible strategy from a financial standpoint.
What role does the Safety Alliance play in all of this?
The industry expects automation and safety technology to operate seamlessly, hand-in-hand. This level of integration is achieved more quickly, more inexpensively and with fewer headaches when you use manufacturer-independent solutions. This fits perfectly with the Safety Alliance's goal to simplify the development, integration and application of functional safety technology through an open technology platform.
openSAFETY is the first open and only truly bus-independent safety standard available for all industrial Ethernet and fieldbus solutions. This technology makes it easier to implement safety solutions in compliance with current 2006/42/EC machine guidelines as well as other applicable standards. Using the "black channel" principle, openSAFETY is the only safety protocol in the world that can transfer secure data via any fieldbus system.