Robotic cleaning machines - raising the bar on safety

3rd of July 2018
Robotic cleaning machines - raising the bar on safety

Robotics is currently the hot topic of the professional cleaning sector but robots are not a new phenomenon. In Janaury 2018 the first safety standard specifically targeting robotic floor treatment machines came into effect. Michael Gamtofte, vp global compliance at Nilfisk, writes for ECJ.

These days, robotics is the talk of the town in the professional cleaning industry. But robots are not a new phenomenon. They have worked alongside people in factories and warehouses for decades. The Robotic Industries Association estimates that more than 250,000 industrial robots had been installed in the US alone by end of 2017.

As technology is advancing, we are beginning to see a greater diversity of sophisticated robotics systems in the workplace. Autonomous cleaning is one example.

“Now, in addition to traditional industrial robots we have professional service robots, collaborative robots that work side by side with workers, and mobile autonomous robots in a wide range of industries and enterprises”, explains Vladimir Murashow, senior scientist and a member of Center for Occupational Robotics Research. (Source: www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/16789-robots-in-the-workplace).

Autonomy advancements increase safety requirements

While traditional industrial robots often perform monotonous tasks in unobstructed environments such as an assembly line, new self-operating cleaning machines are designed to operate in much more complex environments – with people, obstacles, and changing conditions. Naturally this raises the stakes when it comes to safety.

“Robots working collaboratively with humans present a new workplace risk profile that is not yet well understood,” explained director John Howard when the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced the launch of their Center for Occupational Robotics Research in 2017.
“Not only is this a new field for safety and health professionals, little government guidance or policy exists regarding the safe integration of robots into the workplace”, says John Howard.

New safety standard has come into effect

However, according to Michael Gamtofte, vp global compliance at floor care machinery specialist Nilfisk, this is beginning to change, and in January 2018 the first safety standard specifically targeting robotic floor treatment machines came into effect. It has been developed by the American National Standards Institute and the Canadian Standards Association.

With the new standard, all robotic floor care machines sold in the US and Canada need to live up to both the basic safety requirements of a floor care machine and a standard that specifically regulates the robotic part of the machine if they want their products to be certified,” explains Gamtofte.

According to the American National Standards Institute, a third party certification “provides unique credibility” and is an independent verdict – or stamp – that the product is safe. In some markets, such as the US, employers are legally obliged to only use third-party certified equipment at their facilities. Failing to comply can lead to product recall, market withdrawal or fines.

According to Michael Gamtofte, the new safety standard for robotic floor treatment machines will create more transparency, especially for customers who want to protect both their employees and bystanders from potential injuries.

“If a machine is third-party certified according to harmonised standards, the machine is presumed to be safe. That certification offers reassurance that your facilities are safe once you start implementing autonomous solutions in your cleaning operation”, he explains.

Facts about the new safety standard

• The safety standard has been developed by the American National Standards Institute and the Canadian Standards Association.

• It came into effect on January 2018, meaning that all suppliers looking for a third-party certification of their autonomous machines will have to live up to the safety requirements.

• In most markets, equipment manufacturers are legally obliged to ensure that their machines are third-party certified.

• In some markets, such as the US, employers are legally obliged to only use third-party certified equipment at their facilities.

• As of now, the safety standard applies to the US and Canada, but experts say that a similar standard is being developed for the European markets.

Focus on safe operation

The new safety requirements for robotic floor treatment machines focus on features such as:

• Parking brakes
• Max speed
• Stopping distance
• Obstacle detection
• Abrupt surface fall detection
• Critical zone detection
• Obstacle avoidance
• Machine start audio signal.

Or put it more simply, the new safety standard ensures that the certified autonomous cleaning machine will operate safely in areas with a combination of people, obstacles, drop-offs and other obstructions.

Torben Lund Andersen,svp for connected autonomous solutions at Nilfisk, confirms that the Nilfisk Liberty A50 autonomous scrubber dryer complies with the new safety standard.

“Nilfisk Liberty A50, which is the first autonomous solution on the market from Nilfisk, already bears the cETLus Mark. In addition, it is expected to be certified against the new safety standard during summer 2018 when the testing laboratories are formally accredited by the US Occupational Safety and Health Agency”.

More information on the new safety standard can be accessed at: www.csagroup.org.

 

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