Tag Archives: human machine interface


4 Ways Specialized Industrial Computers Increase Safety Levels

Safety incidents in factories, manufacturing, and construction have been dropping since the ‘70s, which is fantastic news.

However, manufacturing and especially construction still have mortality and injury rates three times higher than the average of all industries put together. This is hardly a surprise, considering the heavy-duty equipment involved, but it can still be improved.

Specialized industrial grade PCs are leading the way forward, letting the machine take the risk while the human operator stays as safe and in-control as possible.

Properly Grounded Computers Save Lives

Though, as mentioned above, injuries are down overall, electrical fatalities actually had a 15% jump higher between 2015 and 2016, the date of most recent data.  As the amount of electrical equipment in the workplace increases in industry commiserate with the rise in automation, safety becomes even more important.

Industrial computers and equipment are everywhere, but luckily much of the danger from electrocution can be mitigated through the use of DIN rails.

What is DIN Rail?

DIN stands for “German Institute of Standards.” This doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you speak German – the original name was “Deutsche Institute von Normen.”  DIN is a standardized structural rail used to mount electrical equipment.

DIN rails are handy for installing a lot of electrical components in the same area. The rail can hold electrical breakers, terminal blocks for wiring, power supplies, and even heavier items like computers in certain configurations.

Other than ease of install and access, a DIN rail also serves to create a chassis ground for all equipment on the rail. This means that should a short occur and any equipment on the rail become energized, it will seek the nearest ground through the rail instead of, say, through a worker’s fragile human body.

There are modern industrial mini PCs that are designed to mount right to standard DIN rail. These computers are used for things like inventory, CNC machining, manufacturing processes, and even clocking in and out, and as such are in frequent contact with workers.

Should a DIN-mounted industrial computer take a jolt, though, the DIN rail is more likely to catch the brunt of it than an employee. Think of DIN rails as not only convenient hardware but as a lightning rod for keeping workers safe.

Computers Are Improving the Lockout / Tagout Safety Procedure

A large number of industrial accidents occur when it comes time to repair or service potentially dangerous equipment.

Turning off equipment isn’t enough. Saws, automated construction machines, meat grinders and cutters, industrial drills, bailers, and anything using a large amount of electricity (or compressed air, or steam) are all potentially fatal at any given time. One careless button press, switch flip, or plug-in could easily maim or kill the worker who’s repairing or cleaning the machine.

That’s why the concept of lockout / tagout was invented. In a nutshell, lockout / tagout is used to make sure that the machine being serviced is not only shut down, but has been physically prevented from being turned on by an actual lock. It also catalogs who was responsible for the lockout, and on what conditions (and by whom) it can be unlocked and safely used again.

Digital Lockout / Tagout Procedures

That’s where modern industrial grade PCs and industrial tablets come in.

With an industrial tablet and the proper software, it’s possible to create a custom QR code that lists every step of the lockout / tagout procedure for that particular machine. The QR code is then placed somewhere highly visible on the machine. The worker with the tablet can then scan the QR code of any machine and get step-by-step instructions for how to lockout that particular machine.

Software can even show the user if the machine has already been locked out, it’s normal maintenance schedule, machine audits, and whatever else you choose to include, depending on the software. It can even send an email or notification to the workers affected by the machine’s shutdown to let them know.

CNC Machining is Safer for Metal Shop Workers

Metal shops use two kinds of tools: manual, and CNC. Manual tools aren’t necessarily hammers and hacksaws – they can be powered, heavy-duty machines. Manual just means the operator does all of the work by hand.

CNC machining (“computer numerical control”) is instead automated and uses a CAD program or other set of directions to cut, shape, or detail metal per specifications. In theory, a CNC machine only needs an operator to put the metal in place, equip the right bits and tool in the machine, load the program, and step away.

While CNC machines are specialty equipment, they generally use an industrial panel PC as the brain of the device. The advantage of industrial computers is that, if they’re IP65 rated, they can withstand water sprays (from jet-cutting devices) and dust intrusion (from metal shavings and the like) coming from the metalworking process.

Precision is one of the main benefits of CNC machines, as is standardization. However, CNC machines (and the industrial grade PCs that run them) also work to protect workers from dangerous industrial accidents.

Instead of having to lean over a manual lathe or a drill, the operator can stand at the nearby computer, often behind the machine’s shield or guard. Fatigue, a cause of most industrial accidents, isn’t a problem since the CNC machine is doing the hard work.

Tracking Employee Locations in Emergencies

Some facilities are so large that tracking employee location can become a problem, especially when an accident or emergency occurs.

Back in 2005, a woman named Geetha Angara was killed at the Passaic Valley Water Commission facility in New Jersey. At first, it appeared she disappeared, and it took 25 hours to find her body. This incident inspired the use of RFID tags to track workers, especially in dangerous environments.

If all of the doors and gates in the facility — or at least the doors at major choke points — required an RFID tag to open, you could use that data to determine exactly where every employee is, and where they’ve been throughout the day.

This information could then be used by an industrial computer to map out employee locations and even send a warning or alarm if a normally-mobile employee hasn’t gone through a door in a while. If an employee goes missing, the system will know exactly where they’ve been, and the last known door or fence they used.

Protecting the Human Resource

It’s easy to think of industrial computers and power tools as implements to make work easier and faster, but they can also make work safer.

Reducing industrial injuries and accidents is everyone’s responsibility. Contact Cybernet to learn more about using industrial grade PCs and industrial grade tablets to integrate cutting-edge safety features into your workplace.


Job Loss Automation

5 Myths About Job Loss from Automation

We’ve all heard the news — pack your bags because robots are on the way.

Labor is dead, the economy is doomed, cats and dogs living together, etc. And while these kinds of stories make for excellent headlines — and truly great sci-fi movies — their veracity often leaves something to be desired.

There’s no doubt that automation will play a role in the future, and that it will replace some jobs — in fact, it already has. But there is an enormous canyon between “new technology changing the job market” (which has been true since the wheel was invented) and “the end of the human race.”

Technology like industrial computers and medical PCs are fantastic at automating and streamlining processes that would have taken a human (or several) to do in the same timeframe. However, this doesn’t throw those folks on the employment line – in fact, quite the opposite. Human labor is often augmented, improved, and even increased by automation.

But how is that possible?

1. The Robots Will Take All of Our Jobs By Year 20xx

First, let’s start with the base assertion: that automation replacing all jobs is inevitable.

This may be a bit of an overshoot. To begin with, very few experts agree on this subject — this chart shows an assortment of job loss and job creation statistics from different studies, surveys, prognosticators, scientific journals, and magazines. None of which agree with one another about the future of automation.

A Forbes article makes the point that we have already lost 90% of the jobs in history from automation or new technology, and the world has yet to collapse.

Obviously, that didn’t happen overnight — we’re talking hundreds of years — but it’s a good statistic to diffuse some of the hysteria and hyperbole. Jobs get replaced by technology all the time, through the entire course of human history — that’s the point of technology.

But while certain jobs do disappear, other jobs always come in to fill the gap. It may be in a different industry, it may cause a brief economic shakeup, but the market tends to find equilibrium over time.

2. Automation Makes Humans Pointless

As anyone who’s worked in any kind of customer-facing job knows, people have questions.

For instance, some restaurants have implemented a self-order kiosk at the counter (like McDonald’s) or pay-when-you’re-ready tablets at the table (like Chili’s). However, this doesn’t mean labor has been lost. For a cashier-tablet, you still need someone around to help people use the tablets – not everyone is tech savvy. You need someone there to answer questions, make substitutions, and deal with errors.

There’s also an increased turnaround with tables. Since patrons don’t have to wait around for the check to come to the table, they can simply tap a few buttons, swipe their card, and leave.

When some cashiers are lost, they are often replaced by more help in the kitchen to cover the increase in the speed of ordering and an increased number of customers being served on a given shift.

In a situation like a doctor’s office, some have implemented a medical tablet to allow patients to sign in and enter their data faster. This also eliminates the need for double entry and significantly cuts down on paper costs. Could this eliminate a reception job? Potentially, depending on workload, but that loss would allow the practice to hire another nurse to reduce wait times and provide better patient care.

3. Any Job Can Be Replaced, Given Time

Some jobs resist automation.

The automatability of certain tasks and jobs has been vastly overrated according to a study in the Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim.

They found that “experts tend to overestimate the potential of new technologies.” They noted that “the comparative advantage of machines … is typically overstated for tasks involving flexibility, power of judgment, and common sense.”

Even factories, often the pinnacle of automation’s success, require things like Human Machine Interfaces (or HMI panels), in the form of industrial tablets and industrial panel PCs.

HMI computers are invaluable in a factory space. They not only track maintenance on machines but can alert the operator when it’s time for another spot check. They can use past patterns and current data to predict production surges, detect where production bottlenecks may occur, and even enforce quality control. But, you still need a human hand at the tiller – or in this case, the HMI – to react and problem-solve in ways a machine can’t.

These advances increase production, which grows the company, which builds more factories, which requires more human labor, etc.

4. Automation and Labor Are Natural Enemies

In an essay in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, MIT economics professor David H. Autor outlines how automation through history has always augmented labor more than replaced it and actually leads to higher demand for labor.

Automation replaces tedious, repetitive tasks, and thus frees up human labor to spend more time solving complex problems through creativity and adaptability.

This further bolsters the “90% of jobs in history have been replaced by technology” argument made by Forbes. The invention of the car may have put many horse trainers and farriers out of business, but it created an entire market of automotive service, industry, tech, and drivers that easily replaced those jobs – and likely created many more.

5. Machines Are Just Better At Everything

The human animal is a remarkable machine — human brains are far superior to A.I. at image recognition, context clues, and creativity. Still, there’s no denying that computers, automation, and A.I. are better (and safer) than people for many specialized jobs. Robots have hardly eliminated the need for firefighters, but firefighting robots are used in areas that are unsafe for humans. A human can use a drone and a touchscreen tablet to inspect a sewer line, map a mine shaft, and even disarm a bomb.

More thoroughly-inspected sewer lines create more opportunity for repair and replacement. Mapping a mine shaft means more work for miners. Disarming a bomb, well, the benefits speak for themselves.

But when it comes to versatility and adaptability, the human race still holds the top spot. While certain tasks can be automated, entire jobs are rarely so easy to replace.

Don’t Let Automation Keep You Up at Night

It’s understood that automation will affect low-skilled jobs the most and that many workers may lose their jobs. We recognize this for how difficult it is for those affected.

However, when discussing the macro scale of jobs overall, many of the worst campfire tales about the dangers of automation have been greatly overstated.

For more information on how you can automate processes and improve efficiency, you can contact Cybernet here.