Forklift Safety Technology Works for Robots, Too

Forklift Safety Technology Works for Robots, Too
Automated pedestrian detection system keeps workers safe inside robot welding cells

Worker safety is of paramount concern to Kirchhoff, and its safety standards are exceptionally high, so management decided it needed to essentially eliminate the risk of anyone being injured by the automated high-speed robots. The company’s Chairman, Dr. Jochen F. Kirchhoff, explains why: “We have a social responsibility to our employees, and we focus on long-term success over short-term results. Our corporate culture and values are aligned with Christian morals like ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘respect others as you respect yourself’.” Consistent with these values, Kirchhoff Mielec sought a safety technology that could prevent any possibility of robot-worker accidents inside its welding cells.


The Project at a glance

Plenty

robots in use at KIRCHOFF

Interlocked

cell doors

Pedestrian modules

are carried by the employees to prevent locking them in

Employees

are feeling more safely thanks to ELOshield


The Background
Welding Cells Work at High Speed, Posing Risk for Personnel

Auto manufacturers have long used robotics in place of people. But that doesn’t mean robots can work entirely without humans. Workers have to enter welding cells regularly to calibrate, adjust, and repair the machines. At Kirchhoff Mielec, employees enter the robots’ enclosures several times per shift. Even with good lock-out/tag-out procedures in place—a robot cannot be activated unless its cell door is closed and locked—Kirchhoff wanted worker safety to be 100% failsafe. For example, there was still a chance that a worker outside a welding cell might accidentally close its door while another employee was inside.

The Solution
Adapting Forklift Collision-Avoidance System

Kirchhoff management was aware of the ELOKON Group’s reputation for developing innovative safety systems, especially for machinery in material handling applications. Like Kirchhoff, ELOKON is headquartered in Germany, and the company has been engineering safety technology for over 30 years.

Accordingly, Kirchhoff invited ELOKON to propose an automated safety solution for its robotic welding cells. ELOKON’s engineers quickly realized that Kirchhoff’s operating environment and objectives were very similar to those of its forklift safety customers. And to meet Kirchhoff’s requirements, ELOKON could adapt its ELOshield proximity-detection system.

ELOshield uses ultra-wideband (UWB) radio technology to automatically detect people in the vicinity of powered equipment, like forklifts and AGVs. The system has highly configurable “warning” and “protection” zones. If a person comes within range of these zones, the system can automatically control the equipment—slowing it down, stopping it, and preventing reactivation—according to the customer’s needs.

Successful and straightforward safety measure
How ELOshield Assures Worker Safety in Robotic Welding Cells

ELOKON placed detection antennas inside each welding cell, equipped workers with wearable wireless modules, and integrated a control module into each robot. The antennas cover every inch of the cells continuously with UWB signals.
If the system detects a person inside a cell, it automatically communicates to the control module, which prevents the machine from activating. Even if the cell door is closed and locked. In addition, the system flashes warning lights outside the cell to alert nearby workers that someone is inside.

“This has proved to be a very successful system,” said Ryszard Muzyczka, East Europe Regional Director of Kirchhoff Automotive. “Workers entering the cell feel much more confident now, as do the employees who activate the robots, since they can now be absolutely sure that no colleagues are at risk.”

 

“Integrating ELOshield into the machine control system was straightforward,” Muzyczka added, “and the system is simple and logical for the workforce to operate.”

The deployment of ELOshield on robots has been so well received at Kirchhoff, the company is planning to install the system in areas where forklifts deliver material to cells. This would allow both forklift drivers and pedestrian workers to be warned when they get too close to each other, avoiding collisions and injuries.


About KIRCHHOFF

KIRCHHOFF Automotive has been making auto parts since—well, ever since there have been cars. The company started out as a sewing needle manufacturer in the late 1700’s, at about the same time the Founding Fathers started thinking about replacing the Articles of Confederation with the U.S. Constitution. And in 1894, Kirchhoff built the world’s first press shop for the motor vehicle industry.

Today, Kirchhoff is among the world’s leading providers of high-tech automotive parts, specializing in metal components and complex hybrid “body-in-white” structures—such as front-end frames, cross-beams, and crash management systems.

The company’s plant in Mielec, Poland, forms steel and aluminum parts, produces stamping tools, and pre-assembles structures using advanced robotic welding processes.


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