It goes without saying that safety is the number-one priority of any manufacturer. As technology advances, designers are increasingly called upon to incorporate protective mechanisms into products at a very early stage. Even preliminary design engineers now have a profound influence on ultimate plant safety.
As you execute your effective design process, consider the potential environmental, health and safety risks that could occur at any point in a product’s lifecycle – from raw material procurement through manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal.
Growing Engineering Responsibilities
Previously, equipment safety features were primarily considered the responsibility of the user and owner. But today, more stringent standards and rapid technological changes mean engineers are called upon to pinpoint a product’s potential for failure – and then design to prevent it.
- Safety design measures must be comprehensive. You can’t simply add a safe-stop mechanism that shuts down part of a machine so that once the problem is fixed, full operation can quickly resume. Additional safety features, such as self-monitoring, may be necessary. In addition to considering the possible impact of a new safety device on other machine components, maintenance procedures are a crucial part of your design directive.
- The growing importance of software to mechanical systems is placing additional responsibility on design engineers. Frequently, programs exhibit unexpected bugs, lockups or memory, out-of-bounds or test errors. Effective software review must begin early enough in the design and development process to prevent and correct such issues.
There are a number of “hot spots” for safety awareness that need to be a part of your design process. They include:
- Back-up warnings: Safety warnings are not effective unless they’re tailored for and clearly communicated to the right audiences. For instance, user warnings must be designed to help workers avoid personal harm. Customer information should provide detail on any associated risks as a consumer makes a purchasing decision.
- International regulations: To tap into the global marketplace, businesses must broaden their design processes to include worldwide forces that drive consumer markets. For instance, the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive places limits on lead-based alloys used for solder and plating. The REACH (Regulation, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances) program is promoting development of a global system for the classification, labeling and packaging of chemicals and their containers.
Hot Spots in Manufacturing Plants
Keep these plant-based areas on your engineering radar screen. Predesign should incorporate generous allowances for ongoing preventive maintenance.
- Piping: This is the single largest source of failures, impacting valves, flanges, threaded joints, drains, traps and strainers.
- Storage vessels: This is the number-two plant-based failure source. Most accidents around storage vessels stem from complacency. These ancillary areas tend to receive less maintenance, which is an operational versus a design challenge. However, some incidents result from over pressurization. Tanks burst, causing explosions or fires.
- Furnaces: Since combustible mixtures and ignition sources are basic to their functions, furnaces are risky by nature. A key design feature should include the avoidance of large volumes of reactive mixtures.
Additional “hot spot” areas within manufacturing facilities include pumps, heat exchangers, gas movers and compressors, and chemical reactors.
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