Robot safety fences and their benefits

June 25, 2024
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What are robot safety fences? 

Robot safety fences, also known as robot fencing or robot safety enclosures, are physical barriers designed to protect workers and equipment from potential hazards caused by robotic operations. 

These protective structures can be simple barriers or complex systems with integrated safety features. 

They create a designated work area for the robot, preventing unauthorized access and minimizing the risk of accidents due to unexpected movements, malfunctions, or pesky flying debris.

Components of a robot safety fence system

Think of a robot safety fence as a fortress protecting your workspace.

It's a carefully engineered system with various components working together for max safety: 

  • Panels are the building blocks of the fence, forming the physical barrier. They come in various materials like steel mesh, polycarbonate, or acrylic, each offering different levels of visibility and impact resistance.
  • Posts are sturdy vertical supports that anchor the panels in place, ensuring the fence remains stable and secure.
  • Doors and gates are controlled access points. They allow authorized personnel to enter and exit the work cell while preventing accidental intrusion. These often have safety interlocks that cut power to the robot when opened.
  • Hardware connects the panels, posts, and gates. A variety of fasteners, brackets, and hinges create a unified and robust structure.
  • Safety sensors are clever devices that tag the presence of people or objects within the danger zone. They trigger an immediate shutdown of the robot to prevent accidents.
  • Warning signs and lights give you auditory alerts. They warn personnel of the robot's active state, reminding them to exercise caution — and not go sticking their heads close to its work envelope. 

How robot safety fences work

Robot safety fences are more than just physical barriers; they're smart systems designed to actively prevent accidents. 

They work in several ways:

  • Physical separation: The most obvious function is to create a physical barrier between the robot's work area and the rest of the environment. This prevents accidental contact with the robot's moving parts, which can be extremely dangerous.
  • Access control: Doors and gates with safety interlocks ensure that the robot cannot operate when the fence is open. This prevents workers from entering the work cell while the robot is doing its thing. 
  • Sensor detection: Safety sensors, such as light curtains, laser scanners, or pressure-sensitive mats, monitor the perimeter of the fence. If a person or object breaches the perimeter, the sensors trigger an emergency stop right then and there. 
  • Warning systems: Visual signals like flashing lights and audible alarms warn workers when the robot is active, reminding them to stay clear of the work cell.

Types of robot safety fences

Robot safety fences aren't all one and the same. 

They come in various types, each fit for specific needs and situations:

  • Fixed perimeter guards: These are your basic, no-frills fences. They're sturdy, reliable, and great for situations where the robot's movements are predictable and don't need frequent access.
  • Interlocked gates: These gates add a layer of security by preventing the robot from operating while the gate is open. 
  • Light curtains: These high-tech fences use beams of light to create an invisible barrier. If anything crosses the beam, the robot stops immediately. Ideal for situations that need frequent access.
  • Laser scanners: These use lasers to create a virtual safety zone around the robot. If anything enters the zone, the robot gets a heads-up and can react accordingly.
  • Pressure-sensitive mats: Place these mats on the floor around the robot, and they'll trigger an emergency stop if someone steps on them.
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Major regulations and standards for robot safety fences

Robot safety fences are not just a good idea; they're often a legal requirement. 

Various national and international standards dictate the design, construction, and use of these fences to guarantee worker safety. 

Some of the important standards to know about are: 

  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration): In the United States, OSHA sets and enforces standards for workplace safety, including the use of robot safety fences.
  • ANSI (American National Standards Institute): ANSI/RIA R15.06 is the national standard for industrial robots and related systems.  
  • ISO (International Organization for Standardization): ISO 10218-1 and ISO 10218-2 are international standards that cover the safety requirements for industrial robots.

Advantages of using robot safety fences

Investing in robot safety fences offers numerous benefits beyond mere compliance with regulations. 

These advantages make them a must-have part of any robotic operation:

  • People will be safer: The primary benefit is the reduction of workplace accidents. By preventing accidental contact with the robot and its moving parts, safety fences significantly slash the risk of injuries.
  • A more productive workplace: With a safe working environment, workers can focus on their tasks without fear of accidents, leading to increased productivity and efficiency.
  • Down with downtime: Safety fences help prevent damage to equipment caused by accidents, minimizing costly repairs and downtime.
  • Much better risk management: By identifying and mitigating potential hazards, safety fences contribute to a comprehensive risk management strategy for your robotic operations.
  • Peace of mind: Knowing that your employees are safe lets you focus on other aspects of your business without worrying about accidents.

Challenges and considerations in implementing safety fences

Yes, there are challenges to robot fencing.

Let’s take a look: 

  • You’ll have to pay for them: Depending on the size and complexity of the system, safety fences can be a significant investment.
  • They’re not exactly space-efficient: Fences require space, which can be a challenge in smaller facilities or those with tight layouts.
  • They can be uncomfortable: While fences are meant to protect workers, they can also hinder access to the work cell for maintenance or adjustments.
  • Design complexity: Designing a safety fence system that meets all safety standards and accommodates the specific needs of your application can be complex.
  • Integration with existing systems is hard: Integrating safety fences with existing robotic systems or other safety measures may necessitate modifications or additional equipment.

Installation and maintenance of robot safety fences

Proper installation and maintenance of robot safety fences are crucial to ensure their effectiveness in safeguarding your workforce and equipment.

  • Pro installation: It's recommended to engage experienced professionals for the installation of robot safety fences. They have the expertise to assess your specific requirements, design a suitable fence layout, and make sure things are properly installed. 
  • Inspect regularly: Conduct routine inspections to identify any damage, wear and tear, or misalignment of fence components. Be quick to address any issues to maintain the fence's integrity and functionality.
  • Calibrate the sensors: Regularly calibrate safety sensors to ensure they detect intrusions accurately and trigger emergency stops.
  • Clean and maintain the fence: Keep the fence clean and free of debris to prevent interference with sensor operation and maintain visibility.
  • Keep thorough records: Maintain records of installation, inspections, maintenance activities, and any modifications to the fence system. 

Summing up

Robot safety fences are an essential investment for any company that uses robotic systems.

Please: Don't underestimate the importance of these protective barriers — they are all-important for getting the full potential of robotic automation while making sure your people remain safe, happy, and productive. 

Next steps

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