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3 Types of Automation Emergencies and What Your Facility Can do About Them

Various automation emergencies can negatively impact a facility’s workflow. Understanding these emergencies is the first step toward identifying potential issues, solving them, and ensuring all employees remain safe.

First, I want to be clear that there are different levels of emergencies. Something that causes you to press the emergency stop (e-stop) button is going to be the most severe — and I hope your facility’s operations never come to that.

Then, there’s the cycle stop, which is a control system command function that effectively brings a machine’s cycle to a slow and steady stop. After a cycle stop, a machine remains fully operable, and odds are it’s still in automatic mode, even though it’s at a complete stop.

The automation emergencies we’ll cover today are those that would either halt production or cause someone to initiate a cycle stop. So what can go wrong with industrial automation equipment? Here are three examples.

1. Motor Failure

When motors aren’t operating as expected, it could indicate issues with the power distribution or motor control circuits. Voltage tests will verify that all 3 phases are being delivered at the correct levels to the motor during both operating and non-operating conditions. These tests can reveal such issues as a phase loss or undersized power distribution.

Motor current testing will verify if the motor is being loaded more than normal. This is an early warning that some attention is needed to prevent motor failure.  Failing bearings on the motor or equipment is a common reason for higher motor current.  Vibration testing is also a good way of predicting motor failure.

2. Interference

Depending on your industrial environment and the variety of electrical equipment it contains, interference from radios, electromagnets, and Variable Frequency Drives may be common. Something as common as a set of radio transmitters used by maintenance staff can cause issues. Without mitigating electrical and magnetic noise, you might experience anything from inconsistency to total failure of your PLC system.

3. Temperature

Heat also has a significant impact on industrial control systems. These systems require air filtration and temperature control to supply airflow while keeping the equipment cool and dry.

Without a proper environment, control system equipment can fail. Manufacturers provide recommendations for maximum temperatures. Failing to follow temperature guidelines can result in a completely preventable emergency.

With the right environment for your automation and control system technology, detecting defects and issues can be built into part of the process. This results in identifying issues earlier and having a better chance of correcting them before things escalate and production stalls.

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