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Panic Buttons Go Wireless

Considering how important they are for protecting workers, machinery, and products, it’s understandable why E-stops haven’t gone wireless up until now—but that's finally changing.

Officially, they’re called emergency-stop or E-stop switches, but machine operators often refer to these last-resort switches as the panic button. When a machine malfunction or some other critical incident occurs, operators need to know the location of a single switch to quickly and safely bring an entire machine or system to a halt. Doing so helps prevent injury to workers or serious damage to machines and products. Tech company Laird PLC, London, says that the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) reported that nearly 5,000 U.S. workers were fatally injured in industrial accidents in 2015.

For generations, hard-wired E-stops have been the standard solution to shut down a production or manufacturing line. However, you might expect the growing use of wireless devices in the workplace to change this. Then again, an E-stop switch is so important that it’s understandable why the E-stop hasn’t gone wireless—until now. Wireless technology would allow a worker to carry an E-stop device, allowing him or her to shut down a machine without having to frantically rush to it.

Challenges and Benefits of Going Wireless

Laird PLC recently introduced a wireless e-stop system, Safe-E-Stop, that can be integrated with existing hard-wired emergency stop systems for assembly lines and other production systems. It improves on-the-job safety by allowing an individual or group of operators to immediately shut down a production line without having to run to a hard-wired E-stop station. Furthermore, the closest machine-mounted E-stop might even be in the same danger zone created by the emergency. Rushing to the next available E-stop could pose a hazard and add precious seconds—or minutes—to an emergency’s response time.

Laird engineers developed the SIL 3-rated wireless personal safety solution, which is available through Rockwell Automation’s Encompass Partner program with Rockwell Automation distributors.

David Stagg, product manager for Laird Controls, says, “Our new Safe-E-Stop system is a reliable, cost-effective wireless solution that can be easily integrated into existing hard-wired E-stop systems to save precious seconds to avert worker injury or even death, and equipment damage in the event of a crisis.”

The Safe-E-Stop system provides continuous status indicators with LED and LCD readouts. The EtherNet/IP port on the Machine Safety Device (MSD) can be used to report the status of actuated wireless E-Stops to operations personnel. As many as five Personal Safety Devices (PSDs) can be simultaneously linked to the MSD, which permits multiple operators to work independently or collaboratively to oversee an operation or solve a problem.

If an E-Stop on any of the linked PSDs is activated, the MSD commands a stop. All PSDs are immediately notified of the stop condition, the machine is shut down, and the system identifies the PSD responsible for the stop. The PSDs have visual and haptic (vibration) warning systems for conditions such as low battery and low RF signal designed to allow workers to move about the area within a 100-m line of sight range of the MSD.

For more information, call Laird USA, Earth City, Mo., (636) 898-6000 or visit its website.  

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