Machine safety – What is Industry 4.0?

by Jul 4, 2019Machine Safety

Also called industry of the future, or 4th industrial revolution, industry 4.0 represents a new organization of industries based on new technologies relying on interconnectivity between human beings, machines and resources. It’s a single connection between a virtual world of exchange and analysis of astronomical amounts of data, and the real physical world. This is about having a complete virtual image of a plant in order to know the status in real time and then act quickly. Obviously, this applies to optimize productivity, or for maintenance also. For example, the multiplication of sensors on machines allows the possibility to anticipate breaks. This could help to reduce parts replacement to be safe and only change them when necessary. By having a live image of the state of a part, it’s no longer necessary to rely on a probability of failure after a given number of operating hours. So, there is huge potential for predictive and preventive maintenance.

Human-machine relationship intrinsically safe

The increase data processing system’s power and, the democratization of them, make it possible to exploit quantities of data previously inconceivable. Therefore, Industry 4.0 is strongly based on the multiplication of data acquisition (thanks to the Internet of things) and big data analysis. Another feature of Industry 4.0 is the integration of new technologies that will transform human-machine relationship. Robots, for example, since have been used to automate the industry, but new technologies nowadays make them more autonomous by allowing them to interact with each other and intrinsically safe.

According to Badri et al. (2018), there are six (6) categories of technological developments related to Industry 4.0: big data, internet of things, collaborative robotics, artificial intelligence and simulation (virtual reality) [1]. The authors discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each category in Table 1 below.

Tableau 1 – Potential advantages and disadvantages according to the categories of technological developments related to Industry 4.0 [1]


Industry 4.0 in terms of OHS : the benefits

In real terms, the advantages over OHS that can be deduced from the Table 1 above are :

  • The analysis of big (massive) data confers a better capacity of analysis of behavior and anticipation of the errors. This can be useful for risk analysis, for example.
  • The internet of things allows the possibility to remotely diagnose equipment, which reduce the need for physical access to dangerous areas, and then improve the safety of workers.
  • Robotics has several positive effects, such as reducing the physical load of workers and reducing exposure to hazards [2].
  • Artificial intelligence will allow autonomous equipment to recognize risks and will facilitate decision making immediately.
  • Simulation is already used to anticipate risks, but the use of live reality allows a total immersion, an almost real situation tests more effective for the identification of hazards on equipment that does not yet exist physically.


OHS and the Growth of Industry 4.0 : Challenges

In return, the current state of knowledge and technologies required to keep a certain caution. Indeed, the inflow of data from multiple sources generates a complexity of analysis of these data. The exploitation of this data, especially when it comes to ensuring the workers safety, must be reliable. Although having evolved tremendously, the integrated technology on autonomous cars, for example, has to prove itself to be fully accepted. The reliability and robustness of the algorithms must therefore be further improved for a unfailing autonomy.

In addition, issues of network reliability and cyber security are a multi-level concern. A widespread fear is the remote control of equipment and facilities. This can affect the health and safety of workers on the floor, but also in public safety issues for some sensitive industries. Companies also want to be sure that their confidential data will be sufficiently protected.

Just as the 3rd industrial revolution required the introduction of new regulations and new standards, Industry 4.0 punches the standards and regulations that need to be adapted.

If we take the example of collaborative robots, they are in themselves a challenge to the regulation of health and safety in Quebec (RSST) [3]. Indeed, the RSST aims to prevent the maximum access to gold moving parts, collaborative robots are sold as intrinsically safe and do not need to be in a protective enclosure that separates the worker from the robot. An adjustment should be made to frame the human-machine collaboration. Standards begin to integrate collaborative robotics. Indeed, the ISO 10218 (2011) [4] standard integrates collaborative robots but it’s already under revision because the need for a more precise / adapted framework was felt.

References :

  • Badri, A., Boudreau-Trudel, B., Souissi, A. S. (2018), Occupational health and safety in the industry 4.0 era: A cause for major concern? Safety Science 109, 403–411.
  • Jocelyn, S., Burlet-Vienney, D., Giraud, L. (2017) Robotique collaborative : évaluation des fonctions de sécurité et retour d’expérience des travailleurs, utilisateurs et intégrateurs au Québec. IRSST, Rapport R-974. En ligne :
  • Règlement sur la santé et la sécurité du travail du Québec, RLRQ, c. S-2.1, r. 13.
  • Organisation internationale de normalisation (2011) Robots et dispositifs robotiques : exigences de sécurité pour les robots industriels. Partie 1, robots. Norme ISO 10218.

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