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Improving safety and output for the UK’s largest brick manufacturer

To meet increasing market demand, the Ibstock Brick Ravenhead plant recently upgraded their Dehacking line with a new robot palletising system and an integrated automated stretch wrapper to improve the volume of bricks that could be processed and packaged at any given time.

A safety first approach

One of the main priorities of the upgrade was to improve the lines functional safety as robotic palletising systems pose a significant risk to plant operators that may have to work inside the machine and remain hidden from view. 

There are several access points located throughout the Dehacking line that require frequent access by authorised operators and/or maintenance personnel. The risk assessment of this new equipment highlighted a major concern for Unexpected Machine Restart, defined in EN ISO 14118: Safety of Machinery – Prevention of Unexpected Start-up, whereby an unsuspecting operator may inadvertently restart the machine while one of their colleagues continues to work inside the danger zone, leading to a serious or fatal injury.

To avoid this, Ibstock interlocked each guard door on the Dehacking line with a PROFI-enabled amGardpro safety gate switch from Fortress Interlocks. These gate switches incorporated the use of safety keys which are to be retained on an operator’s person while they work inside the danger zone.

This provided a means of guaranteeing personnel protection, as the guard door cannot be locked closed, and thus power to the machine cannot be restarted, until the operator has returned the safety key to its corresponding lock on the safety gate switch.

Another small feature of the interlocking system involved the incorporation of basic machine control functionality into each device. This meant that the restart button and an e-stop for emergency purposes had been built into the body of switch, eliminating the need for additional hardware and associated wiring costs. 

These safety switches were selected because they offer the highest degree of protection for plant and personnel while being one of the most robust safety interlocking solutions on the market. Due to its metal constructuion, these switches have been specifically designed to withstand the most arduous industrial conditions, making them the perfect choice for brick plants that are notorious for dust. 

Networked Safety Gate Switch

Finding extra efficiencies

Ibstock also benefited from connecting each safety gate switch to its PROFINET network with the safety information exchanged on the PROFIsafe extensions.

In doing this, the Ravenhead plant successfully reduced the wiring of each unit as well as decreasing all associated design, engineering, commissioning and maintenance costs. 

The final word

Finally, the installation of PROFI-enabled safety gate switches provided an unprecedented level of diagnostic coverage for the Ravenhead plant. Engineers could use standard internet browsers to access diagnostic displays which provided accurate topology views of the network for rapid fault detection. This form of fault detection drastically decreased the level of production downtime, while allowing authorised personnel to access network displays remotely, meaning engineers could diagnose system faults without being on site. 

“The development of a comprehensive PROFINET network enabled quick and secure data exchange, meaning this state-of-the-art production line could utilise production data to increasingly improve productivity. 

By investing in a PROFINET network and connecting associated field devices, such as safety interlocks, Ibstock Brick are now able to make significant improvements in the way the Ravenhead plant is controlled, monitored and managed.”​

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