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Working with Robots? Why the International Robot Safety Conference is a Can’t-Miss Event

POSTED 05/08/2023  | By: Emmet Cole, A3 Contributing Editor

The International Robot Safety Conference (IRSC), hosted by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), provides an opportunity for attendees of all experience levels to examine key issues in robot safety, explore current industry standards, and learn about best practices.

In advance of this year’s conference, which is being held Oct 9-11, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we asked three leading robot safety experts to reveal the safety topics that they’re most looking forward to exploring at the event.

“The IRSC is group therapy for how to deal with safety and robotics,” says Roberta Nelson Shea, Global Technical Compliance Officer at Universal Robots and Winner of the prestigious 2023 Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award for her leadership in global robotics safety over a career spanning more than four decades.

“There will be end users speaking about challenges that they've had, how they solve challenges, and their ongoing challenges. We’ll also hear from integrators and manufacturers in a similar vein. There is a lot of networking. There are presentations that provide advance news about what’s happening in the world of robot safety. And there’s a tabletop event with several vendors showcasing their products,” says Nelson Shea.

Nelson Shea led the introduction of ISO/TS 15066, which is the first document to define standardized safety requirements within human-robot-collaboration. She also chairs the committee that oversees the R15.06 robot safety standard.

“Despite having been in the robotics business forever, and robot safety business forever, I always learn something at IRSC, whether that’s some simple and elegant innovation or a creative technical solution. I would be very surprised if someone were to attend the conference and say they don't take away something from it.”  

Mobile robot safety is set to be a hot topic at this year’s event, says Carole Franklin, Director of Robotics Standards Development, at A3 who led development of the R15.08-1 standard for industrial mobile robots – safety requirements, Part I.

“Part I describes how to make a mobile robot that’s capable of operating safely around people, whereas Part II describes how to integrate mobile robots in industrial environments, including operating safely around people. If all goes well, we hope to publish Part II just prior to IRSC, but either way, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn more at the event,” she says.  

Separately, while the much-anticipated update to the ISO 10218 standard is not likely to be published before this year’s IRSC, Franklin is looking forward to learning more about the updates at the conference.

“The update to 10218 will be a seriously hot topic in 2024, but in advance of that, this year’s IRSC will include lots of content about this important update,” adds Franklin. 

Standards development for safety is not at the cutting edge of technology, she notes, but that’s “a feature, not a bug” --especially when you consider what’s at stake.

“We're talking about peoples’ lives, peoples’ limbs. We're talking about something that if we get it wrong, it could mean a life-changing or life-ending consequence for a fellow human being. So, safety standardization is a conservative domain. If something has proven itself to work, the safety world says ‘Okay. If you have something new and better, you have to prove to me that it works at least as well as what we already have’,” Franklin explains.

Mark Lewandowski, Director of Robotics Innovation in Global Engineering at Procter & Gamble, has attended and spoken at IRSC several times. Lewandowski is a member of the A3 Robotics Technology Strategy Board and participates in several industry standard development groups for robotics and machine safety, including as chair of the R15 Standards Approval Committee.

“If you have any interest or need to understand robot safety, IRSC is definitely a conference that you want to participate in. I highly recommend the event to new users of robot technology as a way to get engaged with and to understand a lot of the basics about how to do robot safety. But there's also a great opportunity for more experienced practitioners to connect with other experienced practitioners and to be able to have more in depth conversations about the next generation of robot safety,” says Lewandowski, who has more than 30 years of machine controls, robotics, and machine safety experience in high-speed converting, packaging, and robotics applications.

Like Franklin, Lewandowski is particularly looking forward to learning more about how industry will react to the forthcoming update to the R15.08-1 standard for mobile robots.

“We need discussions about the best way to harmonize these mobile robot safety standards internationally, because right now, there are very different standards that apply in different regions. And much the same way that we had to go through the harmonization process with more traditional robot safety standards 10 plus years ago, we need to figure out and understand how we're going to do that for mobile robot standards as well,” says Lewandowski.

The other topic on Lewandowski’s radar is human-robot collaboration.

“What’s happening in industry to enable more human-robot collaboration? What new tools and sensors are being developed to enable increased human-robot collaboration? What are the next advancements to be aware of in human-robot collaboration? In the future, we're going to see many more solutions requiring robots and humans to be able to, if not truly collaborate, to at least coexist safely and effectively in the same spaces, so I’m looking forward to exploring this topic further in Pittsburgh.”

Learn more and register for the International Robot Safety Conference.

A3 offers robot safety trainings year-round and free robot safety webinars. Check out all the robot safety resources here.