Forty proof and future-proof

Drinking too much and innovative technologies are a two-headed beast known as the international trade show - and Hannover Fair 2007, happening this week in northern Germany, is no exception!

Carousing socially and creating products have something else in common: both can come with a heavy price. I am writing this with a weak stomach and heavy lids after a late night with industry colleagues at an outdoor cafe. And, wouldn't you know, new technologies are often accompanied by a hangover - of the regulatory kind!

Matters of safety compliance are heavy on my mind after interviewing dozens of vendors and end users regarding their safety systems. In Europe, machine builders face some 300 safety-related standards. It may not be quite so daunting in America on the standards side, but in the U.S., liability is always the dangling sword above manufacturers who use safety systems that aren't up to snuff.

Why the FDA cares about machine safety systems

Governmental requirements add to the complexity. The U.S.-based Food & Drug Administration (FDA) sets strict rules for safety systems in place on packaging machines that wrap up our food and drugs to be sure that machine oil doesn't leak into your tetra-packed orange juice, or that the machine doesn't jam the case of your birth control pill so it doesn't dispense properly.

Obviously, non-compliance with enforcers such as the FDA results in heavy financial penalties, weakening the company's sustainability. It's a nasty loop - skimp on safety and it will ultimately lead to a dire bottom line.

In the machinery safety environment, it is always a question of legal requirements," says Matthias Brinkmann, chairman of the Safety Network International, an organization dedicated to the improvement of safety technology. His group of some three dozen vendors are currently working on publishing the standards for, and promoting, the new Ethernet-based safety system known as SafetyNET p.

To quote a poster on the Hannover Fair show booth of Safety Network International, they are working to make the industry "future-proof, thanks to Ethernet technologies."

There you have it: 40 proof and future-proof, where indulgence and innovation coexist - at Hannover Fair!

For the record, Yankees ain't seen nothing at a trade show til they attend one of Hannover Fair's "booth parties" - directly at 6pm as the show doors lock, until well past midnight, hundreds of exhibitors and guests cram into one booth (the size of half a city block, mind you, not a typical 10 x 10 ft.!) to listen to a live band and drink from two open bars with hot food and dessert served all night long. (The photo here shows just such a booth party at Beckhoff last night.)

More coming at you from Germany and all the latest safety technology innovations! Stay tuned...

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