Jetlag and other hazards of Euro safety coverage

Day One, Hannover Fair (the world's biggest industrial show running April 16 through 20, 2007):

Lost:
1 videographer (in Budapest)
1 attaché case (in a taxi)
7 hours of sleep (at 30,000 ft.).

Found:
1 videographer (on his fourth plane)
Summer
Sanity (after some catch-up zzzzs).

I type this on my laptop cross legged under a tree in the heart of Hannover Fair, between two gigantic halls chockablock of technologies of the highest order. It's 7 p.m. German time and before we break out the schnapps and schnitzel, I file this report. It's atypically hot, reaching into the 80s in temperature with a cloudless sky, an azure backdrop to the dozens of national flags lining the cobblestone promenade connecting the 27 halls of this the largest industrial show in the world. That's right, 27 halls! And these are massive buildings filled with booths (called "stands" in Europe); the booths of the bigger players take up a city block each!

It's tremendously cool to watch contingents of Chinese, Southeast Asians, Europeans and Americans passing through the halls, scouting for the next big technology, the perfect company to form a partnership with to reach new markets. (The countries with the largest number of visitors, aside from Germany, include China, Italy and Turkey; the latter because it is this year's 'Partner Country' allowing it special exhibitor space.)

Executives from every country travel in a posse and are elegantly suited; this is a far cry from the American show where a golf shirt and casual khakis do the trick! As always, English is the international language of business, dropped carefully into a sea of tongues. Lunch at an outdoor café (on the fairgrounds) is like eavesdropping at a United Nations meeting!

Safety solutions galore, including automation

Our first stop is Hall 16, the home of the Safety & Security Pavilion. It's the first time in Hannover Fair's 61-year-history that a special center focused on safety has existed – a reflection of the growing interest in and demand for the highest standards for industrial safety.

Along with the usual safety hardware - switches, light curtains, safety mats, bumpers and locks for machine doors - new technologies are proudly showcased here. You can almost feel the tension of the competitive R&D edge between exhibitors in some cases.

Toaster-sized laser scanner

A new development at Sick, a major European manufacturer, was a laser scanner much smaller (the size of a small toaster) than its predecessors and every other safety scanner on the market. This miniaturized safety laser scanner, which is distributed across the U.S., is used to safeguard smaller areas – up to 2 meters away, as opposed to 7 m. for its larger scanner cousin. The light housing of this smaller scanner means it can be mounted on automated guided vehicles to detect hazards, and used in small assembly area for safety applications.

Sick was also showing off its distributed safety system, wherein signals are collected from a light curtain, with e-stop functionality, and from a mini laser scanner. Those signals are connected to a field bus node, and then they move to a remotely located controller. Harald Schmidt (who shares his name with a celebrity talk show host, the German version of Letterman), manager of the industrial safety systems division for Sick, "saves our customers a lot of cabling cost for the customer as it replaces the use of many cables with just one.

"We are also integrating a standard controller – which is not usually allowed for safety controls - into a new safety system," says Schmidt, adding that his company's competitors use a standard PLC next to a safety controller. Sick s system uses remote I/O to replace the safety controller. The new safety system includes a programming interface (HMI).

Interesting side note: the Europeans continued to call it "man-machine interface" (MMI) for years longer than the U.S., who have switched to "human-machine interface" (HMI).

Stay tuned for daily reports from Hannover Fair – I will post directly at the end of each day's show at 6 p.m. German-time so that you can read it by around noon each day in North America!

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