Global plastics groups have published the first international safety standard for plastics and rubber machinery, for injection molding presses, which observers said could lower workplace risks and level the playing field between manufacturers in different countries.
The German plastics and rubber machinery association VDMA disclosed the development April 29, saying it had participation from 40 machinery makers, associations and health and safety organizations from 13 countries. VDMA acted as the secretariat and convenor of the panel.
"Even though the project took more than seven years, longer than expected, it was worth the effort to bring together the various existing national and regional standards and, at the same time, to reflect the current state of the art," VDMA said.
Harald Weber, a technology consultant with the German association and project manager of the global effort, pointed to two key reasons for having an international standard.
"It is easier for the machine manufacturers to have one global standard so that they do not need to build different versions of the machines," Weber said. "Some countries did not have any safety standard for injection molding machines. Now they can use the international one."
The new standard was published in April as ISO 20430, under the International Organization for Standardization in Geneva.
Doug Nix, a Canadian machinery safety consultant and head of that country's technical committee providing input in the injection press standard, said the new standard will "create a more level playing field" for machine makers in different countries.
Until the publication of the ISO standard, Nix wrote in a blog on his machinerysafety101.com website, separate European and North American standards had been "fighting for dominance."
In an interview, he said that individual national standards bodies have to vote to adopt the ISO rule, although he said that even if they do not, the ISO standard can still be specified in private market transactions in those countries.
Even if not all countries formally adopt the ISO standard, it creates significant movement toward a global standard that can make machines safer, said Nix, who is managing director of Compliance InSight Consulting Inc. in Kitchener, Ontario.
He agreed with Weber that it was a lengthy process to get to this point.
"The reason it was such a long road is there were a lot of arguments in the committee room about what would be in the document," Nix said.
In Europe, Weber said, the new ISO standard will replace the existing EN 201 injection molding machine safety standard and become "valid in all European countries."
The 121 member countries participating in ISO have the choice to adopt the new rule as their own national standards, but even if not, Weber agreed with Nix that the new standard can be specified immediately in private contracts anywhere when buying or selling machinery.
"As the United States, Japan (and) Canada were actively involved in the development of the standard, I assume that it will also be adopted there," Weber said.
German machinery firms are among the world's largest exporters of plastics equipment and depend on global sales for a larger portion of their sales than companies in many other major machinery production centers.
"The most important thing is the harmonization of the existing international standards so that machine manufacturers do not need to build different versions of the machines," Weber said.
The standard was able to take advantage of advances in safety and protective measures in both the plastics machinery technology and safety equipment, he said. For example, it may allow specific machine movements in special control modes when doors are open for things like maintenance and setup.
"With the described safety concept these operations can be carried out safely and do not give incentives for manipulations of the safety system," he said.
As well, he said annexes to the document have been "completely revised" to make them clearer and include additional solutions, like contactless position detectors.
The global plastics effort has other projects upcoming, Nix said.
It's nearing completion of a standard on injection mold clamping and will soon start work on a standard for extrusion machines, an effort which could take several years, Nix said.