3 Questions about the Future of Functional Safety

Reading time: 4 minutes - Difficulty: advanced
The Digital Transformation of industrial automation has changed the framework in regards to safety technologies. With three questions, we try imagine the future of Functional Safety.

1 – What are today’s most pressing issues regarding safety in the process industry?

Digitalization in its various forms (e.g. the Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence) has undergone a massive expansion in recent years, influencing not just our everyday life, but also the whole industrial sector. Increasingly smart devices can work together in an autonomous way, making decisions based on large flows of data.

In terms of safety, this means steadily reducing the human presence in those activities involving risks, limiting it to a purely supervisory role. This situation brings many advantages, as long as the technology is designed in accordance with accepted rules of safety.

Technological development is basically driven by an ongoing search to improve processes in terms of time and costs, leading to the production of increasingly autonomous and smart devices.

Clearly, the most important issues for the process industry are in relation to Advanced Automation, Intelligent Software, Wireless Technologies and OT Cyber Security.


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2 – Which methods can be used to ensure safety in the process industry?

Firstly, an ability to identify any risks associated with industrial products, intercepting problems before they occur.

Clearly, the best solution is to ensure compliance with the functional safety requirements of standards IEC 61508 and IEC 61511, and with cyber security standard IEC 62443.

It is also important to assess the reliability of a system in terms of certain international standards. This would include analyzing risk, calculating SIL (Safety Integrity Level) and Performance Level, and evaluating process safety and reliability by use of systematic tools such as HazOp, LOPA, FMEA, FMECA, FMEDA, FTA, and RBD. A further strategy is to create technical and management training programs for company staff, focusing on the main standards and regulations applicable to the safe and secure design of components, systems and machines.

For the manufacturer, the possession of IEC 61508 certification is not only important in terms of functional safety, but also demonstrates the reliability of his product and the robust nature of the processes used to make it, providing a vital opportunity to distinguish his company from other competitors in the market. Clearly, the same reasoning also applies to the IEC 62443 set of standards, for which ​​ISASecure​​® ​​is the most widely used form of certification.​


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3 – What could be the main challenge in terms of safety resulting from digitalization and digital transformation?

Our world is going through a time of huge changes and new challenges, mainly as a result of new technologies that are driving an unprecedented move towards digitalization.

The process industry is moving in the same direction, but this development must go hand in hand with safety if it is to bring real benefits and new ideas. Safety must be able to support new technologies, bringing added value without hindering or blocking the process of innovation.

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