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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Cross-disciplinary projects > Bridging gaps in safety and reliability
Graphic element Bridging gaps in safety and reliability
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The SAFERELNET thematic network is being launched with ambitious plans to improve the coherence of safety and reliability considerations in the design of products, production facilities, industrial systems and structures in European industry. In the process of design, cost is typically balanced against efficiency over a limited part of the product's life cycle. Safety and reliability are often left out of account. Across firms and industries where they are not, they figure unevenly. SAFERELNET aims to smooth out these wrinkles.

When modern systems fail - for example, the Concorde crash in 2000 - the safety and reliability of technologies can become front-page news. Most of the time, though, we rely on all manner of artefacts, from buildings and roads to oil and gas pipelines, without giving either a second thought.

Creating a coherent approach

The man and woman on the street are not alone in this. The community of engineers and scientists who specialise in the safety and reliability of engineering systems is growing, but in industry, attention to the safety and reliability of products, production facilities, industrial systems and structures is uneven.

This is especially clear when a broad perspective is taken, looking across industries and across the entire life cycles of artefacts, from their design through to their operation, their use, their maintenance and their decommissioning.

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In sectors reliant on risky technologies subject to complex government regulation, techniques for taking account of safety and reliability are well developed at many life-cycle stages. In others sectors, they are underdeveloped. Even where well-developed, though, techniques sometimes vary unpredictably from one firm to another.

Recognising this problem, a group of organisations from around Europe is setting up SAFERELNET, a thematic network with ambitious plans to bring more coherence to safety and reliability in European industry. "The basic aim is to put together different industries and research institutions to exchange information, survey the state of the art and prepare proposals for further research," explains Professor Carlos Guedes-Soares, director of the Marine Technology and Engineering Unit at the Instituto Superior Técnico, coordinator of SAFERELNET.

Initiated by the European Safety and Reliability Association (ESRA), the consortium's 44 members hail from 11 countries and bring together an array of complementary knowledge, experience and skills under a single umbrella. Among them, 26 are industrial partners, 10 are based in universities and 8 are research organisations. Seven members are SMEs.

Combining real and virtual networking

All told, they participate in several research projects funded at both the European and national levels, and contribute to the work of several international technical and standardisation bodies. A broad range of industries are represented in the their areas of specialisation, including the oil and gas sectors, energy, maritime transportation, railways, construction, motorways and bridges.

The thematic network will combine virtual and real networking. "We're planning to hold two workshops per year, where we will present and discuss documents describing current practices and methods in different industries, comparing these with one another in order to work out how they might be improved," says Guedes-Soares. "Between workshops, the documents for discussion will be prepared collaboratively, largely by e-mail. Among other things, we aim to publish a number of books detailing the state of the art, with contributions from different network participants."

Together with breadth of scope, two dimensions are key to the organisation of the network. The first is thematic. "We go from risk analysis, to human factors to structures, to design, maintenance, operation, covering the whole life cycle from planning and design to final operation and maintenance," says Guedes-Soares. The second is horizontal. "In other words, we're going to look across the board at strategies in different sectors, at standardisation and at continuous education and training."

   Maintenance and human factors

One of the themes to be addressed is reliability-based maintenance planning. This is an area of research and practice in which the probabilistic methods of reliability modelling are used to draw up optimum maintenance schedules for plant or machinery, for example. "So, we will be modelling degradation processes like corrosion and fatigue to calculate the probabilities of failure for different types of structures and so predict safety levels," explains Guedes-Soares. "Based on this information, maintenance actions can be planned. At this level, these methods can be applied in any industry."

The same generic framework will be adopted in SAFERELNET's other themes. 'Human and organisational factors' is one of them. "The influence of human factors and models to represent these have been more developed in particular in the nuclear industry," says Guedes-Soares. "By reviewing methods and approaches within a generic framework, we will be able to identify opportunities for transferring these methodologies from the more to the less advanced industries." Or, as Guedes-Soares sums up SAFERELNET's job, "it's all a matter of bridging the gaps."

See also
Growth programme shows new ways to sustainable development
Creating a coherent approach
Combining real and virtual networking
Maintenance and human factors

Key data

The SAFERELNET thematic network in the Innovative products, processes and organisation key action is intended to provide a more coherent approach to safety and reliability in the modern factory.


SAFERELNET - Safety and reliability of industrial products, systems and structures (GTC2-2000-33043)

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