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
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.
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
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.
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."
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."
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.
- Safety and reliability of industrial products, systems and structures