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Further expert guidance on profile systems for machine building

Further expert guidance on profile systems for machine building
In the last of this series of articles, the experts at Minitec look at the application of profile systems.

What do we need to consider when in comes to applying profile systems for machinery and plant? Well, there are four essential factors: the construction of operating facilities such as housings, protective devices, system workstations, shelving, staircases, railings and barriers; the construction of frame and support structures for machines and units; the implementation of conveyor systems for factory automation, such as belt, band, chain, slat and roller conveyors, which are available as modules of a profile system; the integration of linear technology in machines and systems - slide bearing guides, roller guides, recirculating ball bearing guides or whole linear modules including drive technology can be seamlessly fitted into a profile system.

Traditionally, bespoke steel constructions have been individually designed to cover these and many other types of application. Today, a profile system frequently presents a better option, as it has a range of benefits to offer. Costs, design phases and assembly times are all reduced. Detachable connections permit minor adjustments and subsequent alterations of the design. And when using anodised aluminium, the laborious grinding, cleaning, degreasing, priming and lacquering operations needed when working with steel such as  are not required. Further, the low intrinsic weight of aluminium coupled with high resilience reduces the demands placed on the load-bearing capacity of the plant floor.

These many benefits are offset by only a few fundamental restrictions: because of the limited load-bearing capacity, aluminium profiles are not suitable for heavy-duty applications involving extreme loads, even if certain profile series with greater loading capacity are offered within overriding profile systems. And aluminium profiles are not suitable for high-temperature applications; Continuous temperatures of around 150°C represent the upper limit. The aluminium alloys used react with acids, alkalis and certain other chemicals. Also, because their fundamental structure is open, featuring grooves, cut sections and abutting points as well as freely accessible fastening elements, customary profile systems are not suitable for applications involving extreme demands on hygiene, for example in food processing applications. 

Operating facilities such as barriers, housings, workstations, platforms and staircases can all be implemented with the aid of modern profile systems. In this type of application, the mechanical loads exerted are not generally high. Due to the use of the modular system and the varied possibilities for design, flexible profile systems have to a certain extent become a well-established standard feature of this type of segment.

Protective guards and barriers
The design of protective barrier systems must comply with valid statutory standards and guidelines. Important points of reference here are the standards EN 294 and EN 811, which deal with safety distances to prevent danger zones being reached by the upper limbs. According to the safety requirements set out in Machine Directive 98/37/EEC, in the new draft of 2006/42/EEC, in DIN EN 953 ("... - General requirements for the design and construction of fixed and movable guards") and in DIN EN 775 or ISO EN 10218 ("Industrial robots - safety requirements"), dynamic loading capacity is also of significance for the reliability of protective guards. 

The distance to the hazard point and the type of physical barrier, for example using woven meshes, panels, doors and other components, are decisive in determining a system of protection which conforms both with statutory requirements and standards. When using a profile system, safety barriers can be adjusted highly individually to external circumstances with only minimal work. Alongside the standard profiles which create the supporting framework for barriers, the fundamental structure also requires panel elements which fill in the gaps between the profiles. These panel elements can be made of different material depending on the requirements: they can be solid sheets, transparent or tinted plastic panels (for instance made of polycarbonate, acrylic glass or PETG), woven or welded mesh.

To fasten panel elements, either screwed or clamped fastening elements can be used. These make use of the standard groove of the used profiles. Panels and plates can also be fixed using elastic sealing profiles which are laid peripherally in the profile groove. Frequently, special protected area frames are offered which are ready prepared for mounting panel elements. These protected area frames are mortise or clamping profiles which are capable of the reliable retention of elements such as woven mesh and of clamping them securely with the necessary degree of force.

At the installation site, the safety barrier is ready fitted with legs and only requires firm anchorage using heavy-duty dowels. For access to secured areas, swivel, sliding and lifting doors are available as system accessories. Access windows can also be implemented. For simple partitioning systems which are put up for instance as a visual barrier, the same strict occupational safety standards are not applicable. However, these are fundamentally constructed using the same components and offer the same versatility. 

To afford access to raised areas such as machine components and switch cabinets, fixed staircases have to be provided. The use of any type of ladder is prohibited for reasons of occupational safety wherever operational circumstances allow the installation of a staircase. Staircases including railings, but also walkways, machine galleries, platforms and pedestals can be simply implemented using profile systems. Special-purpose profiles are generally used for tread surfaces which are capable of withstanding this level of strain and which guarantee the requisite level of safety. Machine staircases can be constructed from profile modules in designs approved by the relevant standards at pitch angles of up to 45 degrees or even 70 degrees.

While welded constructions are still widespread in this application area for profile systems, this type of fixed construction is only conditionally suitable for many sectors of industry which are under pressure to provide flexibility for necessary manufacturing plant and equipment modifications. In addition, due to its highly insensitive surface, aluminium offers a benefit over non-stainless steel, which requires an elaborate and not always durable surface treatment process to make it suitable to withstand operating conditions.
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