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Review: IBF Safexpert 5.4 CE marking software

25 April 2007

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Review: IBF Safexpert 5.4 CE marking softwareDesigners and constructors of machinery destined to be put on the market in Europe should all be familiar with CE marking in accordance with the Machinery Directive (98/37/EC). Over the last decade or so, a number of software-based tools and packages have been developed to assist with the process, and many machine builders have developed their own templates and guides for the same purpose (I still have a copy of an 'idiot's guide' to CE marking that I wrote for my employer back in 1995).

IBF Automatisierungs und Sicherheitstechnik GmbH & Co KEG (IBF) has just released version 5.4 of its Safexpert software that is fairly comprehensive. It includes, for example, PDF copies of the Machinery Directive and relevant machinery safety standards, and it has a built-in risk assessment procedure, based on EN 1050, with easy-to-use checklists and selection boxes. It can either be installed as a standalone package on a Windows-based PC, or it can be installed on a network, enabling multiple users to access the database. Further modules are also available to expand the package's functions.

A demonstration version of the software is available for download from the IBF website (which is what I did for this review), but beware: this is around 56MB in size, so a broadband connection is essential. Once this is downloaded (plus the separate PDF guide to the demo version - a further 11MB), installation is very straightforward - you even get to choose between English, German and French.

Being a demo version, there are restrictions in the software, mainly relating to handling projects (which cannot be created, imported, exported or printed), though there are four demo projects preinstalled that you can modify indefinitely. The other limitation is that the text of the standards is not available.

Once you start to use the software it is almost immediately apparent that it has been translated from German (IBF is based in Austria). However, this is really only an irritation and should not detract from the overall usefulness of the software.

Choice of standards

The main attraction of the latest version of Safexpert is that it enables the user to work with the new EN 13849-1 standard, which is soon to supersede EN 954-1. For those machine builders that are planning ahead, or that are using programmable safety-related control systems and are therefore uneasy about working to EN 954-1, this will be a major benefit. Indeed, Safexpert 5.4 is probably the first commercial CE marking software to offer designers the chance to work with EN 13849-1.

Furthermore, users can, alternatively, work with EN 62061. As they perform their hazard analyses, users can therefore work with Risk Categories (EN 954-1), Performance Levels (EN 13849-1) or Safety Integrity Levels (EN 62061). And should the project change, or an existing project be used as the starting point for a new one, users can effectively 'convert' the project from being based on one standard to either of the other two.

Fool-proof forms

Throughout the package, forms are used for entering data. This, together with the way inappropriate options are greyed-out, makes the whole procedure as fool-proof as possible. And at every stage, a box has to be ticked to indicate that safety has been achieved. A useful feature is that, at any point, the user can view all aspects of the project where safety has been achieved or where data still needs to be entered, which makes it easy to go through and tie up the loose ends, without anything being missed.

The Machinery Directive makes specific references to some types of machine, such as woodworking machinery and portable hand-held/hand-guided machinery. Safexpert enables the user to check whether the machine being CE marked is one of these types, though the software (in common with the Machinery Directive) uses the potentially confusing term 'category' instead of 'type'.

Manufacturers of complex assemblies of multiple machines can utilise the hierarchical project structure within Safexpert to ensure that the CE marking process is completed correctly. In addition, manufacturers of other products falling within the scope of the Machinery Directive (such as machinery components, safety components or interchangeable equipment) can also use Safexpert to work through the Conformity Assessment process.

Libraries

A number of features within Safexpert are based on libraries. These can be searched, browsed and added to, making them very powerful. One example is the library of 'measures' (safety components - the demo version lists mainly safety relays and light curtains from two suppliers, Sick and Leuze Lumiflex); another is the library that contains descriptions of hazards, and a third is the library of pictograms for use in information/warning signs (which uses graphics supplied by Seton).

Safexpert is structured as a series of modules, the Pictograms Library being just one of these. Others are the Project Manager, CE Guide, User Documents Register, Check-and-Acceptance Assistant and Instructions Assistant. Depending on which version of the software is purchased (Basic, Compact or Professional), the modules will be included or available at additional cost. The basic module includes the following:

  • CE-guide (safe, step-by-step procedure for CE conformity assessment)
  • Hazard assessment for machinery according to EN 1050
  • Protocol and documentation management, QA history protocol
  • Description and measures library
  • Windows Help system with cross-references and search function for Machinery, EMC and Low-Voltage Directives
  • CE summary and Machinery Directive FAQs (with answers provided by the EU Commission)

The Basic, Compact and Professional packages cost £590, £1180, and £1670 (EUR870, EUR1740 and EUR2460), with individual modules costing from £110 (EUR164) for the Pictogram Library to £605 (EUR890) for the Master (Standards and Directives management) module that includes an (optional) interactive standards update service. Discounts are available for multiple networked users, and an additional annual service contract can be purchased if desired.

Conclusion

Taking all of the above into account, is Safexpert 5.4 worth buying? Of course, it depends whether you are already using an earlier version of Safexpert, another commercial CE marking software package, or have developed your own systems that help you through the CE marking process. The two main factors are whether Safexpert 5.4 will save you time (for which you can easily work out how many hours you need to save to justify the expenditure) and whether this package will help you to be more rigorous in your CE marking process. Having used the demonstration version, I have to say that it appears to make CE marking as near fool-proof as possible, with built-in checklists and checking procedures. It is also password-protected for security. Given the liability issues surrounding CE marking, having such a robust system will be a major attraction to many people.

Lastly, it has to be remembered that this latest version of Safexpert helps with the CE marking of machinery that is being built in accordance with the new standard EN 13849-1. If you are already working to this standard or soon will be, this could be another strong argument in Safexpert's favour. Certainly the software is user-friendly and intuitive, and from what can be seen from the demonstration software, it is also thorough (whether or not you would call it 'comprehensive' depends on the modules purchased). But given that a demonstration version of the software can be downloaded for free from the IBF website, I would recommend that as your first move if you think Safexpert 5.4 could help you to with rigorous, efficient CE marking.

See full contact details for IBF Automatisierungs und Sicherheitstechnik GmbH & Co KEG.

Jonathan Severn

 
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