Designers building electromechanical safety components into safety circuits on guards with a performance level D rating might be tempted to use Category 2 architecture to reduce cost. But are they ready for the test requirements? David Collier, GAMBICA’s Machine Safety Components Group chairperson, explains the changes.

Until recently, the category of the control system, as per EN 954-1 (Safety-related parts of control systems, part 1: General design principles, which is scheduled for withdrawal at end 2011), has been used as the basis for construction of safety-related control functions in machine and systems building. With increasing uptake of EN ISO 13849-1 (also Safety-related parts of control systems, Part 1: General principles for design), however, the term ‘category’ has been overtaken by Performance Level (PL).

In addition to category, PL also considers the reliability or MTTFd (Mean Time to Dangerous Failure) of the individual components and combination of components in a safety-related control system to evaluate the availability of a safety function over time. However, the behaviour of the safety function in the presence of faults is still dictated by the category, now also referred to as architecture or structure.

In the past, designers using the risk graph in EN 954-1 may have arrived at a Category 3 requirement based upon known severity, frequency of exposure and possibility of avoidance parameters. They would then have designed a dual channel system, with redundancy or hardware fault tolerance (HFT= 1), providing a behaviour that a single fault in the system would not give rise to a loss of the safety function.

These same parameters used with the similar risk graph in EN ISO 13849-1 would most likely lead to the PLd.

In EN ISO 13849-1, PL is achieved by a combination of category, MTTFd and diagnostic coverage (DC). According to figure five in the standard, PLd is still achievable using Category 3 architecture but also using Category 2, as long as the MTTFd is high and there is at least a low level of diagnostic coverage.

As a result, it may be tempting to try to use Category 2, single channel architecture to achieve PLd – to save component cost and panel space. A central factor in Category 2 is checking the safety function (not increased reliability), where an increased check frequency will decrease the probability of a dangerous situation.

Within the simplified procedure in EN ISO 13849-1 the check in Category 2 must occur at start up and then periodically, and there is an assumption that the frequency equates to at least one hundred tests to every demand on the safety function. This is in accordance with clause 4.5.4 of EN ISO 13849-1, where for Category 2 ‘demand rate <1/100 test rate’. This test rate is an additional quantitative factor to that given in the old EN 954-1.

Therefore, if you try to claim PLd using Category 2 architecture, you are assuming that the safety function will be tested at least 100 times between demands upon the safety function. This warrants closer inspection.


It’s difficult to see how users are going to manage this test frequency in machine applications on anything other than a dynamically tested OSSD (solid state safety output) on a light curtain, or in very low demand applications. For electromechanical devices on guards, such as tongue interlock switches, limit switches, etc. testing will mean actuation (i.e. opening and closing the guard) at least 100 times between the functional need to open the guard! This could be inconvenient or even impossible.

Finally, consider the implication of frequent testing of electromechanical devices in terms of component wear and tear. MTTFd for an electromechanical component – such as a safety interlock switch or contactor – is dependent upon its B10d and the number of operations in a year (nop). The stress placed upon the components would be a hundred times greater for the tests as that placed upon them due to the demand of the safety function. The increased number of operations would at least reduce MTTFd (and potentially the PL), and at worst destroy the components very early in the guard’s life causing lost production and expense.

It is, therefore, more practical and commonplace to achieve PLd using Category 3 or 4, dual channel architectures, because they improve reliability through hardware fault tolerance (without a highly frequent periodic test cycle) as well as automatic diagnostic coverage within the system.

On balance, there is an argument against Category 3 in PLd systems in the case where a single component, such as an interlock or limit switch containing two contacts is employed to monitor a guard. Such a device has one potential point of failure: a failure of a limit switch plunger mechanism (say due to excessive force, contamination or corrosion) is a single failure point affecting both contacts, and both channels. In this case, what is ostensibly a Category 3 architecture can be considered to be a Category 1, because a single failure can cause a loss of the safety function. 

With a single device containing two channels needing to achieve PLd, it’s necessary to declare a fault exclusion, which justifies why such a single point of failure in the switch body is unlikely. There is guidance in EN ISO 13849-2 on fault exclusions which considers, amongst various factors, dirt and corrosion affecting the device during the lifetime, safe positioning and mounting (such as preference for actuation occurring on opening, and not using the device as a mechanical stop), and adequate dimensioning.

Where fault exclusion can’t be justified and PLd is required, the solution is to use two independent switches. This is more likely and is already common practise on monitored guards. At this point measures taken to reduce Common Cause Failures can be quantified.

In summary, users of electromechanical safety components on guards are urged to carefully consider the onerous test requirements of Category 2 in EN ISO 13849-1 at the design stage, especially when seeking to achieve PLd.  Incorporating Category 2 architectures into PLd systems without taking these test requirements into due consideration may introduce systematic failures and associated loss of production and expense.

If after design, build, supply and commissioning the machine, it’s decided to convert from a Category 2 architecture to Category 3 or 4, it might be difficult or impossible in terms of fitting additional on-machine components, as well as the in-panel devices required to step from single to dual channel architecture.

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