Technological advances make safety-critical software increasingly important – Comatec invests in the quality of software development

Production plants, building sites, traffic and other common environments are becoming more and more automated, placing greater demands on the safety requirements of machines and equipment and increasing the need for safety-critical software. Comatec meets this increasing demand by intensifying its own design processes and strengthening its own expertise both in terms of software design and expert services concerning safety.

A safety programmable logic controller (PLC) is a safety system used specifically in industrial and building site environments. Its purpose is to ensure the safety of users and the operating environment. Safety PLC is operated by specific safety-critical software that takes care of the implementation of predefined safety features. For example, it stops a machine if the sensors detect movement in its vicinity.

– The design of software that controls safety logic calls for solid ICT and automation expertise, but also, when dealing with safety industry standards, detailed knowledge of the safety requirements of the device in question, says Design Engineer Tuukka Syrjänen of Comatec.

Service tailored for each customer

Comatec provides a versatile range of planning and expert services for the product development of an entire machine or device, ranging from the design of various subsystems to the final product. In the design of safety-critical software, coding and testing expertise is supplemented with close cooperation with the safety unit, for instance.

– We are experts in the specification and various risk assessments of safety features for devices. We also take care of software verification and validation. Verification ensures that the software corresponds to the original design requirements, while validation makes sure that it suits the intended purpose. Often you see software being changed along the way after various test phases – we keep an eye on things to ensure that it meets the standards and the customer’s expectations after the changes as well, says Safety Engineer Ruth Keisala.

The design services of safety-critical software are always customised for each customer.

– The extent of the work is determined for each project. Many of our customers already have safety expertise, in which case our role focuses purely on software design and coding. However, Comatec are able to handle more comprehensive systems, as we have a wide range of engineering expertise under the same roof, says Syrjänen.

Safety-critical software becoming more and more important

Syrjänen says that the majority of safety-critical software designed by Comatec has been delivered to customers operating working machines and other mobile devices.

– But our expertise is not limited to any single machine type or even industry. In terms of software design, it does not matter whether we are working with a forest machine, production robot or rolling stock. It is part of a skilled designer’s professionalism to be aware of various safety requirements and standards, and I have no doubt that we operate at a high level in that respect, says Syrjänen.

Safety is these days almost without exception one of the top priorities with industrial and production companies, and equipment safety has taken great leaps ahead as the technology has improved.

– Safety standards are updated along with other technologies. I feel that it is exactly that change in the requirements that makes this job so interesting – there are always new solutions to be found. It can already be seen that autonomous vehicles are becoming increasingly common both in industry and in everyday contexts, which is certainly not reducing any of the safety requirements for them, says Keisala.

Aiming for first-rate customer experience

Comatec is currently working to improve its processes for the design of safety-critical software.

– Our aim is to standardise our own operating practices for the design of safety-critical software. Established practices and a standard way of documenting our work make us more efficient and increase the quality of design services as perceived by the customers. It is easy for us to implement all aspects of our projects and to adapt to the varied needs of our customers, says Syrjänen.

– Process development naturally improves the flow of information within Comatec, also facilitating the training of new experts in the field. I believe that this, too, will be recognised as a first-rate customer experience.


Text: Marianne Valta