Presence Sensing Devices – Reaching over sensing fields

Last updated on August 27th, 2022 at 11:50 am

I recently heard about an application question about a light curtain with a small gap at the top of the sensing field, between the last beam in the field and the surrounding structure of the machine. Some concern was raised about the gap and whether or not additional guarding might be needed to close the gap. To answer this question, we need to split it into a few smaller pieces that we can deal with using the tools in the standards.

The first piece to consider is the gap at the top of the sensing field. For this part of the analysis, I’m going to assume that the light curtain is a fixed barrier guard, and we’ll analyze the gap based on that idea.

The second piece of the puzzle is the placement of the light curtain, and we’ll look at that separately. Once we understand the two pieces, we’ll put them together to see if any other issues may need to be addressed.

The Application

For this article, I’ve sketched up the following figures to illustrate the ideas in the article. These drawings don’t represent any actual robot cell or application. Note that the light curtain in the sketch is shown with zero safety distance to the robot envelope. This is NEVER permitted.

Cell Elevation View
Figure 1 – Cell Elevation View showing Gap above Light Curtain
Cell Plan View
Figure 2 – Cell Plan View

Analyzing The Gap

Light curtains are treated the same way that movable guards are treated, so the answer to this question starts with determining the gap size. I will reference two standards in answering this question: CSA and ISO.

Safety Distances for fingers reaching through an opening
Figure 3?- Finger-to-Knuckle?Reaching through a Regular Opening [1, C.4]
Z432 Reaching Through Regular Openings
Figure 4?- Arm-up-to-Shoulder Reaching through Regular Opening [1, C.4]

CSA vs. ISO Reach-through distance comparison

CSA Z432 2004 [1]ISO 13857 2008 [2]
Table 3 - Minimum distance from hazard as a function of barrier opening sizeTable 4 - Reaching through Regular openings
Opening Size (e)Safety Distance (sr)Opening Size (e)Safety Distance (sr)
11.1 - 16.0mm [0.376"-0.625"]Slotted ≥ 89.0 mm [3.5"] Square ≥ 66 mm [2.6"]Slot
10 < e ≤ 12 Square/Round
10 < e ≤ 12
≥ 100 mm
≥ 80 mm
49.1-132.0 mm
≤ 915.0 mm [36.0"]
40 < e ≤ 120 mm
≥ 850 mm

The first thing to notice is that CSA and ISO use slightly different opening sizes (e) and safety distances (sr). These differences originate in slightly different anthropometric data sets used to develop the tables. In both cases, the maximum value for e defines the largest opening permitted without additional guarding.

Let’s look at the application to see if the gap between the top-most beam and the edge of the physical guard falls into the bands defined for e.

Cell Elevation Close Up
Figure 5 – Cell Elevation Close-Up

Based on the sketches of the application, we have a problem: The gap shown above the light curtain is right at the edge of the robot envelope, i.e., the danger zone. We are going to have to either a) Move the fence back 915 mm to get the necessary safety distance or b) close the gap off completely, either with hard guarding or by extending the light curtain to close the gap.

Knowing the size of the gap, we can now decide if the gap should be reduced or if the light curtain should be moved or enlarged. Since light curtains run about $125/linear inch, adding an additional plate to reduce the gap size is likely the most cost-effective choice. We also need to know the distance from the top-most beam of the light curtain to the hazard behind the guard. If that distance is less than 915/850 mm, we have another problem since the guarding is already too close to the hazard.

Analyzing the Light Curtain

The stopping performance of the machine drives the light curtain positioning. Again, let’s reference both CSA and ISO for the relevant calculations.

CSA Z432 2004ISO 13855 2005 [3]
 5.1 Overall system stopping performance
The overall system stopping performance comprises at least two phases. The two phases are linked by Equation (1):

T = t1 + t2 (1)


T is the overall system stopping performance;

t1 is the maximum time between the occurrence of the actuation of the safeguard and the output signal achieving the OFF-state;

t2 is the stopping time, which is the maximum time required to terminate the hazardous machine function after the output signal from the safeguard achieves the OFF-state. The response time of the control system of the machine shall be included in t2.

t1 and t2 are influenced by various factors, e.g. temperature, valves’ switching time, and the components’ ageing. t1 and t2 are functions of the safeguard and the machine, respectively. They are determined by design and evaluated by measurement. The evaluation of these two values shall include the uncertainties resulting from the measurements, calculations and/or construction.

Clause 10.11 — Safeguarding device safety distance

The calculation for minimum safe distance between a safeguarding device and the danger zone of a machine shall be as follows:

S = [K (Ts + Tc + Tr + Tbm)] + Dpf


Ds = minimum safe distance between the safeguarding device and the hazard;

K = speed constant: 1.6 m/s (63 in/s) minimum, based on the movement being the hand/arm only and the body being stationary.

Note: A greater value may be required in specific applications and when body motion must also be considered.

Ts = worst stopping time of the machine/equipment;

Tc = worst stopping time of the control system;

Tr = response time of the safeguarding device, including its interface

Note: Tr for interlocked barrier may include a delay due to actuation. This delay may result in Tr being a deduct (negative value).

Note: Ts + Tc + Tr are usually measured by a stop-time measuring device if unknown.

Tbm = additional stopping time allowed by the brake monitor before it detects stop-time deterioration beyond the end users’ predetermined limits. (For part revolution presses only.)

Dpf = maximum travel towards the hazard within the presence-sensing safeguarding device’s (PSSD) field that may occur before a stop is signalled. Depth of penetration factors will change depending on the type of device and application. See Figure 5 for specific values. (If applicable, based on the style of safety device.)

Clause 6.2.3 – Electro-sensitive protective equipment employing active opto-electronic protective devices with a sensor detection capability of < 40 mm diameter CalculationThe minimum distance, S, in millimetres, from the detection zone to the hazard zone shall not be less than that calculated using Equation (2):

S = (K x T ) + C (2)

whereK = 2 000 mm/s;C = 8 (d – 14), but not less than 0;d is the sensor detection capability of the device in millimetres (mm).[Author’s Note – T comes from 5.1, above]Then

S = (2 000 × T) + 8(d-14) (3)

Equation (3) applies to all minimum distances of S up to and including 500 mm. The minimum value of S shall be 100 mm.Where the values for S, calculated using Equation (3), exceed 500 mm, Equation (4) can be used. In this case, the minimum value of S shall be 500 mm.

S = (K × T ) + C (2)

whereK = 1 600 mm/s;C = 8 (d – 14), but not less than 0;d is the sensor detection capability of the device in millimetres (mm).


S = (1 600 × T ) + 8(d – 14)

ISO 13855 Fig. 3 a) Normal Approach
Figure 6 – ISO 13855 Fig. 3 a) Normal Approach


1 hazard zone

2 detection zone

3 fixed guard

S minimum distance

a Direction of approach

The two calculation methods shown above are essentially the same, with the primary difference being the value of K, the “hand-speed constant.” ISO uses a higher value of K for light curtain installations where the field is vertical or angled as low as 45º. If the calculated value of S is >500 mm, then the value of K is reduced to 1600 mm/s. Using the higher value of K for a North American installation is not wrong and will result in a more conservative installation result. Using 1 600 mm/s for machines going into international markets is wrong if S is <500 mm when calculated using 2 000 mm/s.

Let’s assume some values so we can do a representative calculation:

Stopping Time of the system (T) = 265 ms [0.265 s]

Light curtain resolution (d) = 30 mm [1.2″]

Calculating Dpf

Dpf = 8 x (d – 14) = 8 x (30 – 14) = 128

Using K = 2 000 mm/s

S = (2000 x 0.265) + 128?= 658 mm

Since applications where S > 500 mm can be recalculated using K = 1600 mm/s

S = (1 600 x 0.265) + 128 = 552 mm

So, from the above calculation, we can see that the distance from the plane of the light curtain to the edge of the robot envelope (i.e., the danger zone) must be at least 552 mm [21.75″]. That distance is enough that some people might be able to stand between the light curtain field and the fixture in the cell, so we should probably add a horizontal light curtain to protect against that possibility. See Figure 7.

Vertical Light Curtain with Horizontal segment
Figure 7 – Vertical Light Curtain with Horizontal segment

Another alternative to adding a horizontal section is to slope the light curtain field so that the plane of the light curtain is 45 degrees above the horizontal, with the highest beam as far away from the hazard as possible. See Figure 8.

A line drawing showing a sloped light curtain installation. Taken from CSA Z432, Fig. B.15 C 2
Figure 8 – Sloped light curtain installation [1, CSA Z432 Fig B.15 (c)]

This installation avoids replacing the existing light curtain as long as the field depth is enough to meet the calculated Ds.

The field could also be laid horizontally, with no vertical component. This will change the Dpf calculation, as highlighted by the note in Figure 8. Dpf for a horizontal field is calculated using the following equation:

Dpf = 1 200 mm [48″]


S = (1 600 × 0.265) + 1200 = 1 624 mm

Note also that a height restriction is placed on horizontal devices based on the object resolution, so the 0.3 m maximum height may not apply to an exclusively horizontal application. ISO 13855 allows H a maximum value of 1 000 mm, rather than cutting the value off at 990 mm as done in CSA Z432. Using either the 14 mm or the 30 mm resolution curtains yields a minimum height of 0 mm and a maximum of 990 mm (CSA) or 1 000 mm (ISO). Note that the 3rd Edition of CSA Z432 will likely harmonize these distances with the ISO calculations, eliminating these differences.

Also, note those field heights where H > 300 mm may require additional safeguards in conjunction with the Presence-Sensing Safeguarding Device (PSSD) field.

Figure 8 - Calculating "H" [1, Fig. B.15 (g)]
Figure 8 – Calculating “H” [1, Fig. B.15 (g)]

Going back to our original vertical field installation, one more option could be considered: Reduce the object resolution of the light curtain. If we go down to the smallest object resolution typically available, 14 mm, the calculation looks like this:

Dpf = 8 x (14-14) = 0

S = (2 000 x 0.265) + 0 = 530 mm

Since S > 500,

S = (1 600 x 0.265) + 0 = 424 mm [16.7″]

While we have substantially reduced the safety distance, it looks like we will still need the horizontal light curtain to ensure that no one can stand behind the curtain without being detected.

If the design of the machinery allows, it might be possible to reduce the machine’s stopping time. If you can reduce the stopping time, you will be able to shorten the safety distance required. Note that the safety distance can never go to zero and can never be less than that determined by the object resolution applied to the reaching-through tables. In this case, a 14 mm opening results in an 89 mm [3.5″] minimum safety distance (CSA). Since the machine’s stopping time can never be zero, 89 mm works out to a stopping time of 44.5 ms using K=2000 mm/s, or 55.6 ms if K= 1600 mm/s. Very few machines can stop this quickly.

The calculated safety distance is about half of the safety distance required for the gap, at 915 mm. Closing the gap with the light curtain or hard guarding will be preferable to moving the fence away from the danger zone by 915 mm.

Here’s one more figure to help illustrate these ideas.

Figure 9 – CSA Z432 Figure B.15 a)

Figure 9 shows the difference between the reaching-through and reaching-over light curtain applications. Notice that without a restricting guard above the curtain as we have in our example, the Dpf value goes out to 1 200 mm [48″], rather than the 915 mm value used in our example.

The lower figures show light fence applications, with two or three beams rather than a full coverage light curtain.


Here are some of the more important considerations:
1) Is the field of the light curtain placed correctly, based on the machine’s stopping performance?
2) What is the object resolution of the sensing field? This dimension may be used to assess the size of the “openings” in the field if this becomes relevant.
3) What is the height of the lowest and highest beams or the edges of the sensing field?
4) What are the dimensions of the gap above the field of the curtain and the distance from the opening to the closest hazard?

ed. note: This article was reviewed and updated on 28-Aug-17.


I’d like to acknowledge my colleague, Christian Bidner, who suggested the idea for this article based on a real-world application he had seen. Christian works for OMRON/STI in their Toronto office.


[1] Safeguarding of Machinery, CSA Z432. Toronto: Canadian Standards Association (CSA). 2004.

[2] Safety of machinery – Safety distances to prevent hazard zones being reached by upper and lower limbs, ISO 13857. Geneva: International Organization for Standardization (ISO). 2008.

[3] Safety of machinery – Positioning of safeguards with respect to the approach speeds of parts of the human body, ISO 13855. Geneva: International Organization for Standardization (ISO). 2010.

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