Almost every manufacturing personnel is familiar with the multi-touch technology for industrial automation. We use it in our day-to-day lives. For instance, smartphones or tablets. Tasks like checking emails for work, accessing corporate data are done easily using phones instead of a computer system. This type of Human Machine Interface (HMI) is bringing industrial automation through the usage of multi-touch technology. On an industrial scale, the technology has many benefits to offer such as relatively low-cost hardware, the ability to access and work with data quickly and easily, and near-universal familiarity with the technology. And the usage of HMI systems with the technology offers unique advantages apart from the ones mentioned above.
How is it different from a normal touchscreen?
It is quite common to get confused between multi-touch and single touch. Most people consider them to be same due to lack of proper information. But a traditional touchscreen application only uses single touches for accessing multiple screens. It basically replaces hardware like a keyboard and a pointing device such as a mouse. While, on the other hand, a multi-touch screen offers several added advantages over conventional touchscreens.
A multi-touch system can recognize the position of several touches and finger movements at the same time. These movements are generally referred to as gestures. Just like touchscreens, multi-touch technology helps the users operate the system without a keyboard or pointing device but it goes one step further by enabling intuitive gestures that facilitate the execution of commands. Some popular benefits of multi-touch technology are:
- It is three times faster than the normal touchscreen.
- Helps in reducing the training time and cost associated with it.
- Enhances remote functionality and access through smartphones and tablets.
- Easy to use as it has a similar operation as that of smartphones.
- A better option for hard and tough environments.
- Improves protection measures for humans and machine.
- Delivers superior visualisation which is the next step in HMI evolution.
Why is it ideal for Industrial Automation?
- Low Implementation Costs:
Consumer electronics is flooded with a lot of new technologies. Some of these technologies are easily adaptable while others aren’t. Some require a paradigm shift or heavy investment that simply outweighs the benefits of the new technology. But multi-touch for HMI is a technology that offers many real advantages without a need for significant investment or changing the existing work practices. For instance, the arrival of platforms like Windows 7 operating system with built-in multi-touch programming capabilities has simplified the usage of the technology through smartphones and tablets. It doesn’t require any expensive investment in hardware either.
- Lowering Training Time and Costs:
Mature operators retire at greater rates and the younger ones come in a novice phase. They need to be trained well before they can replace experienced workers. Companies naturally want to reduce the training costs and time but they don’t know the right way to do it. Using multi-touch technology can prove to be beneficial as the majority of the younger workers will already have years of experience using smartphones and tablets and hence, they will be compatible with multi-touch gestures for HMI systems. The process is intuitive and can quickly be learned.
- Inherently Suited for Industrial Conditions:
Devices making use of keyboards and mouse that are subjected to contamination from dust and water can’t match the multi-touch screen design. It has no moving parts and hence it is inherently a better fit. It eventually expands the life span of the equipment. Off-the-shelf devices can be used in the field without taking any additional protective measures. Besides, it is a less expensive alternate as compared to keyboards and pointing devices which cost a lot of money while saving them in hazardous areas such as Zone 1 or 2. Multi-touch HMI screens come with a protective overlay of glass or polycarbonate that safeguards them from splashes, dirt and even from extreme temperatures.
- Automating the Safety Measures:
The multi-touch technology can be used to access HMI systems and can implement significantly enhanced safety features. Similarly, for protecting the workers and ensuring their safety, the HMI system screens can be programmed making users do certain gestures unique to a specific operation. For example, the process of starting or stopping the machine can be designed with a checkmark to be performed across the screen as a final step before the machine executes the command.
- Automated Diagnosis of Possible Problems
The multi-touch technology can visualize machines and processes to access the right screen for the diagnosis of a problem. It is one of the most unique functionalities of this technology. The traditional HMI applications need multiple screen frames to solve the problem. More the number of frames more is the consumption of memory. But a multi-touch device requires only a few screen layers to show a complete system overview and hence consumes less of the storage space.
As the multi-touch technology for HMI has many advantages to offer including improved performance, faster and more accurate command execution, and enhanced safety, the technology will become more dominant in the industrial world. The usage of multi-touch technology simplifies the industrial processes and saves a lot of time while automating them.