In the field of consumer electronics, multi-touch has changed the ergonomics of devices and user habits as well. In industrial automation, this technology has the potential to make machine operation more intuitive, faster and safer - in essence, to bring about a revolution in ergonomics for machine and system visualisation units. At the 2011 SPS/IPC/Drives exhibition in Nuremberg, B&R introduced industrial multi-touch devices.
In industrial automation, there has been a strong and consistent trend towards touch screens for over a decade, especially in hygiene-related industries such as foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals. Raimund Ruf, manager of the HMI Business Unit at B&R, states: "Touch screens are not likely to completely replace devices with physical keys. Nevertheless, they will continue to advance into more and more areas due to their overall versatility. At the same time, we are seeing much more emphasis being placed on user ergonomics, both in how panel hardware is arranged as well as in the design of the user interface."
The multi-touch technology we are familiar with from smartphones - which can detect and evaluate the presence of two or more points of contact with the screen at the same time - offers the potential for innovation in the field of machine building. It promises a significant increase in usability by simplifying system operation while increasing the level of safety at the same time. Operations where one hand is used to open a menu while the other sets parameters are a possibility. This would eliminate the need to jump back and forth between sub-menus while improving clarity. Operators are able to get where they need to go faster because complex menu layers can be eliminated. Handling lists would also be simplified since operators can simply scroll through the content instead of having to rely on narrow scrollbars.
Operational safety can also be increased by implementing methods such as blocking certain actions until an additional button is pressed simultaneously with the other hand. Even if this does not completely replace dead-man's controls just yet, multi-touch operation used in this way can still prevent critical operating steps from being carried out unintentionally.
B&R presented its own multi-touch industrial control panel at the SPS/IPC/DRIVES fair in the form of a 21.5inch Full HD Automation Panel for mounting on a support arm. Its solid glass surface makes it easy to clean and offers the operator excellent haptic properties.
Follow the link for more information about B&R's range of operator panels.