Whether an OEM opts for multitouch or a simple touch panel PC is also a question of the technology they use.
The tasks confronting HMIs are becoming more and more complex. Machines and plant are being networked on a larger scale, integration is pushing ahead and the demand for data and information is constantly growing. This is partly due to trends like shop floor analytics and smart manufacturing. More transparency and more efficiency are wanted, from the feeder through production lines to the entire factory.
Multitouch panel PCs have many advantages, both for monitoring such complex plant in process industries and also in increasingly networked discrete manufacturing. There is greater user-friendliness and reliability due to intuitive operation; gestures to rotate or zoom with two fingers, or swiping to scroll through a list. Multitouch even enables you to write with 10 fingers for greater productivity.
However, some operators need to wear thick gloves for their work, which increases the distance between the interface and finger, dampening its sensitivity. Consequently, there are applications where multitouch technology is not going to be exploited to the full.
Applications where price is a sensitive factor are not suitable for multitouch either - not yet anyway. So is it gloves that determine whether or not multitouch technology goes into an application? Not gloves alone, because there is also the subject of software. This is where the focus turns to the producers of the tools.
Software tool producers make a moveThe German study “Usability and human machine interfaces in production” presented by the Fraunhofer Institute for Human Factors and Organization in 2011 attests to optimisation potential overall on the part of tool producers in both touch and multitouch technology. It mentions that most HMI tools for zooming objects support the presentation of intermediate states, making it easier for the application programmer to implement such functionality, but to scroll in PDFs, for example, or fast-forward through audio instructions or video tutorials, in-house programming may be necessary. OS with multitouch capability do not exonerate the tool producer from qualifying the mouse and keypad controls as well as (multi)touch configuration, or from creating templates with (multi)touch capability to structure tables.
The study also found comparatively few functions to improve usability, such as “iceberg buttons”, where the area that can be touched is larger than shown. So there is still a way to go when it comes to tools for the development of user interfaces. The same applies, of course, to integrated systems combining SoftPLC and HMI.
Users who have programmed their GUI without the constraints of a specific platform, for example with open Web technologies or Java, are less dependent on progress in HMI software tools. There is already a Touch Events version 2 specification by W3C for Web-based HMI, and the MT4j multitouch platform for Java has been around since 2009. Here, it is bound to take time before all the desirable multitouch functionality is comfortably implemented in the various development platforms.
Innovations in smart multitouch applications for the consumer market mean that industrial users expect to be able to find or implement the comfort and convenience of personal devices in the industrial devices, machines, and plant that are newly purchased.
Multitouch becomes mainstreamDesigning a multitouch HMI for installation on machines or in plant is just the beginning of a larger-scale process of change. Think of how the user would benefit if, in addition to an HMI, they were presented with an integrated portable control unit. Multitouch implemented on panel PCs thus marks the start of new operating concepts. The matching hardware platforms for these mobile control units are also being offered by Kontron, which has created a basis for new handheld devices in the SMARC standard; modules with Cortex A9 and A8-based systems-on-a-chip from NVIDIA, TI, and Freescale are already being shipped.
Gloves or not?There are projected capacitive panels that can operate properly through thin gloves but well-made multitouch functionality will still call for dexterous fingers. Ultimately, it is gloves that determine if and how multitouch technology can be implemented. In other words, there will continue to be applications for resistive touch panels, too.
Kontron’s Micro Client 3 series for monitoring and controlling production lines and the OmniClient models for managing whole production lines have projected capacitive or resistive touch technology. The Micro Client 3 features two Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0, an RS232, a graphical output (DVI, DP) for a secondary display and several further options, e.g. CAN, WiFi and RFID. The OmniClient has a larger feature set which includes: three Gigabit Ethernet, two Display Port, DVI-I and six USB 2.0. Optionally, the OmniClient can be extended to include: 18 GPIOs, as well as two serial ports that can be configured as RS232/485/422 or CAN bus. Further options include WiFi, WiFi with Bluetooth and RFID. For application-specific expansions the Micro Client 3 offers a single mini PCIe socket while the OmniClient features two mini PCIe slots and one PCIe x16 slot.
For data storage, there is a SATA connector for 2.5-inch data media. The OmniClient can also support two 3.5-inch SATA hard drives. It also integrates up to two 3.5 SATA hard drives. Both the Micro Client 3 and OmniClient lines support rugged and small-sized flash memory devices via an mSATA connector. Besides being fitted with a projected capacitive touch widescreen made of glass, the Micro Client 3 is also being produced in a 4:3 format with resistive touch technology for display sizes 10.4 to 17-inch.
For high reliability and freedom from maintenance, the company uses solely high-grade components such as GoldCaps as voltage buffers and LED backlighting with a lifetime of at least 50,000 hours. The front panels can all boast IP65 ingress protection against dust and damp.
Pilot series models of the CE-certified and UL-qualified panel PC families are shipping, with series production ramping up from Q2. Windows XP, Windows 7, and Linux Embedded OS will be supported, plus Windows 8 for OmniClient.
Figure 1 The MicroClient 3 is for monitoring and controlling production lines.
Figure 2 The OmniClient manages whole production lines and has increased SATA hard drive support.
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