Düsseldorf, August 28, 2017

Mobile control station

Machine operation undergoes change.

Requirements imposed on the operation of production plants continue to grow. A completely new market has developed over the past few years to meet the topic of User Experience (UX). This concerns workplace ergonomics as well as efficiency in operating plants of ever increasing complexity, including their demanding automation solutions. The aim is to operate plants effectively and hence to reduce faulty operation and subsequent downtimes. SMS group has been meeting these requirements for some years now and, with its stationary operating units, made a great leap towards the visualization solution X-Pact® Vision.

In the era of smartphones and tablets everyone is using in his private sphere as a matter of course, plant users feel a rising desire to employ such solutions also in the industrial environment. At the beginning of 2007, the first iPhone was presented which marked the start and establishment of touch, multi-touch and gestures in the consumer sector. First touch applications and systems provided by different producers found their way into the mechanical engineering sector. Meanwhile, machine control is no longer from control stations alone, but to an increasing extent also on site where operations or actions are easy to watch. Compared to private use, however, distinctly more marginal criteria have to be observed and complied with that ensure a competent and safe handling of these solutions.

Safety mechanism prevents maloperation

Some of the issues to be mentioned here are necessary WLAN infrastructure, reliable identification of the devices at certain locations and user-friendly surfaces for touch operation. In the context of touch operation, SMS group has developed a new basis for mobile operation. The new design perfectly integrates in the existing X-Pact® Vision concept and appears like all-of-a-piece. Special attention has been paid to aspects everyone knows from daily routine and makes sure intuitive handling considerably facilitates use, which in turn leads to a high degree of satisfaction and acceptance. One of the crucial aspects in machine operation is to prevent maloperation. This aspect has to be considered in the mobile context, too. Therefore, a safety mechanism was developed that can be intuitively operated by the user.

The concept comprises an unambiguous gesture that cannot be released accidentally to unlock the interaction. It must be performed consciously and then be confirmed by another clear gesture. Once the gesture has been performed and the interaction released, a timer will be started. Within this period, the user may fully focus on the interaction and enter his data before the application automatically locks.

Mobile devices in production environment

A further challenge to the systems technology is the production environment in which the device is used. WLAN hotspots and repeaters must ensure reliable and consistent reception irrespective of the interference sources. While using mobile devices, local dependence is an issue when it comes to the effective provision of production data, data sheets, descriptions of function, P&I (Piping & Instrumentation) diagrams etc., or the operation of plant functions.

Operation via such mobile terminals continues to be a great challenge. In this context, reliably working solutions are demanded to ensure definite identification in a confined space. Safety-related operations are subject to the high requirements of international safety standards. Here, SMS group draws on certified devices with discrete operating elements that are either wired or have Profinet/Profisafe connection.

Users receive relevant information

In a mobile context it is important to give the user a clear overview of the multitude of displayed information and options. Moreover, the application on a mobile device has a guiding respectively accompanying function, contrary to the desktop application in its full extent. The existing X-Pact® Vision concept provides for the contents to be categorized in several data classes. This structuring of the contents can be easily transferred to the mobile context and helps operate the application. The focus is always on firstly presenting the user the state of the machine before any settings can be made.

Main information in central field of vision

Therefore, the crucial information is always presented in the central viewing area of the application, whereas the more complex settings are shown at the sides or in a retractable area. This way it is possible to link the displayed information density closely to the usage scenarios, and the user will only see the amount of information he currently needs. The input elements were designed in conformity with the X-Pact® Vision application to offer the user a familiar environment and to smoothly integrate the application into the product family of SMS group.

In a mobile context one has always to think about responsivity, i.e. adaptation of the displayed content to the available screen size. Here, SMS group can resort to the data classes of the X-Pact® Vision concept and keep on prioritizing the contents to the same principle. Particularly when using smartphones it is indispensable to reduce to the essentials the volume of content to be displayed and, for compilation of the contents, always to have in mind the respective application context. Complex settings or manipulations on a smartphone should be waived. If this cannot be avoided, however, the necessary settings will have to be transferred to deeper application areas in order not to obstruct the presentation of the machine status.