“Poorly performing HMIs are aggravating for the user,” according to Brendan O’Reilly, Product Manager at Display Solutions. “ If you are trying to send information back to head office while out in the field, or are standing on a production line trying to get a machine operational and your interface isn’t working or is refusing to accept input, that will affect an individual’s productivity and the perception of how they’re performing the job.”
He illustrates his case with a recent project completed for an industrial workplace client, a global company that sends its sizeable workforce across the UK to service parts used in washing, cleaning and waste management.
“Our client has thousands of workers in the field and they need to have real-time access to customer records, and parts availability; it is necessary for them to catalogue jobs, work carried out and to order parts while out and about. This mobile workforce was equipped with consumer tablets. They were what the workers wanted, what they were familiar with and what they could operate with ease.
“The tablets, although encased in a protective bag that all workers used, were forever developing faults and going down because, in the course of a day they were being bashed and buffeted around. As a consequence, the efficiency of the operation was being compromised due to lack of speedy communication and ordering opportunities. It was stressful, yes, as instead of being able to input immediate feedback after a call-out, employees needed to make multiple entries or in some cases were unable to communicate with HQ at all.
“We have a product in our portfolio- the Ruggedbook - which has been designed for exactly these situations. It’s been drop tested from four feet onto concrete, has an integral rubber and steel casing and yet is light and as easy to operate as any consumer product on the market. It’s certainly worked as an alternative solution and has lowered the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) because there is less downtime for both employees and machines.”
The problem of clients favouring consumer products is an obstacle that needs to be overcome suggests O’Reilly.
“It’s understandable that many buyers see the unit price of a consumer screen and obviously that is going to compare very favourably when up against a monitor built for a more rugged life. When you drill down into the story, however, it’s vital that people understand a consumer product is built for a very privileged life, with little more asked of it than one or two users carrying out limited tasks.”
O’Reilly contrasts this with a touchscreen at an information point in, for example, London.
“There thousands of people will be jabbing at it every day and the ambient conditions will vary from hot sun to very wet and very cold. Whatever the weather or however dirty someone’s finger is, the product still needs to perform.
“Similarly, in a retail environment what price a lost customer? How annoying is it for end customers and touchscreen users when trying to order a product or collect tickets to discover that either a touchscreen doesn’t respond, isn’t accurate or is simply broken? My advice to any company would be to look at the TCO of a touchscreen or other HMI and factor in how many times customers will simply walk away from buying a product on a screen if it doesn’t work.
“When one of the biggest retailers in the UK came to us wanting to take their 100-plus page catalogue in-store and make it available on touchscreens, it was vital that the product we suggested was up to the expectations of their customers. It had to look good as it was in a retail environment, but it also had to perform perfectly, 24/7 if necessary. For this project we used our top of the range PCAP DisplayTouch touchscreens.
“The huge advantage with this range (which is the company’s own brand) is that the sensors are factory fitted, and the integral nature of this means that the response is pin-sharp and fast - exactly the kind of customer-experience our retailer wanted to deliver. Developed for the rigours and challenges of an industrial environment, it’s both reliable and durable."