Commission machines with the swipe of a finger

Gestures and motions can be used on mobile devices to operate equipment.

By Niko Glaub, Glaub Automation

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Glaub Automation & Engineering is one of the first system integrators to implement gesture commands for control in manufacturing. In a building used by Glaub Salzgitter, Germany, Matthias Fleischer, software developer, is standing in front of a three-axis system with a gripper arm. The software developer has a tablet PC in his hand and its display shows a schematic depiction of the axes. Fleischer places his thumbs on two marked spots and tilts the tablet PC. As if by magic, the system of axes and the gripper arm move. The more the mobile device is tilted, the faster the movement. As soon as he removes either of his thumbs, the system stops.

“Smartphones and tablet PCs are our companions in the consumer digital world, providing access to and interaction with consumer services like electronic plane ticketing, bank transfers or navigation systems,” explains Dr. Ralf Koeppe, vice president electric drives and controls at Bosch Rexroth. “Millions of apps for all kinds of situations can be used with the simple swipe of a finger, drastically improving the user experience of today’s communication and IT devices. Now the door is open for the world of machinery. With the software technology, Open Core Engineering, and its interface technology, Open Core Interface, Bosch Rexroth allows machinery manufacturers to use smart devices for commissioning, diagnosis and operation.”

At first, smartphones and tablet PCs were considered to be toys for geeks. But they have revolutionized everyday life. Billions of people use them to retrieve information from random locations, download small application programs, shop online and increasingly control their household technology. Instead of a computer mouse and keyboard, two fingers are enough to flip through the pages, zoom or confirm. This simple operation is now in high demand with machine operators. And their training efforts can be reduced considerably (Figure 1).

“The interface technology provides easy and powerful access to the world of IT devices, the ease of use and the mobility of smartphones and tablet PCs,” says Koeppe. “Machine manufacturers program their operating and diagnostic surfaces as apps in a programming environment on the operating systems of the smart devices. Open Core Interface ensures that machine control understands and carries out the orders of these application programs directly. No programming of the controls is necessary. This is a great innovation considering that the programming and control interface typical in today's market only understand programming languages of the world of automation.”

Apps for iOS and Android

The first apps for commissioning and operating machines show how smart devices are facilitating the approach to machine functions. For example, Glaub Automation uses the acceleration sensors of tablet PCs to program axle movements. Until now, when a commissioning engineer wanted to move an axle, he had to enter data: the distance, the terminal position, the acceleration, the maximum speed and the braking before the terminal position.

Also read: Operator Interfaces Go Mobile: Why and how to implement them for your systems

In the app developed by Glaub Automation, the operator sets his two thumbs onto two stylized finger prints on the display of the tablet PCs. Then he tilts the device to the side and the axle moves. The stronger the tilt, the stronger the drive accelerates. As soon as a thumb releases the finger prints, the axle stops. In other apps, the commissioning engineer moves the controller on the display in order to determine the acceleration.

To control its triaxial system, Glaub Automation uses a control and diagnostics app for iOS and Android in order to obtain initial experience and get to know more about how the technology functions (Figure 2). With its Open Core Engineering concept, Bosch Rexroth is setting something significant in motion. It’s assuming a leadership role when merging the world of manufacturing with the IT infrastructure used in offices. It’s unleashing all the advantages we know today in the control of mobile devices.

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