Operator Interface Customization

If You Are an OIT Customer, Who Do You Call When You Need Immediate Assistance?

Dan HebertBy Dan Hebert, PE, Senior Technical Editor

Machine operator interface terminals (OITs) typically are customized to improve ease-of-use, create branding for the machine OEM, and decrease downtime. This customization is performed by the OIT supplier, the OEM and/or the OEM customer.

Suppliers usually provide customization to the OIT hardware, specifically the front panel. "For large-volume OEM customers, we can customize the graphics of the front fascia of our OPLC," states Holly Dillon, regional marketing manager at Unitronics (www.unitronics.com). The OPLC is a combination OIT and PLC, and Dillon says there are fees involved in choosing this option, but it's worth it for many OEMs to have their logo prominently displayed.

"For medium-volume OEM customers, we can make our OPLC neutral with our company name and logo removed," she says. "This option is more affordable and is popular among system integrators."

The OIT is the first thing that many OEM customers see when they interface with a machine or robot, and if there are problems, the first call for many will be to the name on the OIT front panel. This is often true even if the problem has no connection whatsoever with the OIT itself, for example, when the OIT shows that a motor failed to start.

If that name is the OIT supplier, limited assistance or no assistance at all will typically be provided because the supplier usually won't be familiar with the specific application. Fairly or not, this can reflect poorly on the OEM or the system integrator.

When the OIT is labeled with the name of the OEM or the system integrator, the first call from a customer is instead made to the company that's best positioned to provide immediate assistance. This not only increases customer satisfaction, but also can result in additional OEM or system integrator service revenue.

"On many of our units, we offer a keypad kit that can be inserted over the standard alphanumeric keypad," Dillon says. "Our customers can print different commands as well as their logo, and adhere this information to the keypad slide. The keypad slide can then be inserted over the standard keys via access on the backside of the unit."

Customization not only adds the OEM brand name to the OIT front panel, but also greatly increases ease of use. A machine operator no longer needs to relate a generic key label to a specific machine or robot function, and can act more quickly by pressing a Recipe key to summon the appropriate screen. A common look and feel across several different machines makes this more important.

Custom labeling of standard keys sometimes can be quite elaborate, as with Messer Cutting Systems (www.messercutting.com) in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Messer makes high-performance plasma, oxy fuel and laser cutting machines—and the company found value in adding unique buttons, jog wheels and simulated joy sticks to its OITs.

Of course, the main form of OIT customization for most OEMs is through the PC-based configuration software provided by the OIT supplier. With configuration software, customization possibilities are endless, providing great freedom, but also requiring discipline to maintain a consistent corporate look and feel from one machine or robot to the next.

This is important for branding, and even more to ease the work of the OEM service technicians. If an OEM is selling multiple machines or robots to a single customer, great care must be taken so that all OIT customization is closely coordinated and harmonized.

Kilo Technologies (www.kilotechonline.com) is an industrial OEM based in Calgary, Alberta, and its well production monitoring skids help oil producers measure specific gravity of a well's output. The manufacturer uses the OIT supplier's software to create custom applications running on an A-B PanelView touchscreen display. These applications allow not only local monitoring and control of the skid, but also remote access via browser, as the OIT includes a built-in web server.