How Pretty Is Your Machine?

During a few recent vendor visits I've seen more examples of automation suppliers promoting aesthetics of design in what I'd consider non-customary places, and the use of contemporary social media-influenced interfaces.

For example, Beckhoff Automation's Pack Expo booth showed off a very elegant looking Windows 7-based panel PC in a machined aluminum housing and featuring a multi-finger touchscreen like those popular with smartphones, tablets and their ilk. This feels far more like playing with a tablet at home, then controlling or monitoring machinery. While it wasn't front-and-center in the product pecking order, the Beckhoff folks made a point to show it off.

During a Harting media event last month, the company, which is well-known for its cable-to-cable interconnection of data, signal and power applications in one "plug," made a point to highlight its Han-Yellock connector, that keeps the core functionality of the rugged, industrial looking product line, but offers further enhancements to the connection process....and it's really handsome-looking, with a rounded, die -cast, black epoxy powder-coated housing and a bright yellow button that unlatches the housing sort like a seatbelt.

I thought this aesthetic might make some sense for cabling installations in high visibility commerical or residential buildings, and in some image-conscious company headquarters, but not in anything resembling a typical factory floor. The Harting product manager was adamant about its growing use in industrial venues and that machine users and their customers absolutely want to place more emphasis on this, as an aesthetic and perhaps as a signal that their own products carry that cache.

I could use some feedback about where this lands on your to-do lists.

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Joe Feeley is editor in chief for Control Design and Industrial Networking. Email him at or check out his Google+ profile.

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  • <p>At its users group conference this week in New Orleans, Yokogawa is also showing off its new multitouch screen capabilities, in this case as part of its new SmartDAC+ data acquisition stations (<a href="">read our product exclusive on the SmartDAC+</a>). The stations' touchscreens work essentially the same as an iPad or other similar devices, but use a proprietary resistive touchscreen technology developed by Toshiba.</p> <p><img src="/files/u49417/Yokogawa_SmartDAC.jpg" width="500" height="257" alt="Yokogawa_SmartDAC.jpg" /> </p> <p>I would argue that this isn't an aesthetic or frivolous technology. Yes, it works the same way you might play with your tablet at home, but that doesn't mean it doesn't bring added benefits. Yokogawa, for example, makes note of the fast navigation and viewing of data displays that it affords. Showing us one of the stations during a press conference on Tuesday, Steve Byrom, product manager for Yokogawa's data acquisition products, showed how easy it was to see a broader spread of data with the swiping capabilty, and how using two fingers to pinch in and out made it simple to zoom in on the data you want to see.</p> <p>Of course, keep in mind this is the kind of technology users will expect more of. They have it on their consumer devices, so why can't they have that kind of ease on their industrial interfaces? This will become just that much truer as younger generations infiltrate those operator and engineering positions. I didn't grow up with the multitouch capabilities the way younger folks will have, but I'm already thrown when faced with a device that doesn't have that functionality. More and more, it's just what we expect.</p> <p>Pretty plugs, though. I'll have to defer to somebody else on that one.</p> <p></p>


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