How trends in Operator Experience battle sensory overload

Monday, March 2, 2020

How trends in Operator Experience battle sensory overload

As machines get more complex, their controls must become more intuitive and easier to use.

It sounds like a paradox, but the statement makes sense when you consider the alternative. If every new, complex system implemented in off-highway equipment had a corresponding interface in the cab, the complex array of buttons, knobs, gauges and indicator lights could make the cab look (and feel) like a passenger aircraft cockpit.

The challenge of making an increasingly complicated machine easy to use is where a focus on operator experience comes in. The term “operator experience” includes everything from physical comfort to receiving and acting on input from the machine itself, all with an overall goal of safety.  

Looking five to ten years into the future, Danfoss sees some trends emerging.  

More intuitive and flexible controls

Digitalization of interfaces  

Incorporating more digital technology in off-highway vehicles supports the user experience operators have come to expect — due largely in part to the wide use of smartphones and digital automotive controls.  Plus, the intuitive digital interface will shorten training times for newer, younger operators. This is key, especially in the midst of a shrinking workforce.

For OEMs in particular, digital interfaces offer increased flexibility to customize what information they’d like to display and when.

Use of 3D renderings, animations

As the dashboard could potentially become one big digital display, the graphics possibilities are endless. For example, instead of getting an error code when there’s a problem, the machine could show a graphic image of the component that’s causing the error or even play a video on how to repair it. This brings the solution right to the operator’s fingertips, drastically cutting diagnostic time.

Implementing Steer-by-Wire technology and different steering inputs

It’s not the motivation to be trendy that drives OEMs to replace steering wheels and columns with joysticks. In fact, removing the steering wheel has three practical benefits.

First, joysticks require less physical movement by the operator to maneuver the machine. That reduces muscle fatigue. Second, taking the wheel and column out of the cab improves visibility. And third, less components needed in the machine can easily translate to increased design flexibility (such as integrating a rotating seat, for example) and reduced production time.

In a study conducted between Danfoss and Aalborg University, they discovered that traditional steering performed the worst in regard to productivity and muscle strain. When using a joystick method in comparison to a traditional steering wheel, the operator’s workload was reduced by 65% — this kind of disparity could mean the difference between getting the work completed on time (and with comfortable, productive workers) or going over the timeline.

Increased number of inputs/outputs per device

Increasing the input and output capacity per device may sound counter-intuitive toward making machines simpler. Yet, by increasing the capabilities of each component, it actually reduces the overall clutter in the cab.

Picture this — instead of a cab with multiple buttons, displays, dials, steering inputs and more, the same functions could be streamlined into a smart display, one rotary dial and a joystick. The capabilities are the same — if not improved — while getting rid of an overwhelming environment.

The result is a more streamlined, intuitive and ergonomic experience for the operator and better design flexibility for OEMs.

Advancing productivity and safety

Stream information to/from the machine

As connectivity grows more robust and reliable, operators with touchpad controls will be able to access virtually any document they need from the cloud. This can include owner’s manuals, work orders, and so much more. Exterior touchscreens could also access a library of how-to videos to guide repairs.

More robust connectivity will enable a growing array of telematic possibilities. It will also connect smartphones to machines in ways that make it easy to access new levels of machine information from almost anywhere on the globe.

In addition, connected machines can make predictive maintenance a widespread reality. This could look like operators being able to self-diagnose issues, use exterior touchscreens to guide repairs and enable a growing array of telematic possibilities.

Connecting machines to the Cloud

Considering operator experience will pave the way for a digital transformation. Enabling additional connectivity from the machine to the cloud will help solve additional industry challenges, such as production management, resource consumption and supply chain organization — to name a few.

Improved safety

Smarter is often safer, whether you’re talking about humans or machines. Operator experience takes into account elements like visibility and viewability, which will help maintain high safety standards. De-cluttering the cab lets the driver see more, and a growing array of small camera options can greatly expand the driver’s line of sight.

Viewability also means how easy it is to see and understand a screen, which can be a challenge in off-highway environments. Direct sunlight on a screen can make it unreadable, as anyone who has tried to read a text message on a sunny day knows. This is spurring improvements including:

  • High-brightness screens
  • Wide viewing angles
  • Minimal glare and reflections
  • Auto-adjusting brightness in all lighting conditions

Further improving comfort

Automate complex machine functions

Integrating connected components not only improves operator experience but is a key enabler for other, more advanced technologies — specifically automation. Machines that are designed with integrated braking, steering and work function systems, for example, are a necessary first step. They have the building blocks to then add advanced software features such as driver assistance systems.

Automating advanced machine functions further improves safety and ease of operation. Drier assistance features can include anything from auto-dig to safety navigation procedures. Not to mention, programming these features as a software block — rather than relying on the operator — can reduce cycle time as well as operating costs.

As OEMs and manufacturers continue to focus on making machines smarter and increasingly autonomous, the need to consider how humans interact with all the technology — operator experience — is gaining momentum. Focusing on operator experience now will not only improve machine designs for the end users but could give OEMs a significant advantage in the marketplace.

Interested in learning more about improving operator experience in your machine design?
Contact your nearest Danfoss Power Solutions distributor.