The Development of Innovative Touch Interface Software for Industrial Applications

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1 The Development of Innovative Touch Interface Software for Industrial Applications Authors: Berner & Mattner Systemtechnik GmbH: Dr. Klaus Wiltschi, Head of Industrial Customers Department Dr. Michael Sturm, Head of Software Products Department Centigrade GmbH: Thomas Immich, General Manager 1. Summary As a modern human machine interface (HMI), touch-sensitive displays, so-called touch displays, offer new possibilities for the operation of equipment and machines in industrial applications. A successful interface design that enables intuitive use of complex and comprehensive functionality pays off in multiple ways. A well-thought-out operating concept not only enhances attractiveness via differentiation of products from competitors with sales-relevant effect. It also increases the flexibility for variants development and updates and reduces user training cost and operating errors for customers. As a consequence, there is a lot of pressure on manufacturers, product managers, designers and developers to develop products with such optimized touch interfaces. The development of innovative touch interfaces, however, is a new challenge for manufacturers. Operators are projecting their everyday user experience with consumer devices such as iphone or tablet PCs onto industrial applications and are thus calling for new requirements in terms of design and intuitive usability. These Feb/2011 page 1/13

2 requirements cannot be met by traditional software development methods with the typical downstream design phase of the operator interface. Fundamental changes of the software development process are required to reliably develop attractive and modern touch interfaces. This white paper presents methods, processes and software development tools that have proven to be successful in the development of award-winning HMI projects. The key success components of this approach are the early and intensive involvement of users in the development process and the parallel and agile development of interface design and software. The installation of an infrastructure for distributed development (Distributed Development Platform) allows for an efficient division of labor between specialist teams for the development of hardware, software and user interfaces. 2. Initial situation a. Why touch interfaces? Touch-sensitive displays have become widely accepted not only in the consumer industry. While in the past industrial applications were mainly operated via key panels, membrane keyboards or even external interfaces like keyboards or mouse, touchsensitive displays are more and more taking over. The driving force is the economic benefit for manufacturers of equipment, machinery and plants: - Their popularity in consumer electronics has dramatically brought down the cost of touch interfaces - with continuously increasing quality (resolution, size, colors, reliability, industry-fitness) - Touch interfaces combine display and operating elements in the most confined space and reduce space and cost for machine operation - Touch interfaces as a human machine interface can visualize additional information for the user (application support / work instructions, graphic representation of fault causes, dash boards, etc.) - In contrast to keyboard and mouse, touch interfaces are more appropriate for hygiene measures and are therefore increasingly used in medical engineering, amongst others Feb/2011 page 2/13

3 - Extensive feature enhancements with updates can be incorporated into touch interfaces with great flexibility. Space requirements for operating elements remain the same in spite of varying functionalities of machine types and generations With the GUI design supporting intuitive operation of devices and machines, the entire economic potential of touch interfaces is highlighted: - A good and easy to understand user interface, adapted to language, application and situation, can considerably reduce training cost for the operating personnel - Comprehensive work instructions for the operator, according to the situation, through to complete workflows for configuration and / or correction of errors allow for an operation of equipment with less user errors and thus more productivity - With a comprehensible way of operation, more complex functionalities and specific machine advantages can be utilized by the operator - A modern and superior operating concept can differentiate the products of a manufacturer from the competition, improve brand communication and enhance customer loyalty b. Why traditional development methods fail for touch interfaces Traditional software development is sequential. Summarized, the practice is as follows: Functional software is developed on the basis of specifications. Only afterwards, the user interface is created - and more often than not by the developers of the functional software itself. The result is that in the majority of cases the GUI is created in a very technology- and function-focused way. At best, only after the development of the first GUIs by the software developers, graphical artists and designers will be involved to apply cosmetic changes to the user interface. Without knowing users and applications, they can only change the visual design (icons, colors and fonts), but not the operating concept. An involvement of users in the development process often does not take place or, if at all, only at a very late stage. At this late time in the development process, requests for changes are usually refused due to cost and time expenditures or the already imminent launch of the product, since major changes to the user interface cause complex changes to the software itself. Feb/2011 page 3/13

4 The consequences of this procedure are reflected in the users reactions: User interfaces are perceived as being complex, confusing or even "unusable". The operating concept, generated from the developer's point of view, in many ways does not meet the requirements and operation sequences in practice. Countermeasures are expensive trainings. In a nutshell: Instead of making a device intuitively usable, the operation is being trained and learned. Thus the product can later be operated reliably by well-trained core staff and in standard functions. Personnel changes, the use of rarely used features or advanced configuration options, however, lead to operating errors, declining productivity and high cost. Indirectly, the uncertainties and training expenses are reasons for customers and users to consider the introduction of new machine models as extremely complicated and to delay it in practice. The manufacturer should be encouraged to reconsider the optimization of its human machine interface, at the latest when facing these indirect effects and economic concerns. In addition, the widespread use of attractive touch display interfaces in consumer electronics creates subconscious expectations of users. The demand on functionality, ergonomics and an attractive look and feel is increasing and makes HMI development more challenging. It is a fact that, in many cases, manufacturers of industrial applications do not have the necessary experience to develop an intuitive and appealing touch interface operating concept. The following three aspects appear to be vital: The design of operating surfaces for touch interfaces is subject to its own rules. A transfer of usability concepts from PC software is not possible even when using large touch displays. The often tried 1:1 reproduction fails regularly. The involvement of usability experts, specialized tools and new development processes is essential. Equipment and machine operators need a comprehensive, highly efficient operating concept that is close to applied practice. The users, in particular, have to be involved in the development process. The design of innovative touch interfaces requires intensive interdisciplinary and often multi-site collaboration of application specialists, ergonomists, design engineers / computer scientists and users in an iterative, user-centered process framework. New methods and systems have to be implemented for the team work (collaboration infrastructures) in order to make this cooperation Feb/2011 page 4/13

5 efficient and to further reduce the development time despite the complexity of the project. But how are these conditions created for a successful development of innovative touch interfaces? Are there best practice approaches, proven and tested methods and tools that development managers and product managers can use to prepare their own processes and development staff for new challenges? c. Side note: Partnership for innovative touch interface software solutions The procedure model described below has been developed on the basis of practical experience. Main stakeholders are the software developers and software infrastructure experts of Berner & Mattner, Munich, and the usability and design experts of Centigrade, Saarbruecken. As service providers, both companies are involved in numerous projects for industrial software and interface developments. At first, the experts of both companies have individually been confronted with the weaknesses of traditional development procedures described above, seeking answers to questions such as: How do we involve the customer's product experts and the product end users in the development of the interaction concept for an interface as early as possible? How can we achieve as many intermediate steps as possible in the development being presented to users with their feedback flowing into the ongoing development of software and HMI? How can development cycle times in projects of touch interfaces be reduced and undesirable developments be avoided? Can a linked development be accelerated without stakeholders having to wait for one other? How can the communication be optimized between the project participants, e. g. between application developers and GUI designers or customers and developers? How can we keep a project open for alterations and variations? Feb/2011 page 5/13

6 In their daily work, both companies recognized the need for new approaches and procedure models. Based on this motivation, they established a partnership for innovative touch interface software solutions. Since then, Berner & Mattner and Centigrade have developed a process model based on their different competencies as well as on existing and improved tools and processes. The basis has already been established with methods such as iterative and incremental development processes, agile development models, the user-centered design process (UCD), rapid prototyping and usability tests. In the meantime, the first jointly developed products have hit the market. The awards for these developments, the response from customers and users as well as the commercial success of the products can be taken as evidence for the suitability of the procedure model described below. Feb/2011 page 6/13

7 3. Process model for the successful development of modern touch interfaces in industrial applications a. Development of an interaction concept (workshop) and early prototyping The requirements for functionality and display have to be worked out at an early stage and have to be constantly reviewed by an iterative and incremental further development of the HMI. Consequently, graphical and interactive touch panels meet the experiences and needs of the users in the daily practice and in the best possible way. For this purpose, the following approach is recommended: At the beginning of the development, a joint workshop takes place involving all stakeholders and representatives of customers and users. The goal is the definition of use cases and - based on this - the development of a workflow-oriented interaction concept. It is good practice to design the essential elements with paper and pencil and / or on a flip chart and to discuss the necessary interaction mechanisms with all stakeholders. Participation of relevant disciplines ensures that all aspects are taken into account. Both the fundamental interaction interfaces and the basic layout of the application can be derived from the jointly developed drafts. Experience shows that the main functionalities and operating controls can be defined in appropriately moderated workshops. Feb/2011 page 7/13

8 Figure 1: Examples of the development process of a touch interface for a testing device of OMICRON electronics - the original draft, a prototype version and the final product version of the user interface. In the course of the project, the participant groups of the workshop stay involved. In this way, intermediate results of the touch interface development are presented to users again and again. Embedded in mockups (reduced function models), the practical use can be simulated and the usability can be optimized with interactive sequences of screen designs - long before a functional device prototype is available. The development proceeds iteratively and incrementally, user feedback is taken into account at the earliest possible stage minimizing cost and complexity of changes. Feb/2011 page 8/13

9 b. Parallel development of functional software and GUI design The second component of the process model is crucial for the efficiency of the development project. Due to the incremental development of the GUI with active user participation, priorities are changing in the interface development. Unlike in classical technical and functional designs, the user sets the priorities: The focus is on the operation flow, not the function implementation. But isn't the software development process suffering from the stepwise optimization of the user interface in user discussions? No, because the consequent use of new software development tools such as the GUI description languages XAML (Microsoft. NET), MycroXAML (OpenSource, C++), SwiXML (OpenSource, Java) and QML (Nokia Qt, C++) allows for the design of the user interface being almost completely decoupled from the development of the functional software. Both development processes can thus be completed in parallel. The software developers are working on the hardware functionality and interaction based on the jointly developed interaction concept, while the GUI designers and usability experts refine the user interface in close consultation with the users based on the interaction model. They utilize their specific tools such as Adobe Photoshop to create screen designs pixel by pixel as well as MS Expression Blend to create dynamic and interactive prototypes. Merging of function and interface design is carried out using the page description languages - and can thus be parameterized in one file. In traditional software development processes, it has been complicated to transfer functionalities from one special user interface to another. This can now be done by the designer via parameter settings on user request - the underlying function call in the software migrates automatically. Using GUI description languages, designers and developers have a common basis for the first time and can develop functions and layout simultaneously without impeding one other. Professional WYSIWYG editors for these languages give the designers the freedom for design and enrichment with interactive process steps without requiring them to take care of the code. This results in a great advantage for the rapid HMI development, separated by design and function. The user interfaces can be configured with flexibility without software modification. The realization of product variants, such as country-specific or customer-specific versions, can easily be implemented. This applies also for different operating system platforms. Feb/2011 page 9/13

10 c. Infrastructure for a linked, agile development (Distributed Development Platform) The procedure model described in this paper requires a very intensive communication within the project team, which is larger than in traditional development processes, due to its incremental and interactive development stages and close involvement of users and designers. The partially parallelized development lines cannot be successful without the following conditions: permanent exchange of information, access to current software versions and total transparency of the project progress for all parties. Good intentions alone do not lead to the desired communication. In most cases, the participation of users, hardware and software specialists as well as external service providers requires the team to cooperate nationwide or even internationally. Such development projects are only successful when using appropriate software infrastructure. The Distributed Development Platform, developed by Berner & Mattner, is a comprehensive development platform that can be used worldwide with defined access rights and is adapted to the respective project. This infrastructure supports the project team with the following functions: Role-based access rights Ticketing system for a task management, traceable without gaps. Change requests and their connection to the code versions, in particular, can reliably be recorded, communicated, and their completion be monitored Project management functionalities (project plan, times, milestones, progress, etc.) Source code management with configuration management for versions including their history Build management and automatic generation of documents to facilitate the access of all project participants to the current software version Integration of automated regression tests, in particular for HMI software (variants, multilingualism, test cases for typical interaction sequences) The platform allows for short cycles and thus a modern, agile software development. The HMI build process is executed automatically by the push of a button or by being triggered through the setting of a change; hence, the various development teams have always the latest software version available. The involvement of customers and users Feb/2011 page 10/13

11 is possible at any time. The development process reaches an extremely high level of transparency. The possibility to include automatic regression tests directly into such an infrastructure is crucial, in particular for agile HMI software development, in order to continuously validate the increasing development functionality. Tools such as Google Test offer HMIs the possibility to simulate a virtual user. Here, user actions are recorded and reused as automatic test cases. Large parts of software and HMI can be tested in this way, efficiently and completely automated. For Qt-based GUI applications it is possible to perform automatic text length verification for all GUI elements and thus to review all languages at the push of a button. Figure 2: CMControl operator terminal for the CMC test device of OMICRON electronics - Centigrade design having been presented with the if product design award 2010 Feb/2011 page 11/13

12 4. Conclusion Manufacturers and project managers who want to differentiate their industrial products through intuitively operable touch interfaces and outstanding GUI designs have a best practice approach with the process described above. It covers the essential requirements for an efficient, parallelized development process via its tool architecture. With its interaction concept, it creates the basis for a team-wide understanding of the practical application and ensures the early and continuous involvement of users and usability experts. Experience shows that the project teams of the manufacturers need to apply new ways of working and new tools. The early and intensive involvement of users, design and usability experts requires new thinking and methods, utilizing elements of agile software development. Accordingly, the intensive coordination between all project stakeholders enforces the use of effective tools for distributed development - not at least to achieve the necessary efficiency and transparency in the overall process. Such fundamental changes in tools and methods require manufacturers to provide a professional management of this change process in order not to overstrain their employees. Most development projects suffer from time constraints and high pressure to succeed. Therefore, manufacturers should build a team with experienced external specialists and open-minded internal staff to develop touch interfaces in the first projects. In doing so, it is easier to learn the new ways of working and to gain practical experience with these methods and tools. Contact Suggestions or further questions on this white paper and general information regarding development of innovative touch interfaces can be addressed to: Dr. Klaus Wiltschi, Berner & Mattner Systemtechnik GmbH +49 (0) Dr. Michael Sturm, Berner & Mattner Systemtechnik GmbH +49 (0) Thomas Immich, Centigrade GmbH +49 (0) Feb/2011 page 12/13

13 More information on the subject Usability Engineering kompakt: Benutzbare Software gezielt entwickeln Michael Richter, Markus D. Flückiger Spektrum Akademischer Verlag; 2nd edition, May 2010 About Face The Essentials of Interaction Design Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, David Cronin Wiley Publishing Inc., Understanding Mobile Human-Computer Interaction Steve Love, Elsevier 2005 Mobile Usability Ch. Lindholm/ T. Keinonen/ H. Kiljander McGraw-Hill 2003 Entwicklung benutzerorientierter Embedded MMIs: Den Anwender im Blick Alexander Wiethoff, Alexander Sorg Article in "Markt und Technik" Issue 49/2009, ISSN Use Cases effektiv erstellen Alistair Cockburn, Mitp-Verlag, 2008 User centered Design Process XAML - mycroxaml - SwiXML - Qt - QML - Googletest - Berner & Mattner Systemtechnik GmbH - Centigrade GmbH OMICRON electronics GmbH Feb/2011 page 13/13

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