The Connected Industrial World Is at Your Fingertips—Have You Turned Off Airplane Mode?

A few years ago I bought a GPS that I was quite pleased with. Then one day the touchscreen suddenly seemed unresponsive. I had to press hard on each letter on the pop-up keypad, and hold my finger there a bit longer than expected. As it turns out, nothing had changed on the GPS. The difference was that I had started to use an iPhone with capacitive touch. Suddenly the resistive touch screen on the GPS felt slow and cumbersome.

Every time I get on a plane, I hear disappointed sighs from fellow passengers when they are asked to switch their phones and tablets to “airplane mode.” Being unnamedaccustomed to having the world literally at our fingertips, we are limited during flight to only the information and functionality that is installed on our devices.

Our expectations for user experience and connectivity aren’t just limited to consumer electronics. The fast-paced world of hand held devices is impacting the automation industry as well.

Touchscreen technology that was state-of-the-art just a few years back is frustrating to operators who use smartphones and tablets. Equipment manufacturers can no longer simply buy products that are just fast enough to run their machines. If the touchscreen frustrates the end user, the perception will be that the entire machine is slow and outdated.

Connectivity has also become an expectation. Traditional operator interfaces are permanently in “airplane mode,” living on isolated islands of technology. Operators have to walk away from their machine to find out what product to run next, to consult a printed operator manual, or to check inventory levels for the next run, when all of that information could be just a swipe away—like on a smartphone.

Talk of how to integrate this new technology into the automation industry is more than idle chatter.  It’s a business imperative.  Within the next 5 years, 40% of skilled manufacturing workers will retire. The next generation of workers won’t accept resistive touchscreens and slow response times. In that same five year time span, more than 50 billion machines --that’s billion with a “b”-- will connect to the Industrial Internet. Islands of automation won’t cut it in today’s connected world.

Automation solution providers must reimagine their product offerings to meet user expectations and help their customers fully realize the promise—and requirements—of the Industrial Internet. This reimagining of human and machine interaction puts the operator interface center stage.

That’s why at GE Intelligent Platforms we’re revamping product lines to bring you the Industrial Internet at your machine or on the factory floor with products like the QuickPanel+.  We believe this is the beginning of an exciting journey that will transform what we want to do and how we want to do it when we step up to a machine – like me with my GPS and all of us with our smartphones.