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Track Material More Intelligently Using These Factory Automation Principles

Tracking material is essential.

Tracking material is essential, especially when you're trying to mitigate risks and diagnose malfunctions. I was impressed at a recent project where our CCF Services’ customer envisioned some colorful and contextual operator interface (OI) controls. Let's explore them.

Colors and icons to emphasize info

We've always used colors to denote the status of material in the equipment, e.g. Needs Processing, In Process, Processed, etc. But this customer used a color legend and a wider range of colors to help the operator more easily track material in realtime. We used color vibrancy (e.g. bright colors or dull colors) to draw attention or soften attention, depending on how important the datum.

ccfblog3.1.1"What about color blindness?"

  • While our customer chose not to bother with color blindness, other customers prefer to use icons or patterned backgrounds in their schema, to aid those who are colorblind.
  • We also display the state as a text string, making it even harder to misinterpret, while maintaining the visual.

"What about E95 standards and other important factory standards?"

  • Our standards experts, Brian, reminded us that there are no constraints in the color department


Don't bother me with a small details

Our customer wanted to regularly demonstrate our progress to their directors and executives. But these audience members weren't very technical. Khoi, our OI designer, created a pretty cool bird's-eye view of the equipment with its numerous material locations. We used colors in the bird's eye view to help the non-technical folks understand where material was at in the equipment and the condition of the material. (We joked about adding disco lights too. And Easter eggs.)



Mirroring physical location

We’ve always visually grouped similar components together, but we took physical layout to the next level on this project by turning some of our tables sideways to simulate the physical tool more accurately (a boat tool). We also made a few pyramids to simulate the locations of the physical components. This makes it easier to visualize how the different parts of the machine work together. Matching the real-world positions, one can more easily anticipate the material flow. Additionally, we displayed all the information on a single screen so the user no longer has to scroll horizontally or vertically to see the various components.



Anticipating operator needs (and possible blunders)

When designing the OI for this project, we wanted to explore ways we could anticipate the operator’s typical and atypical actions (sometimes called happy path and edge cases). If we can understand the operator’s intentions, we can build in mechanisms that prevent risk of damage or getting stuck. We can also build in contingency mechanisms, such as errors, that will make malfunctions easier to diagnose. An example of a prevention mechanism we used on this project was context-sensitive buttons (e.g. disabled under some circumstances) so as to prevent the user from erroneously clicking a control. We also built additional confirmation mechanisms (e.g. a confirmation before discarding a manual change).


We value these 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design as well as other widely accepted usability principles. Intelligent usability mechanisms are usually simple to implement, but often get ignored. A little extra attention in this department can save many hours and even days of debugging time. A more usable Operator Interface is also more likely to impress your stakeholders!

What usability mechanisms have you used recently?

What types of things confuse your machine operators?

What types of bugs are the most time consuming for your development team to resolve?

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Topics: Equipment Control-Software Products, Doing Business with Cimetrix, Meet Our Team

Posted by Rich Kingsford; Project Manager, CCF Services on Oct 21, 2020 11:05:00 AM