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Multi-touch HMIs are ‘not ideal’ for changing market

13 February, 2015

The global market for industrial operator panels is undergoing a ‘fundamental’ change, with text-based and semi-graphical panels disappearing, and the number of panels with widescreens and touch displays increasing, according to a new study from the ARC Advisory Group.

Although multi-touch is one of the big technology trends in the market, ARC warns that, in practical terms, it is not ideal for many factory applications, where dual-touch (zoom) or single-touch (swipe) user interfaces currently dominate.

To meet its full potential in operator panels, multi-touch technology needs to be combined with the right hardware and software to provide the needed functionality and intuitiveness, while minimising the opportunities for costly (and often dangerous) operator errors, ARC adds.

The study suggests that new COTS (commercial, off-the-shelf) technology coming from the consumer market will alter the design of industrial operator panels significantly over the next five years.

“The coming years will be very challenging for suppliers,” says the report’s principal author, Florian Güldner. “Technological change in a market that is maturing, but experiencing only moderate growth, will create friction.”

The market will also be affected by the growing adoption of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) as a new paradigm for manufacturing. To accommodate these “profound” changes, operator panel suppliers will need to focus increasingly on connectivity and data collection, the study suggests.

Many panels will act as the link between the office and the plant floor. Production modularisation will also require more applications to be monitored and controlled directly and autonomously, instead of being coordinated from a central control room. This will contribute to growth, but will require suppliers to incorporate new features into their operator panels.

Over the past two years, the North American market and the demand in the upstream oil and gas market, has been driving the operator panel market, ARC reports. However, these dynamics are about to change.

Over the coming five years, the growth drivers will be Asia and Latin America, the analyst predicts. While expansion in the emerging Asian economies will slow down, it will still support growth on a global basis.

North America is currently one of the fastest-growing regions for operator panels, due largely to the boom in upstream oil and gas activity, and related downstream activities spurred by the current drop in feedstock costs. However, the depressed oil and gas prices make it questionable whether this activity will continue over the forecast period.

With its large consumer market and growing population, the North American market will continue to grow, but will not be large enough to drive operator panel demand on a global level, ARC says.

While European producers of operator panels are benefiting from exports, growth within the continent is small.

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