The process industry is the subject of increasing automation. As a step in this direction, the control of whole industrial plants has been centralized into small rooms. Here the process can be monitored and manually controlled if needed. The few operators still employed are expressing boredom due to everything being automated and feeling disconnected from the industrial environment where the work is carried out.
By introducing tangibles into the control environment, that gap between factory floor and control room can be breached. Through simulating the rich experience of the production process, the operators could be engaged to work together with the automation software.
Inspiration and Method
Looking at the processing industry, it’s interesting to see how their work is carried out using normal consumer goods mouse and keyboard. Their work is highly unique because of their context and demands high precision and ease of use. Still today’s interface rather hinders them to carry out their work efficiently.
To make a comparison with a similar industry, a pilot could just as well fly a plane using mouse and keyboard (just look at all the home flight simulators). Still neither passengers nor pilots would prefer controlling the plane using such equipment, even though it’s far cheaper and well established tools for interacting with technology. Does not the process industry deserve just as specifically designed controllers for their profession?
Through deep user research done in collaboration with my project partners, I’ve been able the experience the problem first hand. Being out in the industry, both talking to operators but also walking around in both their control rooms and on the factory floor was a great experience.
Using simple techniques of paper-prototyping, mock-ups and stop motion animation different concepts and ideas has been visualized and tested. These has been used as discussion material when meeting users and stakeholders and iterated based on their feedback.
The result is a number of tangibles that utilizes their physical form and contemporary research in the field. This creates a stronger relationship between the operators and their equipment, gaining both an intuitive understanding and a tool for directly manipulating the equipment they control. A detailed explanation cannot be given due to patenting reasons.