Multi-touch improves data analysis


Bringing multi-touch to life

Figure 4: Modern panel-mount data acquisition stations takes advantage of multi-touch and other technologies to enable operators to quickly view and analyze large amounts of data. Courtesy: YokogawaA practical example of the advantages of multi-touch and other technologies for data analysis is a panel-mount data acquisition station (Figure 4). Its mission in life is to measure process signals with high accuracy and repeatability, and to provide clear visualization of this data to operators. Abundant and secure local data storage is a must for future data review and analysis. Last but not least, the station must support easy data transfer to the PC environment, so that data can be permanently stored and, in some cases, further analyzed.

The most advanced data acquisition stations are fully integrated devices offering a long list of premium functionality such as modular universal inputs, SD card flash memory, and USB portable media support, topped off with a very familiar-feeling touchscreen operator interface. Intuitive color graphics present information clearly, with single- and multi-touch operations available for all settings and data display navigation.

Operators can watch a single overview screen showing all channel data, and then touch any channel in an alarm condition to jump to a more informative trend screen. On this real-time trend screen, a simple swipe will replay recent historical trend data leading up to the alarm, during, and after the event, with min/max data indicated. Another touch and swipe action takes the operator to deeper historical data. This no-compromise performance is a requirement for many applications, made easier thanks to multi-touch technology.

The full depth of trend history, including hours, days, or even months, is available in this manner. Add standard Ethernet connectivity that allows data monitoring using a Web browser, e-mail messaging, and other convenience functions—and these advanced data acquisition platforms offer the user a very powerful alternative to complex software-based data acquisition platforms employing older single-touch screen interactions.

In one application in a heat-treat shop, a paper trend chart captured data that proved furnace temperatures were in specification during each product heat cycle. Operators would handwrite batch and other text information on the chart, associating each product batch with the temperature data.

To meet the latest quality standards for this industry and improve operator productivity, a digital electronic recording system was installed to acquire, store, and produce secure, tamper-resistant data files containing traceable batch and temperature data. A new data acquisition station was implemented with a touchscreen operator interface to fulfill these requirements.

The station allows the operator to see the precise temperature data on graphical displays, and to scroll through historical trend data by simply swiping backwards on the real-time trend display. He or she can also quickly input important text information with the touchscreen keyboard, or handwrite messages using a stylus. Data input is now performed with much greater speed and accuracy, and an audit trail is established that links the responsible operator with the batch record. 

Multi-touch technology has enabled smartphones and handheld tablets to change the way people communicate, navigate the Internet, and interact with the countless applications they use on an everyday basis. This technology has brought the same level of convenience and intuitive feel to specialized data acquisition and control products.

Clever design of plant data acquisition and other systems that takes full advantage of multi-touch technology, and the deployment of specialized apps in smartphones and tablets that support these products, are changing the way operators interact with and interpret plant information.     

Steve Byrom is data acquisition product manager for Yokogawa Corporation of America.


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See a related article on multi-touch technology below.

Key concepts:

  • Multi-touch techniques can be much faster than traditional methods for manipulation and analysis of large amounts of data.
  • These techniques minimize the need for training given the familiarity users have gained using consumer electronic devices.

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