Global OEM Forum: User-Centric Design Improves Operator Efficiency

Nov. 21, 2014
Pearson Packaging Systems Helps End Users Leverage Automation without the Steep Learning Curve
About Mike Bacidore
Mike Bacidore is the editor in chief for Control Design magazine. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or [email protected] or check out his .The Connected Enterprise today is pretty much where the smartphone was 10 years ago, according to Dan Aubertin, senior product manager, Pearson Packaging Systems. "What did it take to get to this point where we take them for granted?" he asked attendees of the Global Machine & Equipment Builders Forum this week at Automation Fair. "The infrastructure, the networks, had to be there. The standards that we're operating under today were designed and written in the 1990s. We're at the same place today in this industry that smart consumer devices were then. Machine devices are getting smarter. We're at that inflection point. It took 15 years for that consumer acceptance in cell phones to come together."

While its packaging systems continue to get smarter, Pearson's customers face issues with operator training and competency, explained Aubertin. To help address this issue, Pearson wants to make its systems as easy to use as a smartphone, and has turned to user-centric design principles often used for consumer devices. "It's what we use at Pearson to help end-user operators be more efficient and effective."

Pearson is a 59-year-old secondary automation solution provider, specializing in machines that erect, pack, seal and palletize. The OEM focuses on overall labor effectiveness (OLE) to improve OEE for its customers. "Operators really struggle with operating equipment effectively," he said. "Can they do tasks quickly? Are they causing scrap and rework? When we look at user-centric design, we look at the human interaction with our automation solutions."

"Operators all have smart phones and are familiar with iconic representation, so we use a graphical approach with our interface." Dan Aubertin described Pearson Packaging Systems' user-centric design at the Global OEM Forum this week at Automation Fair 2014.

"We want to make solutions more intuitive, productive and efficient," said Aubertin. "When we buy a piece of technology, we don't want to read the manual or go through a long learning curve. With user-centric design (UCD), we aim to improve efficiency, enabling fast and accurate achievement of specified goals. We also want to improve effectiveness, prevent errors, shorten the learning curve, and improve engagement."

To better understand how the users of its machinery interact with the automation, Pearson spends a lot of time interviewing its own service organizations, as well as customers and end users, especially operators and maintenance technicians. "We analyze and foresee users' interactions with the products," said Aubertin. "We validate assumptions using real-world tests with actual users. And we find and understand hidden or hard-to-verbalize user needs using contextual inquiry. We design, test, fix and design again."

At Pearson, this is now part of the design process. "Our first UCD release was focused on maintenance and operators," explained Aubertin. "We want to improve set-up speed and accuracy, and improve fault recovery time."

Part of UCD is leveraging existing knowledge. "Operators all have smartphones and are familiar with iconic representation, so we use a graphical approach with our interface," said Aubertin. "We standardized on large color screens, icons, symbols and terminology, and we reduced the number of screens. It's intuitive, and we make it as graphical as possible because many operators don't speak English. For fault recovery, we provide a device status map with sensor location and state, an interactive fault map, and recovery instructions."

The other big operator issue is changeover, from one packaging set-up to another. "We know that it's a big challenge for our customers and a big learning curve for operators," said Aubertin. "The focus for us is lowering total cost of ownership with user-centric design. It reduces maintenance costs and changeover time, and can increase production too."