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What role do visualization, usability and user experience (UX) play in a 4.0 production process?
Visualization and software usability play a central role for value-creation managers and assembly operatives in Industrie 4.0 applications. Both groups need to have the right information at the right time. By virtue of his role the value-creation manager has a detailed overview of the smart factory, whereas the operative at his or her assembly island requires information about the next jobs (a prerequisite for establishing priorities), as well as guidance with regard to non-routine assembly tasks. This is where automation technology, IT and software come into play.

Why are usability and UX gaining importance in the manufacturing sector?
Software usability is gaining increased importance due to the complexity of the data and functions. Numerous parameters play a role here. Users (managers and assembly workers) need to concentrate on the tasks in hand instead of familiarizing themselves laboriously with complex software functions. In the automation sector, software and IT provide support and are not ends in themselves. Nowadays, who takes the trouble to read the user manual of their smartphone? This is where our solutions are targeted.

What can we learn from smartphones?
We aim to create user interfaces that are as easy to use as a smartphone or tablet. Data transmission and algorithm processing will take place in the background, without any input from the user. We are also learning from the gaming world. People can play today’s games without having to study the user manual. This is where we aim to go.

What role does gamification play in industrial user interfaces?
It plays a special role. Our aim is to streamline collaboration with our customers. On the basis of the scheduled jobs the assembly manager applies gaming strategies in order to plan the production process for the following three hours. Only when he has achieved an optimum result does he transfer his plan to the real-world production line. This approach is derived from the gaming world.

Which goals has SEW set itself with regard to the realization of usability and UX projects?
Our goal is to facilitate efficient interaction between the customer and our staff at all the relevant points of contact. For our customers this means that it will be easier to configure and order power transmission systems. They will benefit from enhanced transparency in terms of order status, assembly and delivery. For our staff this will ensure they have access to the right information at the right place and at the right time, thus enabling them to provide optimum customer service.

To what extent are your staff involved in this development process?
Our staff are the basis for this process. They know best what information is needed, when, and in what form – as text, video or a VR application. The project team evaluates and discusses the developments with reference to relevant requirements and then implements and tests the solutions in practice. The same applies to the interfaces with our customers and suppliers. In various pilot projects we are exploring new possibilities for configuring and ordering power transmission solutions.