ICON TECH BLOG #3: Graphical User Interface Touchscreen

Icon’s technology blog, focusing on the industry-changing innovations integrated into our word-leading range of physical property analysers.

Technology: Icon Graphical User Interface (GUI) Touchscreen

Used In: All Icon analyser products

When Icon began the task of redesigning physical properties analysis, we wanted to stand apart from our competitors in form and function. Aside from the distinct shape of our dual enclosures and distinct yellow casing - not simply a conscious reaction to traditional ‘grey box’ design of older analysers, but a practical move to ensure our products are easy to locate on plant - no element of Icon analysers embody our next-generation design ethos like our ground-breaking glass touchscreen GUI interface. Unique among physical property analysers, the integration of GUI designed for optimum user experience is emblematic of our ‘ground-up’ approach to redesigning the technology to meet customer expectations.

The touchscreen has transformed computing in the past decade. Singlehandedly responsible for the success of smartphone and tablet, it makes operation intuitive while making access to control functions and reporting easy. While first-generation touchscreen controls are present in existing analyser products (many use older technologies such as stylus, much like a PDA device from the 1990s), people’s expectations and habits have changed. When we talked to customers during the design phase, they unsurprisingly wanted to use the same kind of technologies they use elsewhere. So one of the first decisions we made was to ensure that Icon users would benefit from the same level of touchscreen control they value in their personal devices.

This necessitated the combined development of hardware and software that would give users the instant control they expect. The hardware challenge was the development of a touchscreen rugged enough to meet the challenging operational conditions while complying with the highest levels of safety; the software challenge was to create an interface that was simple and intuitive to use, but still made the most of the technology in terms of usability and representing data.

Accordingly the touchscreen itself is made of high-quality, 18mm thick armoured glass, enabling it to meet the strict explosion-proof standards required for operation. One of the thickest screens of its type, the depth of the glass is not visible to users and is still highly responsive, regardless of whether the screen is being used by hand or with gloves - the latter being important for operators from a safety point of view.

And aside from glass being a superior material for responsive touchscreen use, it is easy to clean. As the unit is operating where there is likely exposure to oil and dirt, using glass means the screen is completely impervious to solvents - unlike the plastic screens used by many PDA-stylus control interfaces, where using solvents to clean aggressive dirt sources like crude oil can easily ruin it.

Most importantly, the touchscreen is designed for the best possible user experience. Placed at head height so all the information is easy to operate and to view up close - so no unnecessary crouching down or neck straining is encountered by users trying to access data - all operational parameters are clearly labelled and available at a couple of finger strokes at maximum. In terms of reporting, the screen not only reports values purely numerically but represents information graphically, so users are immediately able to see data trends. This is invaluable in immediately being able to view the stability and repeatability of a given process over time.

Finally, the touch screen has a full multi-language capability, so can be adapted to multiple languages as required. This not only ensures easy set-up in most locations, but is also valuable for global operators with a multi-language workforce as the GUI can be easily changed to suit the user.

The overall result gives the experience demanded by customers: immediate and easy access to the operation and management to their process. The first analyser series to provide this enhanced, rich data experience at the point of the process, data can of course also be accessed remotely via the comprehensive range of digital communication functions.