8 Benefits of Using Tablets as Displays in Off-Highway and Industrial Machines

November 30, 2020

The trend is reversing for displays in off-road rugged equipment. Instead of incorporating lots of control logic into display systems, it’s going to become much simpler.

The preeminence of the display as a compute source on the machine, rather than a simple operator interface, was born more of convenience rather than an optimal machine control architecture. When more complex display terminals began to emerge on the market, many of those terminals were utilizing a Windows operating system. The hardware needed to host Windows was left with unutilized computing power. Many organizations, as a result, began taking advantage of that by putting machine control software into the terminal.

Today, however, significant computing potential is possible within embedded devices with a broad spectrum of affordable processor and memory technologies. This gives machinery manufacturers the potential to inexpensively push the control logic out of the terminal and back into the electronic control units, making the displays true thin clients and providing manufacturers much more display flexibility at a lower cost.

Here are 8 ways how manufacturers benefit from using smart devices in place of display terminals.

1. Leverage investments made by consumer electronics manufacturers
Industrial and off-highway vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers are simply not capable of matching pace with the investment and technical progression of the devices in the consumer electronics world.

Exacerbating this problem is the limited volumes in the off-highway and industrial spaces — they are only able to access these technologies after they become available in consumer devices, and then it takes years achieving their introduction to a machine. This cycle leaves manufacturers lagging the curve of consumer display expectations by years, while investing a lot of time and money into advanced display systems that feel substandard by the time they reach operators.

One way of mitigating this problem is by pushing some display functions into mobile devices. Without any hardware development or integration investment, OEMs can leverage the hundreds of millions of R&D dollars that others have put into consumer electronics, as well as the additional investments in the infrastructure that supports them.

2. Push display features into operator mobile devices
On one end of the spectrum, the mobile device can be used as a simple display. The device receives data from the machine over a wireless link. This data is then rendered into valuable real-time information for the operator to view on the device, including visual or auditory alerts that might be helpful.

On the other end of the spectrum, the mobile device is an interactive element of the machine control architecture. In this embodiment, operators can provide machine control inputs through their phone or tablet — whether they are in the machine’s cab, or even outside of it.

3. Utilize app update infrastructure through Android, Apple, and other devices
Delivery of a new embedded feature or capability typically requires a service bulletin, dealer notice, or integration with a new vehicle model year. Deployment of mobile features or capabilities can be timed conveniently for a vehicle manufacturer, and can be launched in a matter of days.

When coupled with the ability to deliver ECU firmware through the mobile application interface, it becomes possible for vehicle manufacturers to perform significant update campaigns and verify which vehicles have been reached with those campaigns — all without any telematic or dealer service expenses.

4. Break the dependence on vehicle model year release cycles
It has traditionally been very difficult to add value for customers of off-highway equipment out of cycle with a machine’s delivery. Should a competitor release a new feature, those in the industry are relegated to waiting for the next machine cycle to deliver a competitive response. To the extent that there is mobile experience integrated with the machine, innovative features can be deployed at any time, giving OEMs the potential to quickly deliver differentiable features out of sequence with model year cycles. As an additional bonus, manufacturers can make those features available to both new and existing customers.

5. Leverage community to fuel development and growth
With a mobile application also comes the potential to leverage community to fuel development and growth. For example, if there is an industrial segment that is a relatively small consumer of machines but has a strong desire for a specific display, license can be extended by the OEM to use the data output by the machine. In this scenario, a mobile app can be developed that is unique to that small segment, providing a value-added experience to operators without requiring any development investment, support, or maintenance from the vehicle manufacturer.

6. Rapidly deliver features / speeding to market
Embedded software development can be time consuming and expensive when compared to mobile development. It’s generally more challenging to hire and train embedded developers, the software is more time consuming to develop and deploy, and the associated validation activity is nontrivial. In contrast, mobile software developers are more accessible, software deployment is more rapid, and ultimately less expensive.

7. Display cost reductions
To the extent that more features can be delivered to operators through their mobile devices, machine displays can become simpler — offering the potential for cost reduction of the machine electrics while still delivering more features to its operators.

8. Capture user and machine data
For machines where telematic connectivity may not be possible, utilization of an app may provide the ability to cache and deliver valuable machine data to a manufacturer (in lieu of the cellular connectivity onboard the machine). An application can also acquire information about how users navigate through the app’s tools and features, providing usage statistics that can serve as a powerful force for informing future development to optimize equipment and interfaces for operators.

David Batcheller – President & CBO