Breakthroughs in manufacturing and research have moved at incredible speed, but designers, researchers, and engineers are still using outdated devices to interface with cleanroom equipment.
For years, the same controls have been used across several industries, including medical, pharmaceutical, and electronic assembly and manufacturing. But new technology offers the capability to do much more. Through human gestures, touches, and motions, a host of information can be conveyed more intuitively with a control device that tells the equipment we use how to operate.
New touch technology
A new technology has recently emerged for use in a variety of cleanroom environments that can help increase equipment function, reduce particle contamination, and enhance employee productivity.
By now, everyone is familiar with control devices that allow users to issue commands to smartphones, tablets, laptops, GPSs, and MP3 devices through touch and gestures. Bringing this technology into the world of manufacturing and research, multi-touch human interface devices (MT-HIDs) are now being integrated into cleanroom equipment to read finger gestures and movements just like an iPhone or touchscreen smartphone does. And because this technology is completely customizable, it can be integrated into cleanroom equipment ranging from monitors to instrumentation.
How the technology works
Combining a gesture recognition software library with a multi-touch HID, this control technology tracks finger movements from a device touchpad.
The multi-touch sensor data created from the device touchpad is then fed to an application or operating system (it can integrate with Linux or Windows, plus a variety of other operating systems, as well as with customized applications), where the software translates the tracked data into a command. The software can be modified, so the designer and user have complete control over which gestures are recognized by the software, and what commands those movements and gestures will trigger.
Any new interface for cleanroom software must include the ability to operate in a virtual three-dimensional (3D) workspace. With these new systems, commands can be set to operate in 3D mode to manipulate objects or images. This is accomplished through what are called the “six degrees of freedom,” meaning that the software can translate movement from the touchpad into commands along the X, Y, and Z axes, as well as rotations around each of these axes.
Depending on how the technology is integrated into cleanroom equipment, the touchpad device and software can be used to perform a variety of commands, such as menu selection, search, navigation, image viewing, and image rotation and manipulation.
This touchpad/software combination can replace most of the common equipment control mechanisms found in cleanroom equipment, such as joysticks, touchscreens, trackballs, keypads, switches, and knobs and dials.
Controls that cut down on particle generation
This technology has applications in imaging and medical devices, industrial equipment, and gaming equipment. But why is it something to consider in cleanroom equipment and design? Because not only is the device and software combination customizable, intuitive, and easy to use and learn, but it’s also completely sealed. And the only way to control contamination in your cleanroom is to control the total environment, which includes equipment controls.
In cleanrooms, destructive particles are generated in two ways: actively and passively. The right HID touchpad can cut down on both of these types of particles.
Because the touchpad devices don’t feature any sliding surfaces, sharp edges, moving parts or pieces, external cables, or components that rub together, particles aren’t actively produced when using them to control or manipulate cleanroom equipment.
With a touchpad device, there are no components or parts that could break off—which could also lead to actively generated particles—like with a joystick, switch, or keypad. This new technology device is also less likely to shed its own particles, which reduces passive particle generation.
To prevent contamination, the MT-HID’s surface is smooth, contains no joints, and isn’t coated with textured paint (all of which can trap particles and release them later because the surface irregularities can’t be wiped off). It can withstand cleanroom cleaning agents as well.
It’s also much less likely that cleaning cloths, wipes, gloves, or gowns will become snagged on these control devices, which decreases the chances of further contamination. Because the MT-HID is completely sealed, it also helps cut down bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens that can make their way into cleanrooms.
Improving cleanroom employees’ productivity
Tracking up to five fingers at a time, the technology can centralize all controls and commands into one device versus having a separate knob, dial, switch, and keypad located all on the same piece of equipment. If the controls are being used for image display, rotation, or manipulation, the user can toggle between 2D and 3D viewing.
Instead of featuring separate controls for navigation, image manipulation, and menu selection, for example, all commands can be integrated into one easy-to-use device that also improves productivity and efficiency for the designers and researchers inside the cleanroom. This cuts down on manufacturing costs, making the equipment more affordable to produce (which should equal cost savings when purchasing the equipment). It also allows for a simplified design of equipment control panels, which means that the equipment’s control panel can be reduced in size.
Centralized control promotes ergonomics as well. By consolidating the controls and placing them all together within easy reach, the equipment users can execute typical commands without needing to remove their eyes from the equipment screen. As a result of this, along with the use of instinctive gestures, this touch technology also enhances worker productivity.
This promising new technology can increase equipment functionality, reduce particle contamination, and enhance employee productivity in your cleanroom environment.
Jason Kandik is marketing manager at Grayhill Inc. Grayhill designs and manufactures intuitive human interface solutions that make life simpler, safer, and more efficient.
This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of Controlled Environments.