Keep it simple, engineer. Users will appreciate it.

The user experience (UX) design of industrial products, such as variable speed drives helps make even the most complicated engineering simple.

How many settings have you ever changed on your phone or car, to personalize them to your own tastes? I have a feeling that few of us have adjusted more than a handful of settings in order to get the most convenient experience out of them.

Now, apply this to typical industrial or automation products that have hundreds or even thousand settings that can be adjusted. Often commissioning and using these products is an expert job, leading to higher costs and longer start-up times.

This is why designing and manufacturing a product that provides a practical and flexible user experience helps gain the competitive advantage in today’s busy world. Turn back to phones for a second: In the mobile phone business, manufacturers compete to enhance the user-experience design of a traditional mobile phone.

For some of the first phone makers, engineering a logical interface helped them achieve global dominance. But then the game changed, to an environment where sharing our images, videos and messages became a focal point. This completely changed the way we use mobile phones – and shook up the mobile phone world to the benefit of those companies that created a favorable user experience for these new applications.

Many of the same attributes that make up a favorable user experience for consumer goods are now also demanded from industrial products such as variable speed drives. These offer flexibility to control even the most demanding applications, but have a legacy of being accompanied by difficult and time-consuming setups and adjustments. Modern drives can have up to 1,500 of individual parameters, each with its own purpose.

Some 15 to 20 years ago, the focus in creating drives was on performance and durability. Now, however, the demands and expectations of industry are helping to elevate the importance of a good user experience, as well.

With a well-designed user experience, the manufacturer can provide easy and effortless use of a product from the product concept, packaging and setup to its operation and maintenance. Reliable performance, efficiency and usability significantly impact total life-cycle cost of a product or service and help run business smoothly, allowing employees to focus on their core competence rather than mess around with something that’s awkward or difficult to use.

User experience design can deliver fast return on an investment throughout the life cycle of the product by saving time in product selection, installation, commissioning, use and maintenance. In addition to time savings, money can be saved as well, including in wiring and installation costs when all the essential features come as part of the product.

Successful user experience design helps people and businesses quickly begin using a product for the purpose for which they bought it. Having a practical and flexible user experience makes the operator comfortable and capable with the product from the get-go. If done effectively, a product’s user experience design will help enlist the support of those operating it.

Put simply, a well-designed experience helps make even the most-complicated engineering systems simple.

Just such an experience was the starting point in product design for ABB’s recently launched ACS580 general purpose drive. We listened to our customers and their experiences helped shape simple basic concepts for the product. Evaluating and installing external components is not necessary, making the drive selection and installation easy. The product’s mechanical design and eco-friendly packaging enable simple and quick installation and integration to a process while preserving resources, something that’s increasingly important in an era when time is money and sustainability drives business ahead.

All these elements merge to form an integral part of making a drive that people want to use.

While building ACS580’s user interface, we conducted a study with customer reference groups to find out what settings are most commonly changed. The results indicated there is rarely a need to adjust more than 10 individual parameters and almost all cases are covered within the 100 most-common settings.

Armed with this information, ABB created a dynamic settings menu to display only information that makes sense with the previously made choices. Basic setup is cut from half an hour to just couple of minutes. Offering only the related and necessary information means that the user experience is tailored to normal everyday commission and usage. Yet, all the 1,500 individual parameters remain available for more advanced users, providing them the flexibility they require.

Competitive advantage is a highly contested element in any product, so making the consumer content and competent with a well-designed user experience is a significant starting point to good business. A product that fits the needs of practical, every-day use helps the operator get the most out of engineering magic.

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About the author

Eero Pyhäranta

Eero is the global product manager for ACS550 and ACS580 general purpose drives. Eero studied engineering at the Aalto university in Finland gaining a Masters degree specializing in electrical engineering. In addition to the degree in electrical engineering, Eero holds a Masters degree in Economics and Business Administration.
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