This guest contribution on Innovation Intelligence is written by Yiorgos Bontzios, CEO of Fieldscale. SENSE software by Fieldscale is a new touchscreen design and simulation tool that promises to save engineering time, provide results with maximum accuracy and cut down time-to-market and product costs. SENSE is available through the Altair Partner Alliance.
Touchscreens Now and Tomorrow
Welcome to the third phase of touchscreen evolution.
The introduction of the first touchscreen-enabled devices dates back to 1965. Far ahead of their time, those capacitive technology devices had some applications but remained niche products for almost fifty years. Resistive touch panel technology made them more user friendly but still did not cause mass commercial adoption.
Decades later, something radical happened which triggered the second phase of touchscreens and one of the biggest revolutions in the high-tech industry. The impact of this phase was tremendous. Some companies’ revenue sky-rocketed while other industry leaders headed toward oblivion. Improvement of the involved technologies of course played a catalytic role in making this happen but the spark that lit the dynamite was the new simple and intuitive interface of touchscreen devices. This was all just the start of touchscreen evolution. The third phase, which is about to begin, will define the new industry leaders.
In phase three, touchscreens will be the most common language of human-computer interaction, replacing keys, buttons and clicks. We will witness the rise of an immense number of new verticals and use-cases ranging from education to aviation, from vending machines to gaming, interactive desks, restaurants, hotels and our homes and cars. This market growth will bring more competition and have a strong impact on profit margins.
Designing New Touch Sensors Only Gets Harder
New touchscreen applications will bring new challenges and the number of constraints design engineers will need to address is going to explode: thinner, lighter, larger, better-performing in harsh environments, flexible screens, moisture-resistant, lower resistivity and material availability to name a few. Even more challenges come with the demand for supporting more touches and different “inputs” (gloves, smaller point styluses, etc.).
On the other hand, cost and time-to-market requirements set substantial limitations on what can be done. In such a competitive environment, differentiation and quick decision making will be crucial to product success. At the end of the day, the key to maintain or even increase profit margins will be optimization – finding the right balance between quality, cost and speed. Since the touchscreen module is one of the most prominent and expensive parts in touchscreen devices, it becomes apparent why optimizing its design is crucial. In an industry where the cost of goods may reach a whopping 85% of the retail price and the shipments are in quantities of millions, saving cents on the dollar can make a huge difference in a company’s cash flow.
Design Process Alternatives
Manufacturers have three tools at their disposal in the constant battle for product design optimization.
- Hand Calculations – Possibly, defining the design parameters without the help of a specialized software is the simplest and in many cases, the fastest method. Hand calculations can be very useful when estimations are sufficient. They come in different forms such as in-house calculators or spreadsheets. Therefore, it is quite easy to include hand calculations in product development flow. The trouble with hand calculation is that they are widely based on generalizations and thus can provide only close approximations, not actual optimization. As a result, when product quality or product cost is top priority, one should not rely on this method.
- Physical Prototyping – Building and testing physical prototypes is the standard way of verifying and validating a product. When utilized properly, physical prototyping can deliver the highest degree of product quality; therefore, it is usually a no-brainer to use it as part of product development. However, prototypes are expensive and too time-consuming to build and test. Costs could easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars in material and labor for each prototype. Also, it is often difficult to reproduce the actual environment in which the product will operate. If several iterations are required, it can seriously affect product launch dates.
- Digital Prototyping – Digital prototyping is simply put, the process of testing the behavior of a product on a computer with the aid of simulation software. It’s one of the basic aspects of computer-aided engineering (CAE) which has become more and more popular in recent years. Through simulation, engineers can test a product in a wide range of environments and use cases before production and without the cost of actually constructing such environments. They can examine hundreds or even thousands of different scenarios and come up with a design that meets the given specifications in an optimal way.
Effectiveness of Alternative Product Optimization Methods
The graph above summarizes the pros and cons of each method. We can readily see that there is no clear winner.
Hand-calculations are a good choice when time-to-market is the single most important priority.
Physical prototyping offers a clear advantage over hand-calculations on product quality but it has a negative impact on time-to-market and also increases cost when multiple iterations are necessary.
Digital prototyping can offer the best product quality and lowest costs which are critical for phase three of touchscreen evolution. Yet, the difficulty to incorporate it into the product flow can be a serious roadblock.
What the industry needs is for the digital prototyping to become very simple and intuitive. This will revolutionize product development and help companies secure sustainable growth in this exciting new era. For information on SENSE touchscreen design and simulation software click here.
Discuss digital prototyping with Fieldscale’s experts at Embedded World Exhibition (Stand 4-677), March 14-16 in Nuremberg. Visit the show for free using the E-Code B364751 here.