Industrial LCDs: enhancing the user experience

27 July 2015

Can the industrial display manufacturer adapt in a changing technology world that is dictated by commodity markets?

Developing cost-effective display solutions, introducing high-reliability modules, improving optical performance and enhancing mature technology with new and compatible products, are some of the challenges facing industrial display manufacturers. 

The vast production volumes associated with fast-moving consumer markets strongly influence display development along with the adoption and implementation of new technologies. Typically consumer products have a short design and development time to market, followed by rapid ramping to high production volumes. Product lifetime is finite and defined with the next generation of newer, faster, smarter devices often already under development. 

This represents the ideal manufacturing scenario for high volume display OEMs. This, however, is contrary to that of the systems and equipment designed and developed for a more sedate though no less demanding industrial market. The differentiation between a consumer and industrial display is significant - the industrial market demands high reliability, consistent performance and extended product lifecycles. Dependable and guaranteed operation under extreme temperature variations, mechanical shock and vibration, differing user environments are a necessity.

Enhancing the user experience

Many user interfaces require highly consistent optical performance capable of displaying bright, vivid images and information. Demand for wide viewing angle and field of vision displays has grown as the amount of real time information and process critical data increases. 

When viewed from acute angles, some TFT displays exhibit a loss of brightness that results in a reduction in contrast and image inversion. IPS (in-plane switching), is a wide viewing angle technology that provides exceptional colour saturation and stability for display images over a wide range of viewing angles and viewing positions. 

Many consumer applications are now using displays of 4 K resolutions. The increase in resolution is being mirrored with higher resolution industrial displays including Full HD and WUXGA. The adoption of higher resolution displays enables more information and data to be displayed and easily viewed with greater levels of detail. Higher resolution displays are ideally suited to broadcast and for medical and instrumentation applications where image clarity and definition is paramount. 

Adding value

Engineers designing-in a display module have an expectation that the chosen product will match and possibly exceed the levels of performance required. Industry standard interfaces, easy-to-use modules, readily available interconnect and technical support are essential to ensure user expectations are satisfied.

Traditionally, custom and semi-custom displays have incurred high MOQs (minimum order quantity) and NRE (non-recurring engineering) charges. As industrial display manufacturers look to offer an enhanced value proposition, the availability of value added options increases and costs diminish.

The use of optical bonding technology coupled with an anti-glare (AG) surface finish can significantly improve the optical performance of the display and provide excellent readability in demanding ambient light conditions. A TFT display featuring an optically bonded glass substrate and surface coating can reduce reflections to less than 0.2% by scattering and absorbing ambient light. 

The bonding method offers the possibility to combine a choice of touch screens and cover glasses to meet the needs of different applications. When compared with resistive touch screens, Projected capacitive (P-Cap) touch solutions can be considered for applications which require a more robust interface solution offering highly accurate and more flexible gesture interactions. 

Integrated analogue to digital boards are becoming increasingly common, with compact video driver boards embedded in the display module. Open frame monitor solutions provide multiple interface options such as VGA, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort. On-board software provides on-screen display functions for backlight dimming, image scaling and optical adjustments. 

Reliability and robustness

Severe industrial environments can create unique demands on electronic systems, industrial display modules need to be inherently reliable, with mechanical housings, mounting fixtures and internal design considerations able to withstand usage in harsh and extreme environments. Typically, industrial displays will have a guaranteed operating temperature range of -30 to +80°C which will cover the temperature variations found in most outdoor and indoor environments.

Display durability and resistance to impact and vibration is also enhanced with glass bonding. Optical bonding technology has been successfully implemented on TFT displays used in challenging environments such as aerospace, marine, automotive and healthcare. 

Continuity of supply

Lifetimes in excess of 10-years are not unusual for industrial systems. Design and development cycles and market acceptance of new products can be long and protracted. Ensuring continuity of supply is essential for displays used in harsh environment, high reliability applications. 

Having to undertake a re-design due to the discontinuation of a display module during the mid-life of a product is costly and should be avoided. Ensuring display availability can be guaranteed for the anticipated lifetime of the product is an essential consideration for supply chain management.

A mature, stable technology for the future

LCD presents a mature display technology with stable, established manufacturing processes and techniques. Manufacturing costs are relatively constant with few variables. 

The specifications and interfaces of industrial LCD modules now increasingly include value added features as display manufacturers recognise the importance of a stable, long-term industrial marketplace. 

Market leading optical performance, specifications optimised for harsh environment applications, integrated features and add-ons, ease of design and long term availability now provide a compelling display solution for industrial and high reliability markets.  

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