UX — user experience — is a big issue for software designers, but not so much in the average factory. Machine operators are following very specific directives, not crafting products, and thinking about the manufacturer’s ideal customer persona is probably not high on the list for most people in the facility.
Getting precisely correct, identical parts made quickly and safely is the goal. The experience of the end user is not relevant to the actions taken by either the machinery or the machine operators, most of the time. That’s the whole idea behind automation: set the standard and meet it precisely.
So why is Rexroth getting involved in UX?
As a tech leader, Rexroth realizes that it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate a company on the basis of technology. But differentiation is a must. UX is an opportunity.
In manufacturing, one of the largest UX issues is the disconnect that can take place among different points along the supply chain. Ideally, observation of the users of products leads to insights about end-user needs. These insights inform the design of the products, which also take into account the limitations and capacity of the manufacturing facility. Designers work with the people responsible for product information, packaging, and repair, and all the information about product users and use is funneled to the appropriate areas to perfect design and production.
In the real world, designers often have no knowledge about manufacturing facilities and the design team working on the product is not in close communication with the design team working on the packaging, let alone the people responsible for product support. The manufacturing facility for the products may not be the same as — or in communication with — the facility responsible for the packaging.
The end user of the product may be involved only in the sense that a focus group of ten people is interviewed by the sales team.
Industry 4.0 is all about better communication and integration, and including UX is a logical extension of that idea. Rapid prototyping allows multiple iterations of a product for testing, and increasing flexibility in machine design allows customization at a completely new level. UX can drive design and production in ways that weren’t possible in the past.
Naturally, Rexroth is in the forefront of the movement.