Joysticks are evolving rapidly, improving ergonomics to help improve operator efficiency and increase safety and reliability. The controllers are helping increase safety and linking to networks to simplify wiring harnesses to reduce weight.
“More degrees of freedom of joystick handling are being offered in a single joystick,” said Kirk Lola, Business Development Manager at Parker Hannifin’s Electronic Controls Division. “Offering four degrees of freedom in a single medium-handle joystick improves operator efficiency by allowing more functions to be controlled without the operator having to remove their hand from the joystick.”
A key way to enhance operator productivity is to reduce fatigue by reducing the amount of movement necessary to accomplish tasks. Software is a major contributor in this trend. Programmers are now altering the degree of movement with software that adjusts to the task being performed. Operators have more precise control at some times and more speed at others, for example.
“We do extensive work with profiles governing how much a joystick moves vs. the command on the output,” said Michael Olson, Engineering Manager, Electronic Components at Danfoss Power Solutions. “For example, say a joystick application requires high sensitivity when the machine first moves, followed by greater command later in operation. We can adjust the profile to make it easier for the operator to feel both the fine and larger movements required by the application.”
The wiring for these manual controls is also changing. The trend to networking is being followed to trim the size of wiring harnesses. However, this design change must often be done in conjunction with enhancements in ruggedization requirements.
“We are seeing a movement to CAN-based switches/ keypads,” said Christopher Kolbe, Sales & Marketing Vice President at HED. “OEMs are looking at ways to reduce wiring and CAN-based switches are perfect. In addition, customers are renting more and more equipment. This equipment get pressure washed frequently so the sealed CAN keypads that are IP69 rated are much more robust.”
Design strategies also focus on the growing need to improve safety. Reducing the potential for failures that can endanger humans or equipment is an important aspect of HMI development. For some, the focus goes beyond reducing failures and ensure that inputs weren’t accidental.
“Many recent advances in joysticks have revolved around safety,” Olson said. “We’re building double redundancy into switches. We sometimes use two different technologies to read the switch to validate that the switch was actually pressed before the function will happen. With double redundancy, even if the joystick gets bumped, we can determine whether the hand was in the position it should have been so we know that the movement was intended or unintended.”