By April Hirsch / Published September 2017
Anything is possible. Inventors act on that philosophy. They have done so for millennia, starting with basics, such as smelting or using timber levers to move boulders. It’s easy to view technology aids that integrate industrial processes and a high-level of automation as representing the pinnacle of centuries of invention following the Industrial Revolution. Yet if we pause to think in the historical context, we know that’s a limited view. Anything is still possible.
Even so, there’s plenty to amaze contractors right now. It has been more than 10 years since wireless remote control of pressure washers was introduced. For example, Landa (now part of Kärcher Group) rolled out its LanCom device for remote control of on/off, burner, and rinse to soap in 2006. In its initial offering, the device allowed control from as far as 300 feet away.
The savings with remote control capabilities are obvious. Among them are reduced steps for a pressure washer operator, including fewer climbs down from scaffolds or ladders. In a facility with high sanitary requirements, cutting back on the number of steps also lessens the possibility of cross-contamination from cleaned to yet-to-be-cleaned areas.
Sophistication in range of remotely controlled functions continues to grow. Hydro-Chem Systems Inc. in Grand Rapids, MI, offers a Pro-Control Remote Soap System, which makes switching soaps far from the sight line of a pressure washer possible. Fleet washers who must approach different parts of a vehicle with different soaps are among those who can benefit. Multiples of the device can be used in the same facility because it can be operated on four different frequencies.
Put together the concept of remote control with the favorite tools—tablets and smartphones—of the newest members our industry, and it’s inevitable that inventiveness keeps things moving in ever-more exciting directions. A recent innovation illustrates the point.
“The most important piece of technology that Terydon Inc. has introduced is the Lunch Box, which provides wireless control to a variety of different waterblasting tools through a touch-screen tablet,” explains Terry Gromes, Jr., sales consultant and product support at the company, which is based in Navarre, OH. “Wireless control allows the operator to be safely removed from the hazardous ‘blast zone’ of high-pressure water and also removes cables and hoses to prevent a slips-trips-or-falls injury.”
Gromes’ company has been designing and manufacturing waterjet systems, including tools and accessories, since 1994 and doing so with leading-edge technologies. Machine control via tablet is a contemporary reflection of that legacy.
“The in-house designed software on the tablet has been designed as a platform to build upon for tool control, with upgrade capabilities through Wi-Fi that provide production-enhancing features for a variety of different waterblasting applications,” says Gromes.
Wish lists grow in a number of ways. In the industrial sector, additions typically begin when an end user sees a juncture at which a machine or process can be improved or a designer thinks through a function and declares, “We can do this better.” Everyone in our industry has a wish list, and technology aids are more often than not on it.
Gromes has a unique perspective on the topic of wish lists. “The piece of technology which I wish vendors, competitors, and clients had is actually already in their possession—a smartphone,” he says.
Why a smartphone? “With 91 percent of the American population owning a cell phone, and 50 percent of smartphone users also owning a tablet, this bridges the gap of using touch screens in the workplace and minimizes the learning curve of using a tablet to control waterblasting tools in industrial atmospheres.”
Demographics, of course, are in favor of most new equipment operators being able to quickly apprehend tablet control of tools. Gromes’ company takes the nexus of “common sense and technology” seriously, using the phrase as part of a logo and illustrated as the missing piece of a puzzle.
Making the most of technology aids to industrial processes requires common sense to remain at the fore and not be swept away by what’s available. Figure out what makes things work better and adopt accordingly.
Consider the many channels now available for communication. Are they used too indiscriminately? Perhaps, says Michael Hinderliter, the president of Steamaway Inc. in Fort Worth, TX. “I would prefer that everyone used e-mail as the primary source for documented communication,” says Hinder-liter. “Social media and texting create multiple channels and make it hard to manage and keep up with them all.”
Hinderliter is looking at the role of communication in business. “With the exception of Facebook, all other social media channels are overrated as it pertains to business.”
The clarity that Hinderliter desires in communication records ties to some of the larger issues with using technology that get the attention of federal regulators. See the third section of this article (FTC and Beyond).
Readers know Hinderliter is deeply immersed in bringing together the best of technology aids and methods, from the field app he recently introduced for his staff in the field to the robust online presence he developed for his company ahead of many
others. Considering technology aids in the broadest sense, Hinderliter cites changes in technique that make such a significant difference, they should be acknowledged. “Though it is not new technology, the adoption of soft washing techniques over the past two years has had a significant impact,” he says.
Prudence, restraint, caution—all are advised when one begins to connect devices. We will not consider whether there’s greater risk to connections made with wireless connections because it’s an unresolvable argument. As a contractor once told this writer, who was fretting about locks on a new door, “if they want to get in, they will get in.”
With hacks going on everywhere from airline reservation systems to hospital monitors and devices, the only way to move forward is to acknowledge the risk and move forward trying to minimize it. Break-ins in any sphere, from bricks and mortar to the virtual world, are not going to stop any time soon.
Just be sure not to add to difficulties for a company by ignoring federal regulations governing everything from the use of e-mail to registration for devices using wireless signals. Consider the CAN-SPAM Act (2003), a law administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
CAN-SPAM covers all electronic messages, not just those sent in bulk. Any use of e-mail sent with the primary purpose of promoting a product or service is covered. What if a company sends former customers an e-mail message to tell them about a new product? It’s covered.
The main requirements of CAN-SPAM may be summed up this way: Be truthful. Subject line, location of sender, and opt-out must be clear and candid. Violating the Act subjects a company to a penalty of up to $40,654 for each incidence. See a comprehensive guide at the FTC.gov website.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories for all users, commercial and government entities included. The licensing system aims to bring coherence to the use of parts of the electromagnetic spectrum used in communication.
Devices developed by manufacturers that rely on radio frequency (RF) transmission may require licensing. The FCC shares regulatory responsibility for the RF spectrum with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Among other things, FCC and NTIA work together to allocate frequencies. (See www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/rfdevice.)
Manufacturers bear the responsibility for determining which of their products require licensing. It’s a responsibility taken seriously and ensures that devices being used by a contractor will not cause interference to radio services operating between 9 kHz and 3000 GHz. Buying devices from a trusted manufacturer guarantees that the proper licenses have been obtained. Any RF device must be approved through a rigorous procedure of FCC authorization before it can be sold, imported, or used in the United States.
The flurry of recent articles about the negative side of robots or artificial intelligence, as in possibly taking over the world, is difficult to miss. It’s a concern that writers have had for more than a century, or since limited-activity automatons were introduced. Self-direction combined with an automated process causes worry among some who want to see the obvious connection between the human mind and an action.
Robots capable of cleaning are not new. They have been particularly useful in the marine industry and in other difficult settings (e.g., asbestos removal and cleaning on vertical surfaces).
Just as in every other industry, robotic equipment has many developers. For instance, in 2001, Rodney Adkins introduced a robotic washer, the 4-WD, which was built in Sweden and designed to wash down livestock containment buildings. The robot is pictured and described in an article in Farm Show magazine. (See www.farmshow.com/a_article.php?aid=14245#.)
The 4-WD, which had already been used in Europe from the mid-1990s when Adkins introduced it to the U.S. 16 years ago, reminds us how much ingenuity there is and has always been among inventors. And it reminds us how quickly things change. Anyone who predicts the results of the intersection of technology and industrial processes 16 years hence will probably be quite (pleasantly) surprised.