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Case Study: Modernizing the Human-Machine Controls of a High-Precision Laser Fabrication Machine

  • Client: Modernizing the Human-Machine Controls of a High-Precision Laser Fabrication Machine
  • Project: Proof of Concept & Implementation of Modern Machine Interface
  • Country/Region:

A high-precision manufacturing equipment provider engaged Intertech for help modernizing the human-machine interface for the laser fabrication equipment they sell. The goal was to make using these machines more intuitive and fast compared to the slow and outdated technologies of the old UI. Our expert consultants first produced a proof of concept that the client could show to their parent company. After the minimum viable product received a warm reception, Intertech helped implement a full modern UI using React inside an Electron wrapper for cross-platform availability.

Technologies Used

  • Electron
  • React
  • .NET Core
  • Agile / Scrum

Customer Quote

Working with Intertech allowed us to modernize the user interface of the equipment we produce. The consultants they provided were clearly experts in their field and brought the necessary knowledge to our team to update our application. But working with Intertech also helped us move toward a faster development and deployment cycle for our new features moving forward. This new user interface will provide a better user experience for our customers, and our new deployment pipeline will enable us to continue improving that user experience over the months and years to come.

Challenge

The client’s business is selling high-precision laser cutting and welding equipment. These finely-tuned manufacturing machines are used to create telecom, medical, and scientific research devices. As such, there is no threshold for error. The application used to control these machines and allow the operator to make changes needs to be as precise, intuitive, and error-free as possible.

Recently, the client had been acquired by a larger precision manufacturing equipment company. The opportunity in this project was to demonstrate a new way to make the machines more intuitive and usable to the parent company. Before engaging Intertech, the laser equipment used a combination of WinForms and Visual Basic .NET for its user interface. One key goal of the redesign was creating a more responsive user interface that allowed cross-platform support.

Additionally, a secondary goal of the project was improving the client’s internal processes for version control and DevOps. Whereas the team originally collaborated via a Team Foundation Server, the client was looking for a better way to develop and deploy code continuously.

Process

After establishing requirements for the minimum viable product, the client asked Intertech to recommend the best technologies for creating the desired user interface. Our consultants recommended the popular React JavaScript framework for building responsive applications that render dynamically in the browser. To make these applications available offline and across all platforms, Intertech’s consultants recommended using an Electron wrapper for the React front end.

The back-end for controlling the equipment needed to remain largely the same. Therefore, Intertech recommended porting over the VB.NET functionality to compile in a modern .NET Core application, using GraphQL for requests between the front end and back end API.

Intertech’s consultants worked alongside the client’s internal development team, supplementing their coding productivity and providing expertise in JavaScript, JSX, React, .NET Core, and GraphQL -- all new technologies to the client’s team.

In addition, Intertech helped the client move from Team Foundation Server to Git-based version control. Along with this move, Intertech implemented a release management pipeline with continuous integration and continuous delivery.

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Result

The initial engagement included a minimum viable product as a proof of concept. That first iteration showed the potential of React and Electron as an architecture for a responsive front end. It also proved that such a modern front end could successfully communicate with the machine’s existing back end infrastructure.

Based on the success of the initial engagement, the client determined that the new UI would make their equipment easier for customers to use, driving customer satisfaction. In addition, using a modern framework for the UI made it easier for developers to add features and make changes to the application, increasing development velocity and developer satisfaction.

Development velocity and delivery of new features also increased thanks to the new deployment pipeline Intertech introduced. Using Git-based version control to power CI/CD enabled automated testing of all new changes to the application. When those changes get merged, the client can now deploy those changes immediately. Deployment becomes a business decision, rather than a technical one, reducing technical risk to the organization while also enabling new features to reach customers more quickly.

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From the day it was founded in 1991 by local entrepreneur Tom Salonek, Intertech has been a company with an important difference: unwavering commitment to customers, employees and the broader community through excellent work, smart workplace and financial management, and creative philanthropic involvement.

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