Machine maintenance made easy with e-paper displays

Scott Soong
e-paper service refill button
Do you wake up craving a caffeine hit to boost you through the morning? And do you rely on coffee to get you through the day?

You’re not alone. Statistics show that coffee-drinking Americans consume 3.1 cups per day, and having access to a regular supply throughout the day is a necessity for many of us.

So when you’re dying for a latte and head to the coffee machine, there’s nothing more irritating than finding it out of supply or broken. You look around — there’s no one in sight to report it to — and you’ve no option but to get back to work grumpy and unfulfilled.

The refilling or maintenance of coffee machines, photocopiers and similar equipment could be made so much simpler with an automated process whereby you could quickly and easily alert a maintenance engineer. However, many company CEOs would baulk at the complication and cost of installing the technology to support such systems.

Spur — a new call-to-action device with an e-paper display — aims to solve this problem. The user presses the button on the Spur device to send an alert about a fault or need for service of some kind. The device then shows a text response on the display to let the user know the request is being dealt with. The button is discreet, light and small enough to fit onto or beside most equipment. But surely it would be redundant pretty quickly because of the endless batteries that need replacing? Not so with e-paper!

The key to the device’s power-efficiency is the integrated e-paper display. E-paper displays are extremely low power and only draw a current when the display is being updated. In between updates, the display holds the image indefinitely. Even with 20 button pushes a day, Spur is specified to run for up to five years on a single AA battery before it needs replacing, which means that units will last a long time without the need to spend time and money on more batteries.

E-paper screens have excellent sunlight readability – just like paper. You may have already used an Amazon Kindle and appreciate how problem-free they are to read on the beach, for example. The screen on a Spur has the same properties and users won’t struggle to read text responses. 

E-paper works on E Ink technology. Millions of micro-capsules between two transparent electrodes contain electrically charged pigment particles. You can change the position of these particles by applying an electrical charge to the electrodes located above and below them. A negative charge applied to the top attracts positively charged white pigment into view; a positive charge applied will attract negatively charged black pigment into view. This technology enables the user to render text and images on the display. And, as previously mentioned, the particles remain in position when the charge is removed, which enables the display to continue showing the same content indefinitely, until the opposing charge is applied. Because of this, e-paper displays do not need a continuous current supply, making them far more power-efficient than alternatives such as TFT LCD or OLED devices.

There are many more applications to suit e-paper technology where a mains power supply is perhaps impractical or impossible, including building automation, logistics and IoT, to name but a few. So why not consider using an e-paper display in your next application requiring a low-power screen?

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