How about a custom or customised display solution?

Display choice is arguably the most complex buying decision on a project and your instinct might be to go for a standard, off-the-shelf display, but wait, have you considered the benefits of a custom or customised display solution?

What’s wrong with using a standard catalogue display?

Having specified displays for thousands of projects, the answer is that if you choose a standard product you almost always end up with an ‘if only…’

If only the display were slightly smaller then we could use this cheaper housing.

If only we could get an affordable display with a wider viewing angle.

If only we could find a unit that supports the non-standard interface that we are committed to for legacy reasons.

If only we could get a display with no backlight – we’re struggling to stay on budget and we are paying for a feature we don’t need.

Designing the user interface is a hugely subjective issue. You’re trying to find the best fit between three major factors. One is budget. The second is the needs of the display end user. The third is the technical constraints of the project (case size, processor spec, interface requirements). If you limit yourself to a standard display you will most likely end up making a lot of compromises. In the vast majority of cases, the best solution to keep close to your budget means customising a standard product – usually in conjunction with a display specialist who is close to the manufacturer and understands what options are available and will fit the design needs. Sometimes, the right solution will be a fully custom display, designed from scratch and made specifically for that project. That way, you get exactly what you want – no compromises.

What do we mean by a custom display solution?

A custom display always starts with a blank sheet of paper. We can design a display that meets your specifications exactly: the size you want, the form factor you want, the interface you want, the features you want and those you don’t. For example, with a few exceptions, the majority of standard displays are based on standard 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios favoured by television or computer monitor manufacturers. With a full custom design, you can have the aspect ratio that you want.

What is a customised display solution?

By contrast, a customised display starts from one of our manufacturing partners’ standard products. There is a lot that can be done to adapt that display to your specific project needs. We can add films and coatings that enhance brightness and viewing angle, improve sunlight readability and protect against heat and scratches. We can remove unwanted features and add others. You need an enhanced backlight – no problem - we can add more LEDs, double brightness LEDs or long-life LEDs for example? If you don’t need a backlight, that’s fine too – we can remove this to save costs. We can add EMI shielding and build or configure interface modules specifically for the application. We can even go as far as cutting down TFT displays to create letterbox format displays.

How much is a custom display?

A custom display is more economic than you would think. You don’t have to build consumer volumes to make it financially viable. We’ve designed custom displays for many customers, and it has been economic at annual volumes of 100,000 or less.

In fact, the additional costs of a custom display are all upfront in the design, development and production tooling cost stage and are variable depending on the final design – so it is always best to deal with a display specialist who can talk you through the most economical way forward

Can a custom display save cost?

The cost of a custom display can often be partly or fully recouped in a lower unit cost of the display itself. Eliminating unwanted features and specifications can bring a significant saving. There can also be savings elsewhere in the system that contribute to improving the economics. Using a smaller display can create a smaller, lighter and less power-hungry system that is cheaper to manufacture and ship. 

What expertise do you need to design a custom or customised display solution?

Displays should be considered as integration between electronic design, mechanical design and software design of the system. A display needs to fit precisely into the casing and withstand whatever physical abuse (shock, vibration, fluids, heat) the environment or the user inflicts. It is driven by a processor and needs to support appropriate hardware (electronic) interface requirements. It carries information created by the system software and (if it is a touch screen) needs to respond accurately to the user's instructions. The display design and specification team need a good understanding of all three disciplines.

Then add ergonomics – an understanding of how the user will use the equipment. Will they be standing in a darkened room or outdoors in the sunlight? Will they be standing in front of the display or will they give it a glance from the side?

Finally, throw in the commercial constraints of the project. Display choice is probably the single most complex buying decision on the project, and it is little wonder that a standard part rarely fits the bill.

How long does it take to create a custom display?

The additional lead time on custom is almost all in the initial design and tooling phase. Depending on the complexity of the project, the number of iterations and the speed of the interaction between the supplier and the project team, a custom display can be designed in 10-12 weeks. The manufacturing lead times for custom displays is actually the same as for standard and customised units: normally 12 weeks though this varies as it does for any other component. Truthfully, there is such variety even of standard catalogue parts that manufacturers and distributors only carry a limited stock of the most popular variants.  Therefore most standard displays are manufactured to order.

What is the obsolescence risk on custom displays?

The obsolescence risk is actually lower with custom displays. Many standard displays are manufactured for high volume consumer products like smartphones – and manufacturers supply the industrial market with a catalogue of standard products based on the requirements of this market. The consequence is that the industrial market is subject to the vagaries of high volume consumer requirements. For example, when smartphone manufacturers switched to making larger phones with larger displays this dramatically affected the availability of smaller 2.8” displays because display manufacturers switched their lines over entirely to the new sizes.

If you have a custom display designed to your specification manufactured specifically for you then you are protected from that risk. It is possible for customers to dual-source the same design from two different manufacturing partners to safeguard them against obsolescence. Using a specialist display design partner, the design work is done once, in coordination with different partners, with one design team.

For customised display projects, we selected manufacturing partners that specialise in the industrial market. They are not subject to the same commercial pressure from high volume customers that general suppliers see.

A custom or customised display solution?

I hope I’ve shown conclusively why a standard catalogue display is almost never the best answer for a design. The variety of project requirements is so great that the chances of finding an off the shelf solution that offers the best fit for the electronic, mechanical and software specifications of a project as well as meeting the commercial and other constraints are extremely small. Often, a standard product can be customised to create a much better outcome. When this isn’t the case, the custom is always an option. Yes, going this route entails a good hard look at the economics but it isn’t as expensive as you would think.

For either route, it makes total sense to partner with an expert who is comfortable doing more than guiding you around the spec sheet. andersDX offers a project team including electronic hardware, mechanical and software specialists to ensure that we consider all aspects when we create a custom or customised display solution. This team understands the customer’s technical challenges and can add deep insight into display manufacturing, based on many years experience and personal visits to the locations where they are made.  Together, we can create a successful and optimised solution for each project. Let us know. Contact us.