The JourneyApps Hardware Integration Engine

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The Hardware Integration Engine in JourneyApps provides our industrial customers with the ability to easily interface their enterprise apps with hardware devices in the field, allowing them to directly integrate innovative technologies as part of their business process workflows.

Here’s a taste of how our customers use specific technologies and hardware devices supported by JourneyApps:

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1. NFC

Near Field Communication (NFC) technology has many uses — our customers mostly use it for asset tagging. NFC is a relatively easy and convenient technology to deploy to identify and verify assets in the field, since modern iOS and Android devices come with built-in support for NFC, and NFC tags are relatively inexpensive.

NFC operates with a distance range of 0 to 1.5 inches — so it is useful when a user needs to capture the identification of an asset that’s within arm’s reach (compared to RFID, which can support much longer distance ranges)

Selected Android devices come with read-and-write support for NFC Data Exchange Format (NDEF), while iOS devices only support reading NDEF data from NFC tags. Writing data to an NFC tag results in a complicated workflow, and therefore we commonly recommend to customers to use NFC only to identify an asset uniquely, and store any other attributes about the asset in the JourneyApps application database.

NFC is a powerful technology to increase the efficiency by which your personnel can reliably look up an asset in the field — they can do so instantly and forego the hassle of typing in a serial number for the asset.

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2. RFID

NFC and RFID are based on very similar underlying technology. The advantage of RFID is that it can support reading tags from much longer distances — up to around 30 ft for unpowered tags (called passive tags), and up to around 600 ft for powered tags (called active tags).

The downside of RFID is that it requires dedicated hardware — typically a Bluetooth RFID device such as the Zebra RFD8500 Sled. Fortunately, the Hardware Integration Engine in JourneyApps supports easily interfacing with Bluetooth-based RFID devices.

Since RFID devices can read tags over longer distance ranges, users may capture a number of different tags in one read event, and will have to make sure that they find the specific tag that they are looking for. This is usually implemented on a user interface level as follows:

  1. Inventory mode: List all tag IDs within range in a table. The table is continuously updated with “seen” counts for each tag, as a measure of how close the tag is.
  2. User selects a tag to read.
  3. Read the tag block-by-block, with retries and error handling if it fails.

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3. Sensor and Measurement Devices

A variety of our customers record readings from Bluetooth sensor and measurement devices in the field, such as calipers and scales.

Using the Hardware Integration Engine in JourneyApps, these readings can be captured directly from the external Bluetooth device into the JourneyApps application and stored along with other data captured by the user.

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4. Laser Barcode Scanners

In JourneyApps applications, users can easily scan a wide variety of barcode formats using their device’s camera. However, some barcode formats that store a larger quantity of information (such as those found on some drivers’ licenses) are too visually dense to be scanned using a smartphone camera. Therefore, some of our customers use our Hardware Integration Engine to interface with a laser barcode scanner that can scan more advanced barcodes with high speed and precision.

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5. Thermal Printers

Even though our customers try to keep their business processes as digital and paperless as possible, sometimes it is necessary to print something in the field — for example, to provide a paper receipt to a customer.

Fortunately, JourneyApps supports interfacing with portable Bluetooth printers such as Zebra thermal printers. Using the Zebra Programming Language (ZPL), custom printing formatting can be specified including fonts, layout and graphics. Some customers go as far as capturing a digital signature from a customer in an app, and then printing the signature on the paper receipt.

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