Designing tools
that supportpublic safety
and securityIPLEX NX Industrial Endoscope

The IPLEX NX is positioned as a high-end product amongst the industrial endoscopes offered by Olympus. A unique feature of the IPLEX NX is its multi-position design that enables the device to be configured six different ways to flexibly adapt to diverse inspection environments. The IPLEX NX, which has won a Good Design Best 100 award, boasts a novel design that derived through painstaking efforts. We are pleased to present herewith a behind-the-scenes look at this design and how it was developed.

Inspection Tool for Preventing Serious Accidents

Industrial endoscopes play an important role by facilitating inspections of places that cannot be observed directly - such as the inside an aircraft or automobile engine or a power plant turbine or pipe?to discover problems and hopefully prevent accidents before they occur. And when natural disasters occur, industrial endoscopes often can be used to search for survivors in inaccessible locations.
The basic structure is the same as that of medical endoscopes: a tube-shaped device equipped for observation and illumination that can be inserted into tight spaces to transmit images back to a monitor, controlled by an operator using a remote control with a joystick.
Industrial endoscopes usually are operated by specialists, so ordinary people generally have few opportunities to view them firsthand. Nonetheless, industrial endoscopes contribute significantly to safety and security in daily life.

Design Flow Involving Over 150 Steps

Before developing the IPLEX NX, Olympus designers visited locations where industrial endoscopes are typically used, such as aircraft maintenance hangars and vehicle engine plants, to interview users and experience inspection operations firsthand.
Following such experiences, the designers prepared an operational workflow. The list started with operations that were observed in the field, categorized into seven stages: preparation, installation, inspection, dismantling, cleaning, reporting, and storage.
Each stage was broken down comprehensively. For example, preparation involves (1) finding the product on the storage rack, (2) safely removing it from the rack, (3) extending the handle from the carrying case, (4) gripping the handle and moving the product, and (5) transporting the product over different surfaces. Remarkably, a workflow list involving more than 150 items was produced, thanks in part to the cooperation of marketing and development personnel. In addition, important issues and tasks with respect to different application scenarios were listed up. Weak points identified while organizing the workflow generally covered two basic categories: the operator's posture during inspections and operations other than inspections.

Multi-position Design for Enhanced Inspection Results

In many cases, the endoscope's point of insertion can present problems, such as an operator becoming fatigued by having to assume an awkward posture during an inspection. In response, Olympus took the novel approach of designing a device that conforms to the operator, rather than forcing the operator to conform to the device.
Basically, the operator's posture, etc. are determined by the location of the endoscope's insertion point. For example, if the device has to be inserted with the left hand, this also determines the positions of the left shoulder and head, and thus the Olympus design's touch-panel screen must be operated with the person's right hand. In other words, monitor placement has to accommodate the relative position of the insertion point. With most conventional designs, however, the monitor often cannot be placed in a suitable location, thereby inconveniencing the operator.
The Olympus design team, however, innovated a multi-position design that allows the monitor to be separated from the main unit and positioned flexibly for the operator's convenience.

With the new design, if the insertion point is in a low position, the monitor can be angled downward while remaining attached to the body. But if the point is in a high position, the monitor can be detached and hung on a pipe or the like. In both cases, the monitor is comfortably within the operator's sight line. Furthermore, if there is nowhere to hang the monitor, the handle of the carrying case can be extended upward to hang the monitor.
The Olympus designers prioritized the operator's posture because they realized that a comfortable posture would allow the operator to concentrate for long periods of time, resulting in improved inspection results.


Monitor hung on a pipe


Monitor hung on the carrying case's extendable handle


Versatile configurations to accommodate various inspection conditions

Actual aircraft engine procured for real-world testing

The design process involved producing several mockups and prototypes, but to be extra thorough, the company also purchased a used jet engine and installed it in the Technology Development Center. Aircraft engine inspections are one of the main targets of industrial endoscopes. Moreover, learning how to handle the size of such engines, the positions of inspection points and the difficulty of inspecting complex internal spaces is difficult without having access to an actual engine.
The process of conducting simulations with prototypes revealed many detailed issues. For example, to hang the monitor on the carrying handle, it was assumed that something like an S-shaped hook would be used. When inspections were carried out with the aircraft engine, however, the monitor sometimes tilted inconveniently, so a depression in the center of the handle had to be fashioned to prevent this. Also, at times when the operator had to let go of the remote control or endoscope, and it was found that the engine offered surprisingly few places to safely hang or place the equipment, so holders were added to the bottom part of the monitor.
Olympus knows that paying careful attention to such details is sure to lead to greater user satisfaction.


Endoscope and remote control hanging on their respective holders

Ensuring handling and maintenance ease

The design team also examined various operations other than those specifically related to inspections. One of the improvements derived from this broad approach is handling the scopes, which can measure as much as 7.5 meters in length, requiring a practical method for transportation. The solution was to wind the flexible tip on a special spool that stores conveniently in a pocket on the back of the carrying case.

Ease of maintenance was another important point. When visiting users, the design team observed incidents in which oil got on the unit by accident and had to be wiped off by multiple people, which sometimes took a long time after the inspection. To correct the problem, the designers decided to give the unit smooth, cleanable body surfaces. Easy-maintenance surfaces were even adopted for the unit's four impact-absorbing bumper-like legs.

Touch Panel Details that Lighten User Load

The visibility of the monitor screen is a key factor determining the level of operator stress. Since such industrial endoscopes are used outdoors as well as indoors, the screen had to be visible under a variety of lighting conditions. There are seemingly endless variations for the design of each screen feature. An onscreen button, for example, can be given the same color as the screen background or a different shade of the color, and the button can be outlined with a line of a certain thickness, color and/or brightness. Whichever final design is chosen, it must be acceptable to as many users as possible. The Olympus team evaluated design options at every stage and involved a wide range of people, including members of the design and marketing teams.
So the process of designing just the buttons went something like this. First, the preliminary samples were developed featuring buttons of different shapes and colors, some outlined with lines of various thickness and brightness. Several variations were then eliminated due to poor visibility, either indoors or outdoors. When the remaining candidates were compared, it was found that some variations with similarly colored buttons and backgrounds were less practical than other designs. Examinations carried out under a range of conditions gradually narrowed down the candidates.


Candidate designs for the touch panel

Eventually a large button profile was selected, but various other details regarding the design continued to be examined. An important improvement was made by adding a two-pixel black line to the inside of the button edges, which gave the buttons an appealing three-dimensional look with enhanced contrast.


Non-three-dimensional appearance


Three-dimensional appearance

Another issue was avoiding the appearance of a screen crowded with buttons. The answer was to use a white frame line with gradation to dim the brightness moving downward, and also to round off the button corners.
Thoroughly examining such details virtually has no end. Certainly few people realize how much effort was put into the design process just for the buttons, let alone the entire endoscope. And yet, Olympus is confident that the effort it put into developing a highly refined end design noticeably lowers the stress that operators experience every time they take the IPLEX NX into the field for inspections.


Completed Operation Screen

Contributing to Safety and Security in Society

Being able to go about life with a sense of safety and security may be something that many take for granted. But this is due in no small way to inspectors who search tirelessly for even the smallest of signs of potential trouble in crucial equipment and infrastructure, ultimately to prevent potentially disastrous accidents.
Easily operable industrial endoscopes lead to reliable, high-precision inspections. What's more, they enable inspectors to experience greater job satisfaction and a heightened sense of achievement, key factors that motivate people to set high standards in their daily work.
Olympus places a high priority on designing superior industrial endoscopes that contribute to safety and security. The job involves great responsibility, but Olympus welcomes the challenge as an opportunity to make a meaning difference in society.