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What are Human Machine Interfaces and Why Are They Becoming More Important?

Engineering technology has increased the level of interconnectivity in the world today. One of the most dominating trends using the internet that is spreading today is the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT allows industrial and consumer products to be connected to each other. Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) are becoming more developed and sophisticated in order to operate these products. Four experts from different parts of the world have explained the basics below.

The four experts are:

  • Chirayu Shah, Rockwell Automation, commercial program leader for HMI Software
  • Lisa Bettes, Rockwell Automation, product manager for electronic operator interface
  • Reid Beilke, Beckhoff Automation, industrial PC product specialist
  • Alan Cone, Siemens, SIMATIC WinCC marketing manager

Q1. What defines Human Machine Interface (HMI) technology?

According to Beilke, HMI refers to devices and software that allow individuals to interact with machines. This can range from the simple, easy to use single touch display in a machine, to the more technologically advanced multi-touch-enabled control panel. Yet another example is the mobile technology used in smartphones and smartphones.

Shah gives a similar definition, stating that HMI is any interface that allows humans to interact with their machines. Examples can be a machine with touch display, a push button, a mobile, or a computer with a keypad.

Q2. How does HMI improve current systems?

According to Beilke, HMI technology is especially useful in industrial sectors where it allows people to carefully watch over production processes and make changes according to different production demands. This increases the efficiency of the product manufacturing line and decreases downtime because of the enhanced diagnostic ability and monitoring.

Bettes said that a well-designed HMI solution has a twofold benefit. In addition to increasing productivity for the operator, it also gives one insight into the controlling and maintenance of the machine. HMI technology alerts people if there is a problem with the machine and also indicates its severity.

Q3. How does HMI relate to Internet of Things (IoT) technology?

According to Shah, earlier HMIs were used only in individual terminals that in machines. More modern, newer HMI solutions are configured in one of two ways- they are either pre-configured to send data to the cloud platform or to a solution on the premises itself. IoT is changing the way manufacturing plants work as more industrial consumers are looking to use industrial HMI the way their cell phones work. This itself is changing how industrial HMI should be operated on.

Beilke believes that the IoT has resulted in a dramatic rise in machines and factories using this software in different field devices. Today, it is safe to transfer encrypted data from machine to cloud and enterprise level systems using technologies such as Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture integrated into PC-based machine controls. Because information can be accessed from the cloud, employees can monitor their machine and data from their smartphones or tablets, and in this way take the HMI software everywhere.

Cone stated that HMI technology has started playing a more important role in connecting people and their devices with more usage of the IoT in plants especially at the ground level. It is therefore quite necessary for HMIs to offer customers visualization options that allow them to easily monitor different parts on the plant floor. The HMI solutions should be able to give users visibility into areas that are difficult to access. Concepts such as system diagnostics should be in-built.

Q4. What are the system requirements for HMI?

According to Bettes, HMI solutions can be used in one singular base or more widespread in bigger applications. When used in the latter, HMI may involve server-grade hardware, a Microsoft Operating System, as well as multiple nodes that will help balance the requirements of the application.

Beilke however stated that requirements for HMIs depend on the application. Since HMI is used in consumer electronics such as smartphones and tablets, the display implements touch functionality. This kind of functionality is slowly spreading from consumer to industrial technology as is becoming more expected on the machine interface.

Q5. What is the learning curve for using HMI?

The learning curve is very low for users today according to Beilke. Because HMI is most popularly used in smart devices like tablets, smartphones, and smartwatches, it is quite easy as multi-touch functionality is almost second nature to people today.

Q6. Where can you implement HMI?

Beilke believes that HMI can be used in all industries that require humans to interact with a machine or automated device. This could be in a machine, plat, building, or vehicle. Of course, depending on the need, the integration and sophistication can vary.

Bette provided more specifications, mentioning that HMI is mostly used in manufacturing, ranging from the vehicle industry to even the pharmaceutical and food industries. Other industries that use HMI are oil and gas as well as mining where humans control their machines from a control room.

Beilke commented about the modern implementation of HMI with the rise of Industry 4.0 as well as the IoT which has allowed it to be used in smartwatches and other devices making it wearable and more accessible to use.

About sujoydhar

Sujoy Dhar is a business and technology and blogger. He is driven by the need to be creative and says that writing for various web properties allows him to stay up to date on one of the most rapidly evolving industries around. Each day provides Dhar with a new opportunity to educate readers about tech news and advances that help change the world for the better.

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