Everything you need to know about HMIs

Jon Lawson

Data is indispensable, particularly in the industrial and engineering sectors. Because of this, Human-machine interfaces (HMI’s) are changing the game, harnessing data for the improvement of productivity, efficiency and reliability. As technologies advance, we can expect to see a heavier reliance on machines like these. Therefore, continual improvement of these machines is going to be vital in the coming years.

What is an HMI?

An HMI is a user interface that is connected to a system, device or machine to provide a user with valuable information efficiently.

Once connected, an HMI offers a visual representation of a machine’s performance in a much swifter way than traditional methods. Additionally, it allows for greater control over the machines it is connected too; a user can digest the information provided and make adjustments where necessary to ensure the smooth running of a project.

HMIs come in all shapes and sizes, from touch display panels to computers with keypads. The design and function will depend on their primary purpose.

What does HMI stand for?

HMI is an acronym for Human Machine Interface.

HMI’s are also known as:

  • MMI - Man-machine interface
  • LOI - Local operator interface
  • UI - User interface
  • OIT - Operator interface terminal
  • OT - Operator terminal

Where are Human Machine Interfaces used?

HMI’s are mainly used within the industrial and engineering sectors, such as oil and gas, plant, mining, automotive and transportation industries.

Outside of these, the electronic, military, medical and entertainment sectors have also been investing in HMIs.

What are HMIs used for?

HMIs can be tailored to perform a range of tasks to achieve a variety of goals. Whether they are operating on one system, or are connecting multiple systems, a human-machine interface can collect data to increase performance.

Oversee KPIs

HMIs will collect data over a specific period to analyse whether a company is going to hit, meet or exceed company KPIs. Once it is programmed with the performance indicator, the machine will find and analyse the necessary information in a much swifter time-frame than a human carrying out data collection and analysis manually.

Machine monitoring

If part of the machinery is failing or requires maintenance, an HMI can diagnose and communicate this without having to wait for the machine to break, or having to shut it down manually. With forewarning, new parts can be ordered in advance or maintenance scheduled, saving a lot of staff-hours and downtime.

In addition to sole working, HMIs can connect with a variety of machines for holistic monitoring. Rather than having to move from one system to another to build a picture, a human-machine interface can do all of this behind the scenes.

Greater connectivity

A lot of HMIs can be operated and controlled remotely. Perfect when working in an expansive environment, such as an oil site, where people operating in different areas need access to the information provided by the HMI.

Increased efficiency

Alarms can be set up within human-machine interfaces to alert users to potential problems. The sooner someone knows about a problem with the machinery (or parts of the machinery), swift action can be taken. Traditionally, an employee would have to manually diagnose a problem and find the source before putting together a plan of action. HMIs make the entire process much swifter, increasing the efficiency of production.

Another example of how HMIs can be used to increase efficiency is via the control of production speed. The interface can be used to improve the speed in which a machine operates, or indeed slow it down if it will enable better performance.

Improved reliability

Not only can an HMI alert you to, for example, the speed, temperature or productivity of a machine, but you can then use this data to request that the HMI makes changes where needed for a smoother operation.

Targeted communication

For larger organisations, HMIs can be programmed to send specific messages to the most relevant person or team. For example, information related to quality can be sent directly to the quality control team. In contrast, data regarding the health of a specific component can be sent to the maintenance team. This cuts down working hours associated with investigating who the message needs to go to and then forwarding the information on, saving much-needed time.

Increased productivity

HMIs can report on inventory literally at the push of a button, thanks to the constant collection of data. This removes the need for a human-operator to constantly monitor productivity; freeing them up to carry out other, more skilful tasks.

The future of human-machine interfaces

While the last decade has seen reliance on HMIs increase, businesses are now starting to move towards high-performance HMIs. An increase in remote monitoring and augmented or virtual reality are just some of the functions we can expect in future.

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