An HMI that makes machine operation simple

Nicola Brittain

Communication with machines needs to be a straightforward as possible - here we examine a new HMI that prioritises ease of use.

A human machine interface (HMI) is the dashboard connecting a person to a machine; and with increasing automation throughout the process industry, a user-friendly HMI can significantly increase efficiency.

Such interfaces, traditionally displayed on tablets, computer screens or smart phones, typically provide insight into mechanical performance and progress. They display important data, track production time, trends and tags, as well as oversee KPIs, and monitor machine inputs and outputs.

In short, HMIs are used to ensure machines are smooth running, without fault, and running, for example, at the right temperature.

With markets fluctuating and supply chains shifting, there is increasing demand for an HMI to be fast and user friendly. The more an interface complies with these requirements, the more an organisation will benefit.  A new HMI management system from Keb Automation aimed at plant manufacturing and machine builders claims to comply with these requirements since it needs no installation, programming skills or specialist knowledge and offers considerable appeal. 

KEB Automation created the solution, called the Helio HMI management system, as part of its collaboration with the HMI Project. The system has a responsive design ensuring that only one HMI is configured and can then be used on different panels and mobile devices.

The Helio development environment can be used via a web browser regardless of location and platform. Users create the structure of their HMI and Helio takes care of the layout.

Simple project planning and development

Helio provides the framework for a design system in which the HMI developer(s) can work together. This system can be used directly in the development environment and enables the creation of HMIs from a single source – without the need for any programming knowledge. This is where the experience of HMI Project and KEB comes into play. They have ensured that the end result is intuitive and creates a positive user experience.

In addition, working with live data is a key advantage of the the HMI management system. When editing an HMI with Helio, the real HMI of the machine is displayed instead of a static image of the underlying application. This eliminates time-consuming intermediate steps, as there is no compiling between the editor and the finished HMI. The fact that the system uses proven web standards in the creation of the interface means that the user can work across platforms on any device with an up-to-date browser. It also allows operators to use the interface independently of the hardware or software and creates much more flexibility.

The manufacturers are also keen to emphasise the system’s durability. it is described as ‘future proof’ since the replacement of hardware – be it displays, computers or machine components – has no impact on usability. Helio is also flexible when it comes to the type of input method, whether mouse, keyboard or touch.

True responsiveness

Editing HMIs in Helio itself is easy and this reduces training and costs. in addition, no programming knowledge is necessary meaning that project planning is no longer a software development project - this allows the control system developer of a machine manufacturer to focus on their core competence.

In future, industrial HMIs will need to be highly customisable for a variety of reasons. For example, suppliers of panels may change, larger HMI panels may become available or customers may want to equip shift supervisors with mobile tablets so that they can monitor machines from anywhere in production.

Responsive design in HMIs is inspired by the architecture of modern websites and help to ensure that the HMI adapt intelligently to the respective end device.