Gone are the days of machine operator terminals based solely on switches, push-buttons, meters, and operator warning lights. Today’s HMIs control machines and monitor, analyze, and optimize operations, serving industries around the world.

Some HMIs serve as the processor for 10 signals carrying feedback on speeds, temperatures, torques, tensions, and more to optimize processes. Such interfaces can help consolidate data and provide global insights based on a myriad of edge devices those transducers, sensors, motor-mounted encoders, and other smart components (such as smart motors or smart bearings) incorporating electronics to communicate current states. Other variations integrate HMI functionalities right into the automation devices themselves.

Today’s Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) in discrete automation play crucial roles previously handled by distributed control systems (DCS). Although DCSs are still vital in many continuous processes, they’re sometimes seen as outdated in certain industries.

Modern HMIs not only take over data processing tasks but also convert data into graphical formats that are easy for humans to understand. This ability to present data in visual readouts is now something the industry often overlooks because of its widespread adoption.

Even in applications considered less advanced, which traditionally rely on switches and push-buttons, entry-level HMIs are becoming more common. They help streamline controls and lower the number of parts needed in control panels.

Today’s market includes affordable small resistive-touchscreen industrial HMIs. These devices, costing just a few hundred dollars, still provide essential features like basic Ethernet and PLC connectivity.

For more complex needs, such as those in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, automated machinery benefits from Industrial PCs. These PCs enhance quality control and give machines a competitive edge with features unique from those of other manufacturers.

At Maple Systems, we provide a range of HMI solutions.

Our offerings include basic HMI, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) edge-device HMIs, gateway HMIs, HMIs with built-in IoT capabilities, and high-performance industrial Panel PCs.

HMI being used by an operator

Today, the integration of HMIs with machine controllers is a given, as many hardware peripherals have been replaced by software for communication tasks. The availability of low-cost and even free drivers has become common.

Design engineers often face a choice between opting for pre-integrated HMI panels or increasingly popular modular options. These options come with Ethernet and fieldbus connectivity, alongside the traditionally simpler and more cost-effective serial communications.

Open-source modules and easily configurable HMIs speed setup, usually by letting design engineers or machine technicians use programming software to customize the HMI.

At Maple Systems, we make it easy to evaluate HMI configuration software.

Our HMI-configuration software, EBPro, and the MAPware 7000, with its local IO configuration capabilities, offer templates. These templates simplify the process of configuring networked-machine data collection and creating intuitive navigation layouts for end users to access all those data streams in a logical way.

Machine operators today manage an overwhelming amount of data, often more than a single person can handle. Well-designed HMIs distill this data, enabling personnel to quickly and efficiently respond to various situations, safeguarding both operators and machinery.

In contrast, poorly designed HMI notifications can sometimes distract uninvolved plant personnel and slowly induce alarm fatigue in personnel tasked with tending a machine — especially if the HMI throws an excessive number of warnings or irrelevant signals.

HMIs go beyond traditional roles of simply displaying machine statuses.

For example, where plant personnel isn’t attending to a given piece of machinery all day, HMIs can also help record and communicate what would have once been observed by sound, feel, or sight. In contrast with legacy HMI applications (primarily focused on communicating machine status) many of today’s HMIs assist operators in understanding what’s normal for a given machine axis or sensor and what’s not.

That lets even inexperienced personnel understand and effectively act upon system-parameter values to address problems or deviations as needed. Where it’s appropriate that machine operators be fully informed and empowered, that can include communication through the HMI describing potential consequences of ignoring the issue or addressing the issue with set actions.

We’ll cover all these functionalities in this HMI Design Guide, highlighting how HMIs have become fundamental to the advancement of the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). This significance largely stems from HMIs’ role as an exceptionally convenient platform for integrating plant operations with enterprise-level management, among other critical functions.