Industrial HMI (Human Machine Interface), has evolved to use the multi-touch capabilities that is now standard on smartphones. With multi-touch functionality, HMI is not only simplified , but also enhanced.
With the trend of price competition in consumer market becoming clearer over the past few years. With declining gross profit, manufacturers must make the process more efficient in order to stand out in the face of fierce competition. To enhance the efficiency of the process, the mastery of information is the first requirement, which is the main reason why the manufacturing management emphasizes "visualization". To achieve visualization, HMI is the most important equipment. With its growing importance, more technologies are imported in HMI, and it’s not only applied to the production process, but also intelligent buildings, ships, and others significant applications.
Jonney Chang, a Director in Advantech’s Industrial Automation Group, said that HMI will move towards: computing, control, and communication. With these three functions, HMI has a very different look. In the past, HMI’s only had simple keys and today they’ve evolved to include screen visualization. Jonney believes that HMI design will not only include hardware, but also be integrated with the software to become the key concept of the next-generation HMI.
To see the future development of HMI separately from software and hardware. Jonney indicated that the panel and sophisticated semiconductor technologies facilitated the invention of thin HMI panels. Multi-touch technology and applications are becoming mature and with these two technologies, HMI’s appear to be an oversized smartphone and in the future will operate intuitively and easily by clicking and dragging.
The HMI specification used to depend on screen frames. More frames meant more power. With multi-touch technology, users can tap options on the screen, shrink and enlarge as needed, or even make a 3D display to completely get rid of the shackles of screen frame and enter a new era of visualized control.
In addition to thin panels and multi-touch, Jonney indicated that HMI hardware trends include low-power, high-resolution; a 16:9 screen ratio had been established. The demand of the low-power panel rises from the concept of green factory. A high resolution appeals to the growing importance of screen resolution to fulfill the demands of visualization. Finally, the 16:9 screen is the most suitable proportion for the human eye, also the mainstream panel size with the most ideal procurement cost.
Manufacturing equipment is still the main HMI application and can be further divided into two types: traditional industry and electronics industry. For traditional industries, the demand of new HMI hardware specifications is less and slower, and the main reason is that the turnover rate of the product line is slow. The original equipment can keep producing most of the old products and does not need to be replaced. For the electronics industry, products have a shorter life span and the turnover rate is very fast. The old equipment may not able to fulfill the requirements of new products with higher performance. Both of these industries require some degree of customized design for different production processes; for example, in beverage production of the traditional industry, when filling drinks, in order to avoid mis-operation and production loss, it needs two touches on the panel to operate equipment. The electronics industry is the same; the same product may have different system designs due to different corporate cultures and work habits.
For non-manufacturing equipment, HMI is used in more intelligent buildings, to replace original desktops in the control center. By operating intuitive multi-touch HMIs, the energy management of a building’s electricity and water becomes easier and more functions come along. Jonney pointed out that HMI not only emphasizes hardware technology but also the integration of software. On multi-touch HMI, functions are designed to be application icons similar to a smartphone. Functions can be customized to fit the users’ needs and habits.
Another example of an HMI application is the automotive industry. As the engine is the heart of a car, engine assembly is the most sophisticated and complicated part of the automotive production line. On an assembly line, it’s used to acquire endpoint data through SCADA and then transmit to the MES to control production. HMIs not only integrate SCADA and MES but also let administrators seamlessly switch between these two software systems on a single HMI screen. Software also provides other function modules, so that system administrators can directly connect to enterprise cloud, retrieve the required information or operate other functions on HMI.