HMI's- or Human-Machine Interfaces- are essentially little dashboards that help the human user in a factory or control system control the machines in use. HMI's, alone, are not functioning control systems, but instead help human users in a supervisory manner.

What is an HMI?

HMI stands for Human Machine Interface, and- very true to form in the industrial world- is a very literal term.   HMI’s allow you (the human) to input information into the machine you’re working on, and observe the current status and functioning of the system’s component parts. Think of an HMI as a touch screen and you’ll be in good shape.

In fact, if you think of your phone as an HMI, you probably use an HMI all the time. Most “Industrial”HMI’s are much more rugged, expensive, and don’t look as nice when compared to “Commercial” HMI’s such as smart phones, iPads, touch screen laptops and more, but they work in very similar ways.

Industrial HMI’s tend to be more rugged simply because they get put through a lot more use and abuse than a typical tablet (more on this below).

 

Commercial vs Industrial HMI's

Take a look a this iPad compared to Siemens’ “Industrial Tablet” option:

The iPad (right) is designed for looks and is built to be lightweight for user convenience.  The industrial tablet (left), on the other hand, is designed to live it’s life on a factory floor. It will get dropped, it will get banged around, and at some point it will probably get run over by a fork lift. The more rugged the environment in which your HMI will be expected to perform, the more likely it is that an industrial tablet is a better choice for you.

Do some facilities use iPads? Yes, they do, and very successfully so.  Generally these are facilities that either leave the HMI’s in the hands of managers/supervisors, and/or are not worried about someone taking an iPad home or constantly dropping it.

Some smaller facilities love the ability to use their phones to monitor, input data, and control, which is always an option. Additionally, desktop computers/laptops, and pretty much anything with an interactive screen can serve as an HMI.

Generally speaking, industrial facilities should first look at industrial technology and commercial applications should first look at commercial technology. As with everything, your application is going to be different and if you have questions or are not fully sure how to choose, please feel free to reach out and ask. We’d be happy to delve more into detail about our experiences and help you choose/set up the HMI that best suits your needs.

 

Design

HMI’s are highly customizable down to fonts and colors, but a general guiding principle is to design your HMI’s in a way that maximizes ease of use by the H(uman) part of the equation.  Operator ease of use impacts overall efficiency, which is a major point of having an HMI in the first place.

When figuring out exactly what makes an “easy to use” HMI for your application, some things to consider include: how complex inputs need to be, how many functions need to be controlled and how you’d like to control them, what other systems will need to connect with the HMI, the environment your HMI will be in (how many forklifts pose an imminent threat?), and what makes sense, visually, for controls.

All of these factors might sound overwhelming, but Corso is well-versed in designing for what each individual customer wants and needs. If you are expanding a design that is currently working for you, we’ll happily follow those colors, and themes. Looking to start over? We’d recommend looking at the High Performance HMI philosophy (it’s the best new thought leadership in making HMI’s work for everyone).  Not sure where you are at the moment?  We can help you figure that out, too.

Take a look at some of the work we’ve done and let us know what you think:

 

Software

It seems like there are more HMI software options than anything else, so it’s hard to narrow down a suggested list.  The majority of our customers have us program HMI’s as part of much larger projects, and in those cases, we’re building the HMI’s within the suites in which everything else is getting built. Some of our favorites include:

Inductive Automation’s Ignition.  Ignition means you get a designer and client already set up and ready to go. For everyone that doesn’t know what that means, it includes an HMI screen, beautiful graphics, and a wide variety of capabilities.  The functionality is about 10% the software, 90% the designer skill, 10% Corso. (Yeah we know it’s 110%, it’s a little low, so let’s add 10% mustache in there!)

FactoryTalk View is the Rockwell Automation/AB HMI package. It has long been the industry standard, and Corso has used it extensively. We’ve been told that there are some really nice updates coming down the pipe about which we are excited. If you are using FactoryTalk as a package, then we would not direct you to anything other than View.

Siemens WinCC OA is similar to Ignition with their designer and client set up and ready to use, so if you’ve opted for OA, then you’re getting the ability to make HMI screens. Those options are also pretty sexy.  Remember the 10% software,  90% designer, 10% Corso, 10% mustache ratio? Yeah, that also applies here.

 

Where do I Start?

If you’re ready to start, drop a line.

Want to skip to the end game? Check out the Ultimate MES guide.

Want to learn more about where we get the information? Hit up our PLC Programming section.