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What Is An HMI And Why Should You Care?

Many new pieces of technology always seem to have long names with abbreviations to simplify their pronunciation. Sometimes, they’re easy to decipher like the widely-known AI – or artificial intelligence. Other times, they refer to technologies with specific uses and would only be known to the users who handle them daily. The Human-Machine Interface (HMI) is one of those pieces of technology.

An HMI is a user interface that acts as the communicator between a user and the machine, computer program, or system with which they are interacting. It’s a broad term, sure, and can be linked to several home appliances (something like the ill-fated Wii U that Nintendo sold in the 2010s), but we typically refer to HMIs in an industrial context for larger machinery.

A Brief History of the HMI

While the modern HMI has been around since the 1980s, its origins can be traced all the way back to 1945 when the Batch Interface allowed perforated punch cards to be inserted into the machine to calculate the number of hours employees worked. It was a primitive interface that was non-interactive but it laid the groundwork for future interfaces that would adapt to future technology.

 
A card with punched holes enters into the batch interface to transfer data from a census into statistics. Image via Wikipedia.

In the following decades, as technology vastly improved, graphical user interfaces began to sprout in order for machines to perform the jobs they were built to do. The Command-Line interface allowed users to take a bit more control. They could enter commands in the prompts to perform certain tasks. While they first appeared in the 1960s, their uses grew in the 80s when Windows Disk Operating System (DOS) became a staple in user interfaces. 

Obviously, technology has grown up quite a bit since then. As interfaces became more user-friendly, HMIs grew with them. HMIs are a natural extension of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) and allow total control of machinery in industrial contexts. They are primarily used in several manufacturing processes.

So What Does An HMI Consist Of?

An HMI is essentially an advanced user interface to help manufacturers control their machines efficiently to execute a task. In the interface, HMIs can display data, track production times, color code messages, and, of course, start and stop the machinery at play. If it sounds like an advanced remote control, well, that’s because it is, sort of.

These days, HMIs can function like tablets in the sense that there’s software with a touch-screen allowing you to communicate with the machinery however the programming allows. They aren’t always limited to the tablet form, however, as they can also simply be applications on traditional computers.

An HMI provides you with an in-hand hub to view all the goings-on in your factory.

Who Are The Primary Users Of An HMI?

 

To answer in a single sentence: manufacturers. Manufacturing processes can differ from factory to factory but a common trait between them is their use of machinery. More specifically, those who will see the most use out of HMIs are engineers, systems operators, and system integrators.

These workers can use HMIs to see data in real-time, change the speeds of different machines, or simply monitor the machines remotely. HMIs can save the time of its operators by giving them a hub in hand that can allow them to monitor the machinery across the factory. By removing the tedious walking back-and-forth across the factory, operators can use their time more efficiently.

HMIs are becoming more commonplace in manufacturing workplaces. As automation grows in popularity, so have its companion screens,

What Types Of HMIs Exist?

 

There are three different types of HMIs that you can use.

The Push Button Panel

This one is straightforward. Instead of having an assortment of buttons across a machine for different actions, this HMI will round them up in one digital panel so that they’re easily accessible. It makes the lives of the operators easier by streamlining the number of buttons you need to push (effectively zero if you set everything up properly).

The Data Handler

 

As you may have guessed, this HMI will handle, well, the data. These types of HMIs will offer feedback about a machine’s performance using the data it collects after performing tasks. Be sure to have a screen large enough to see all the information the HMI will throw at you because it will come in the form of graphs, charts, and other forms of visual representation of the data it collected.

The Overseer

 

This type of HMI isn’t as menacing as its name would let on. The Overseer requires a Windows computer to operate. Essentially, this HMI monitors and controls entire sets of machines across a factory. As its name suggests, it oversees the entire operation rather than one set machine. Consider it the big boss of HMIs if there were a hierarchy.

Where You Can Find HMIs

 

HMIs can be tricky to find, but they’re not inaccessible either. You can find them on automation-focused websites like Automation Direct or WiAutomation. Since these companies are focused on automation, it’ll be easier to find a brand that will suit any given manufacturer’s needs.

Third-party resellers also exist on eBay and AlieExpress, but you should exercise caution if you’re looking for HMIs on these sites. Naturally, they won’t necessarily offer the same quality or customer experience that a dedicated company will provide.

Do You Need An HMI?

 

HMIs are essential controllers for manufacturers who want to perfect and streamline their production. By centralizing everything through the interface, operators can shift their resources toward more important and vital tasks, rather than wasting time turning machines off and on, verifying their output, and overseeing the entire operation by manually checking each station.  With that in mind, if you don’t already have HMIs set up in your factory, it may very well be time to get your hands on some to maximize your company’s efficiency.

 

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, using an HMI is key to ensuring your automation processes function the way you expect them to. Monitor all your equipment such the autonomous robot, the 3D perception cameras, and the software itself from the tip of your fingers using an HMI. Contact us to learn more

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