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What to look for when specifying HMIs

16 January 2023

Steve Ward offers his thoughts on what to look out for when specifying an HMI for use in food production applications.

The food industry end user driver when choosing a human machine interface (HMI) is generally to achieve operational performance improvements. This requires the HMI to be easy to use. It must also support increased operator efficiency and productivity, provide analytics and business intelligence and simplify the implementation of industrial internet of things applications.

Today industrial displays are available as panel PCs, with powerful computing capabilities, as web panels for running web hosted applications, and as industrial monitors for plant floor visualisation using standard computers. The choice of display will  generally depend on the application requirements, but no matter which option is selected, the display will need to offer the right balance between visual capability, functionality and durability. It is essential that the HMI is as durable as the machine it represents. However, this robustness and reliability cannot be to the detriment of performance and flexibility.  

Bringing intelligence to the plant floor will require HMIs to operate in some demanding environments. An IP66 rating will be needed to ensure protection from high-pressure water jets along with wide operating temperatures to enable the devices to be used in extreme temperatures. Typically, HMIs are only replaced every 7-10 years, so resistance to chemicals, impact, scratches and dust will help ensure continued high performance over the long lifetime expected of the device. 

Generational shift
A generational shift is currently taking place across the food industry, with many knowledgeable and experienced plant operators retiring and being replaced by younger engineers who have an expectation that automation technology should be easy to use and it needs to support modern ways of working. The latest generation of HMI devices, are therefore designed to be highly intuitive with easy-to-use and most use smartphone-like graphical displays. Projective capacitive touchscreen technology will allows users to interact with the display, even when wearing gloves, with multitouch capabilities such as swipe, pinch or zoom to move to the next screen or expand a chart to allow a  range of  personnel, with varying levels of training and experience, to interact with machines. 

There is a need for  today’s HMIs to go beyond the role of visualisation of production control information – end users today want to  be able to gain access to actionable information relating to  their machinery’s performance and health. So, HMIs need to be Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) ready, with data analysis, troubleshooting and diagnostics tools providing the operational insights that are needed to maximise overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). 

The latest HMIs also need to support improved collaboration, with HTML5 functionality allowing operations, management and maintenance teams to all view the same screen at the same time, no matter where they are located. This immediate sharing of information and access to expertise reduces maintenance costs and improves productivity. 

Increased connectivity brings with it security concerns, and with cybersecurity attacks becoming increasingly prevalent within industrial applications, HMIs also need to be designed in accordance with IEC 62443 Global Automation Cybersecurity Standards to support end users’ overall digital security strategies. 

Steve Ward is director, Application Engineering EMEA at Emerson.

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