The Evolution of Human Systems and HMIs
The Evolution of Human Systems and HMIs

Person pointing their finger on a tablet

Driven by advances in technology, as well as the demands of manufacturing facilities and those who operate them, the tools used to connect a person to machines and devices in the industrial world have changed dramatically over the last three decades. What originated as a simple, dedicated function has evolved into a global force that may have the most significant influence in contemporary manufacturing. Here’s an overview of the conversion of human-machine interfaces (HMIs) from push-button to visualization.

The First HMIs: Push-buttons

The progression from islands of automation to advanced control and analytics began in the 1980s with push-buttons, lights, dials, and gauges. Early in the 1990s, a mixture of programming options enabled users to view data and create prompts with an electronic terminal. Electronic HMI panels extended backlight life and increased brightness for daylight visibility. However, due to its high cost, many manufacturers opted to keep the old push-button devices.

The arrival of PCs revolutionized the world of HMIs. The focus turned from hardware to software, devices became systems, and HMI performance and development expanded rapidly. In addition to advances in processor capability, the entry of Ethernet and Local Area Networks opened access to boundary-free connectivity. Through Ethernet and the Internet, closed systems became open, enabling new HMI systems to access data from multiple sources. Both technologies also helped provide HMI systems with the flexibility to reach isolated places. With connectivity, everything became available in real time, and operators were able to make better-informed decisions.

The Emergence of Touchscreens and Visualization

In the late 1990s, control software for the PC arrived, along with the introduction of new hardware: LCD screens. Using LCDs (liquid-crystal display) instead of the old CRTs (cathode ray tube) allowed for the development of safe touchscreens. Multiple touchscreen technologies developed swiftly as software became compatible with the LCD hardware. Multi-touch video technologies arrived in the marketplace, as did tablets and smartphones. A steady stream of new mobile devices assumed HMI roles, and the term “visualization” was introduced to describe the growth and ever-expanding functions of HMIs. As touchscreen technology continues to grow, the term “HMI” has become less specific to manufacturing, and can now include personal devices, like tablets and smartwatches.

Due to its vast amount of data, HMIs play a vital role in making business decisions and delivering cost-effective solutions. An operator with a smartphone displaying the entire manufacturing procedure has a greater impact than one pushing buttons on a single machine. In addition, with mobility and remote access in such demand, security systems must be carefully tracked, evaluated, and implemented.

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