Author encourages reevaluation of HMIs, use of best practices

Who should design the human machine interface systems in manufacturing and process plants? Ian Nimmo says it ought to be a team approach, and include someone who knows both human factors issues and plant operations. Link to a book, Web seminar and workshops that can help.


In a Web seminar sponsored by TiPS, Inc. - The Alarm Management Company, Nimmo conducted a mini seminar based on his book, “The High Performance HMI Handbook.” ( Click here to view a detailed Table of Contents). As a founder and former Program Director of the Abnormal Situation Management (ASM) Consortium and a 30-year veteran of the refining and petrochemicals industry, Nimmo knows whereof he speaks. He says, “Early DCSs had limited graphic capabilities. We defaulted to using P&ID views, and we have since discovered that they’re not the most useful for controlling the process. They look like a picture, and are convenient, but they are more useful for designing a process than for operating a system.”

Poorly designed HMIs have been cited as contributing factors to major industrial accidents—not to mention more chronic issues like operator fatigue and inefficiency. Nimmo’s online conference and book aims to help mitigate these risks by providing the tools for the assessment, justification and planning of a high performance HMI solution.

Some of the problems with HMI graphics, says Nimmo, are the product of their being designed by the least experienced person in the room at the time. Problems include the copying of P&ID mistakes into the graphics, inaccurate locations of instruments, and disproportion of the equipment to its importance (big pictures of tanks but no picture of the tank instrument.)

“Management has been reluctant to pay for HMI redesign,” says Nimmo. “They think they paid for the initial design, but often they didn’t. It was done as inexpensively as possible, and they have never put in a dollar justification for the poor design they have.”

Nimmo hopes to “bring the big picture back” and encourage reevaluation of HMIs and implementation of best practices. “High performance HMIs are practical and achievable,” he says, and now might be exactly the right time to take up the project of evaluating systems and creating style guides. Books and consulting services (including his) are readily available to help.

Said one fan of Nimmo’s work, Senior Technology Consultant Kevyn Renner

Ian Nimmo’s presentation on High Performance Graphics can be heard online. (A WebEx player needs to be downloaded to play it.) To purchase Nimmo’s book, The High Performance HMI Handbook, visit

TiPS, Inc. - The Alarm Management Company sponsored Nimmo's Webex conference. A pioneer in alarm management software, TiPS produced the first version of its LogMate software in 1990.

– Edited by Renee Robbins , senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk
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