Rapid growth predicted for European HMI markets

Human-machine interface (HMI) solutions are increasing along with parallel growth in HMI technology and the demand for efficient operation and monitoring of production equipment in European industrial plants, a recent study by Frost & Sullivan reveals.


Human-machine interface (HMI) solutions are increasing along with parallel growth in HMI technology and the demand for efficient operation and monitoring of production equipment in European industrial plants, a recent study by Frost & Sullivan reveals. "The number of operators per machine has reduced sharply over the last decade and HMI facilitates easy monitoring of complex manufacturing systems," said Gabriela Martinho, Frost & Sullivan research analyst. "Easy to install, operate, and maintain, these devices allow companies to focus on more value-added operations such as speed-to-market, reliability, and the capability to develop new products."

The study notes that beyond added functionality, the incorporation of more traditional SCADA features into new HMI solutions increases the flexibility of manufacturing systems. Such adaptability is key in discrete manufacturing and process industries, where easy and quick reconfiguration is essential to meet the demands of a global market.
Discrete manufacturing industries continue to be the largest application sector for HMIs. However, process industries are catching up, as their large size implies a need for steady investment in monitoring and operating devices to comply with environmental regulations, better control operations, and increased production rates.
Acceptance of PC-based open platforms is boosting end-user demand for software-based HMIs. As improvements in chip technology offer better performance and improve the scalability of software HMIs, focusing on HMI software may help manufacturers offset the impact of declining prices.

Graphical operator interfaces currently constitute the largest segment of the HMI market, with a revenue share of 42.6% in 2003. Such devices cater to the need for broader functionality and easy connection to communication networks. The second largest HMI product segment is touchscreen operator interfaces. Touch technology simplifies the interface for large or complex equipment by eliminating keyboard, mouse, and other peripheral devices. Touchscreens are usually industrial grade: resistant to dirt, grease, shock, vibration, and EMI.

"Directing resources toward informing customers about advances in the technology and key benefits of established HMI products can enable suppliers of hardware interfaces to penetrate areas served by competing solutions such as electromechanical systems," said Martinho, adding that HMI suppliers need to be proficient in specific applications or industries, have ample knowledge of the regulatory framework and operating condition requirements, and be able to translate these factors effectively into value-added products that meet end user needs.

—Jeanine Katzel, senior editor, Control Engineering, jkatzel@reedbusiness.com

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