Standardizing control room HMIs

Next generation HMIs create an environment where operators and technicians can move at speed of manufacturing and make decisions that increase the bottom line.


Modern HMI technology allows multilevel plant floor access with information screens for immediate help and training. Courtesy: Polytron Inc.The operator interfaces to control manufacturing systems have grown from push buttons and lighted switches to today’s computerized and engineered HMI touchscreens that control virtually every part of the manufacturing facility. Sophisticated graphical interfaces with 3D representations of equipment, HMIs provide a window into the controls and/or manufacturing intelligence system. Unlike controller code that is seen by few, anyone can see the HMI.

As the manufacturing industry moves rapidly into the virtual, paperless era, the standardized working environment for managing manufacturing operations requires tools such as HMI 3D visuals and flat screen monitors in control rooms and at strategic points throughout the facility. Imagine a plant with large flat screens at key locations and standardized HMI screens at every control point for process and production. The entire plant becomes a virtual control room. It is becoming the norm, not the exception.

Today’s manufacturing environment demands a leaner workforce, higher machine and system efficiencies, greater flexibility, and increased productivity and quality targets, which sets the stage for the highest efficiency in standardized HMI performance for operational excellence.

HMI system standardization

Standardization involves graphic standards, naming conventions, and application design concepts—a consistent look and feel to promote greater efficiency on the plant floor. It is the best practice of applying easily recognized visuals to increase the productivity at the point of use. As standards become applied on an enterprise scale, overall benefits multiply. 

At the system and machine level, standardization provides consistency to promote user confidence with regard to expectations on how things operate. For example, a button that takes the user back to the main menu should be placed in the same location every time it is used. If the location varies from screen to screen, confusion and inefficiency prevail. In addition, if controls for seldom-accessed devices work the same way as those for frequently accessed devices, then the user will have a basis on how to interact with them. 

At the site level, users who move between manufacturing systems understand how controls work regardless of assignment. Consistent controls between manufacturing systems benefit operations by allowing them to efficiently work on multiple systems more seamlessly. In addition, maintenance benefits from consistent troubleshooting capabilities across the systems. For example, a motor fault on Line A is reported and reset exactly the same way as on Line B. Finally, consistent HMI systems reduce training effort for both students and trainers. 

The maximum benefit of HMI standardization is realized at the enterprise level. Users who move between sites know how to operate and troubleshoot more efficiently. Training and documentation become even more efficient. And, from a development perspective, operations with the proven best practices can leverage solutions across the enterprise. For example, Plant A may have more experience on the process while Plant B has more experience on packaging. Plant A can leverage process solutions for both sites while Plant B leverages packaging solutions. Standardization allows both plants to share solutions and maximize the capability across multiple sites.

The result is a seamless workflow for the workforce to operate at the highest level of performance. The standardized HMI also facilitates fast and easy training on changes or updates, and new employee training is consistent across the entire workforce. 

The three most important benefits of standardized HMI are:

  1. Increased productivity: The ease of use and functionality of HMI systems will increase overall equipment effectiveness and workforce productivity. The updated control system makes it easier to start, stop, troubleshoot, and make changes in production.
  2. Easy-to-understand technology: In addition to increased productivity for operators, other tasks improve as well. Training, troubleshooting, and line changes are simplified. A trained line operator can walk up to the HMI at any time and easily understand what is going on in a particular stage of production. Applied programming standards make it easy for users to dig deeper into the controls through the HMI to receive more information about a situation.
  3. Cost efficiency: The return on investment for HMI standardization is quickly recaptured through the efficiency it brings to operations through reduced downtime for equipment issue resolution and changes, and increased productivity by operators, maintenance, and engineering. 

It’s important to focus on an efficient HMI design that functions well and looks good. Flashy animations and software might look impressive in an HMI demonstration, but they don’t contribute to the HMI’s effectiveness. In fact, they slow down the operator’s navigation to devices and information. It is an HMI best practice to turn data into actionable information.

On next page, learn more about programming standards, 3D HMI, and next generation HMI.

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