Get integrated human-machine interface hardware, software; cautions

HMI Research advice: Control Engineering’s new human-machine interface hardware and software research respondents advise others to get HMIs with software pre-loaded, use standards, collaborate on planning, train, look for flexibility and ease of use, and pay attention to implementation timing. Watch out for a long list of cautions, regular cybersecurity updates among them.

By Mark T. Hoske June 11, 2017

Human-machine interface (HMI) cybersecurity is among a long list of cautions offered by respondents to the new Control Engineering survey on "HMI Software and Hardware." Advice includes buying hardware already pre-integrated with software, using standards, collaborating with stakeholders, and training.

Among subscribers participating in Control Engineering’s HMI research more than 75 offered write-in advice, grouped for analysis into six categories: Integration and standardization, cautions, experience, flexibility and ease of use, schedule and timing, and library. While many pieces of advice could be grouped into more than one category, only one was chosen for this tally.

See the table for how many each type of advice was given. The "Control Engineering Research" page in this issue gives other findings. A subset of the advice, by category, follows. 

Integration and standardization

Buy hardware and software together. Mixing does not usually work.

Choose integrated hardware and software.

Combine both to be cyber-secure and robust in case of an operation system crash.

Consolidate your systems if possible and use software and hardware from as few vendors as possible.

Develop standardized templates to keep development costs down.

Do not take risk on variation just for the sake of technology. If possible, choose integrated hardware and software from a vendor or original equipment manufacturer.

Ensure it can be easily integrated with the industrial control system software.

Find and stick with one HMI hardware and software that are easy-to-interface to programmable logic controllers (PLCs)

HMIs are the Wild West. Just pick one you like and standardize on it.

Implementing HMI software and hardware together is practical, and sometimes easier.

Insist on support for open protocols and standards.

It is good to have a general knowledge of how HMI software and hardware integrate. Knowing protocols, I/O requirements, and machine scope will help in selecting what products will work together. Good support is paramount.

Make sure that the integrator turns over all source code and/or passwords for a stem provided. Do not allow the system integrator to hold a client hostage to using only their services.

Make sure that they have drivers for your controls.

Move more towards client-based applications.

Multi-communications capability is important.

PC-based is most flexible.

Put standards in place before purchasing and implementing.

Seek a low cost, interoperable HMI solution.


Use a knowledgeable integrator.

Use industry standards where possible. 


Ask about the models and capacities of the HMI.

Be careful.

Consult with production!

Find a company that isn’t always changing and not supporting what they sold you just a bit ago.

Get your communications setup tested early. After that it’s dead easy.

Implementing HMI software and hardware is more costly than expected.

Keep the design software and run-time software the same version.

Look at optional devices and equipment.

Make it explosion proof.

Set up in-house with your own people. Do not be on the hook to outside consultants. Preferably use unionized personnel; they usually stay with a company for a whole career.

Stick with larger well-known names.

Test and speak with a manufacturing application engineering team, not just the sales force.

Test for all possible situations, especially environmental testing.

The line of software and hardware must be commercially available in the next 6 or 7 years.

Try before you buy if possible. Some software programs are easier to use than others.

Use only tried and trusted suppliers.

Validate, validate, validate. 


Assist with the pre-existing infrastructure or plan prior to purchase.

Check what’s out there.

Consider all of your options.

Consider the operational requirements.

Don’t get too fancy.

Ensure vendors have staff with knowledgeable technicians and professionals.

Go one step larger than you think with screen size, memory, and other attributes.

HMI hardware can be control-center based (regional control center, using off-the-shelf PCs and monitors), or field-based, which is a different standard (temperature range, display elements, etc.)

Include operations in graphics conversion projects. Ownership of operations is critical to the success on an upgrade project.

Present systems to end users during the specification and design phases. They have valuable input.

Read current literature and review with your specific machine or industry in mind.

Review the brand’s expertise and tool support.

Understand the operational requirements.

Flexibility and ease of use

Be open to change.

Budget and choose applications wisely and be ready to adapt for emerging technologies.

Ease of application development is important.

Flexibility and scalability towards operations for future modifications and upgrades are important.

HMIs should be simple and informative.

Invest in training. Understand topology complexity before buying.

Keep it easy and simple to maintain.

Look at supporting materials.

The software should be intuitive and user friendly and compatible with multiple platforms.

They should be usable, configurable, easily programmable, and secure.

Use "keep it simple" method of programming. If you have to read a 600-page manual, your software is too complicated!

Use the software of the PLC vendor. 

Cybersecurity, schedule, timing

Don’t wait until current hardware/software is obsolete to upgrade your system. Run to failure should not be the determining factor when realizing it’s time to upgrade.

Implementing HMI hardware and software always takes more time than first expected.

One of the biggest problems for HMI software is the upgrades and security risks tied to Microsoft Windows. It would be good to see more embedded systems that are not tied to Windows and have a longer life cycle. In my experience, Windows-based operating systems push upgrades and replacement instead of the hardware capability.

Pick one product and stick with it for a couple of years.

Stage everything in a shop and test communications and other parts of the system before taking it to the field.

The person responsible needs to have the time to implement properly.

When looking for HMI software and hardware solutions, always attempt to look to future needs and buy accordingly.

Consider security features.

The ability to meet security requirements is first and most imperative. Using login credentials that are user specific and immediately expire when a user leaves the terminal also are essential. A preference for keeping the control of credentials outside of the HMI unit now is a way of life with IT involvement in the network architecture.


Customization capability is important, along with ability to use a graphical library from another source, such as a managed .Net Framework from a third party.

Ease of use and support are key. The use of templates and programming standards also is important.

Use effective engineering tools for static and dynamic graphics design (mimics). Ensure ease of field sensors (tags) connections to dynamic graphics symbols.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, Data provided by CFE Media research director, Amanda Pelliccione,


Key concepts

  • HMI hardware and software offer advantages when integrated.
  • It’s useful to collaborate when choosing and implementing HMI software and hardware.
  • Standards, validation, updates, and attention to cybersecurity are important.

Consider this

Research data points in this issue also may help supplement this advice.

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.