Make it easy! That's one of the mantras for every design team today. And, software developers in particular have taken it to heart.
In the world of computer-aided design (CAD) software, developers have focused a lot of their energy on improving their graphical user interfaces (GUI) so engineers can more effectively use the CAD programs to optimize their designs.
The same is true with developers of finite-element analysis software. GUIs in those products are making it easier for engineers to use the software to study if their designs will fail. And by making it easier, they are allowing engineers to concentrate on the specific stress analysis at hand rather than the software itself.
Come with us now to the world of automation—that sometimes-noisy, always-hectic environment of machine tools, conveyors, and processing operations that are at the core of our manufacturing infrastructure. How important is ease of use there?
Very, says Dick Slansky. He should know. He spent 30 years running manufacturing operations, and is now senior analyst at the consulting firm ARC Advisory Group. Substitute CAD's GUI with automation's HMI (human-machine interface), and you will see where much of the activity in ease of use is in automation.
HMIs in automation are software-based products that allow users to get data from their machines on the factory floor. Wonderware, Rockwell, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Intellution, and GE Fanuc are among the developers.
Where CAD GUIs help engineers use software, automation HMIs are for getting the information needed to run plants. Users extract information from machines to keep track of a process so they can make changes if necessary.
The next few years will see the choices in HMI expand, Slansky says. That is the major point in a special report he has authored for ARC entitled "The Worldwide HMI Market Study."
Slansky says that manufacturers don't necessarily need more data. Instead, they need usable data. "The whole trend is toward manufacturing intelligence," he asserts. HMIs help users get it.