Improving the effectiveness of human-machine interfaces (HMIs) by developing a standardized approach to the design of operator interface screens and the content displayed on packaging lines, plus increased access to diagnostic information, has become a priority for a leading packaging industry technology group.
OMAC, the Organization for Machine Automation and Control, has been a key player in the past in championing new technology, including the emergence of standards for servo-driven machines in packaging. And now with the corporate electricity and automation group at Nestlé providing a catalyst for getting a global technology standard put forward, OMAC has started initiatives for HMI standardization, improvements in on-screen machine diagnostics, and standardized packaging user requirements. All these areas have defied standardization efforts in the past, and they could all contribute to simplified and more efficient packaging operations.
By linking ergonomics, navigation, and design, new HMI systems are able to display complex processes in a way that is easy for the user to understand and manage. The new OMAC standard goes one step further by defining a common look and feel between operator panels in packaging plants.
"We believe that standardization is imperative to improving our overall equipment effectiveness," Dr. Bryan Griffen, global automation manager at Nestlé and chairman of the OMAC Packaging Workgroup (OPW), told us. "We are fully committed to the PackML strategy, and we continue to support and develop this strategy through active participation in the OMAC Packaging Workgroup.
"We are developing complimentary tools and specification for application as part of our PackML strategy," Griffen said. "These include HMI specifications, communications standards, and safety system integration -- all of which are focused on improving the operability and maintainability of our packaging systems."
HMI common look and feel
At an automation conference, Griffen showed 13 different HMI screens on a single packaging line with absolutely no common look or feel, including applications for inspection, weight checks, coding, and packing and transport functions. More than 200,000 HMIs are in use in Nestlé factories, and there are more than 70,000 people involved in packaging operations. But because the screens are all different, specific training is required for each type of equipment, costing both time and money.
To address this problem, the Nestlé packaging and automation groups have developed a standard HMI solution. Machine-specific requirements are displayed in the center of each screen, but a common template has been produced for a top menu bar, command buttons, navigation, and active alarms and event messaging. The goals of the template are to be user friendly, to allow operators to become more mobile across machines and lines, and to make more diagnostic information accessible from the equipment.
The OPW committees are focusing both on base technology and its potential benefit for applications. "We have tried to be practical and balance the focus on technical details around the standard with the benefits the standard would provide for end users, machine builders, and system integrators," said Thomas Doney, senior research engineer at the Nestlé Product Technology Center and a member of the OPW.