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.
It's good to see yet another step toward standardization on the factory floor. This is one more step away from hodge-podge world of plant automation. I would guess this will also give control engineers some relief from the daunting task of original programming.
It's actually amazing to me that there hasn't been a common HMI look and feel and standards prior to this kind of effort--or at least one that has any teeth. Coordinating that diversity must be a bear for organizations to manage let alone impeding worker productivity. Why has it taken so long to push standards?
HMIs are an interesting, sometimes overlooked area of focus for software/display technology improvements. Yet they play a vital part in what happens on the factory floor, and how well, and how quickly, operators can adapt to, or fix, problems in process control. It seems like improvements have been ongoing for a really long time. It's good to see that some kind of standardization is finally arriving, at least on packaging lines.
I agree it is a good thing, Ann, especially as systems are becoming increasingly complex. I would imagine this becomes a more manageable world for control engineers -- greater complexity, simpler interfaces and less original programming.
Rob, my understanding is that better, more use-friendly HMI systems are key for both control engineers and operators. There's a shift underway to put more decision-making into the hands of lower-cost operators rather than engineers, which is made possible by more automation of functions and databases that experienced engineers used to do, as you've mentioned several times. This is also being facilitated by better HMI systems.
That's a new twist I was not aware of, Ann. I didn't realize the decision making was shifting to lower-cost operators. I knew vendors were relieving plant operators of the original programming that used to be part of running a plant, but I didn't realize that meant non-engineers had their hands on the controls.
The decision-making can shift to lower-cost operators because they're making fewer decisions--and more low-level ones--as more functions get automated. This is by no means the case everywhere, but it's yet another cost-cutting trend. That's what I've heard, anyway.
I guess that shouldn't be surprising, Ann. This could be part of the trend of replacing the baby-boomer engineers at plants. As the boomers retire, I hear they are being replaced by younger workers who have less automation and control experience, but more computer experience, which is mostly appropriate given the changing nature of automation. And of course they would be lower-cost workers simply because of their youth and inexperience.
Interesting, Rob. I hadn't connected the dots between the baby boomer retiring trend and younger workers with the cost-cutting trend of using less expensive operators instead of engineers on the factory floor. I'm not sure they're the same thing. First, the engineer vs operator trend is usually described as being due to improved HMI, as we were originally discussing. Plus, isn't the first trend occurring mostly within engineering?
A few weeks ago, Ford Motor Co. quietly announced that it was rolling out a new wrinkle to the powerful safety feature called stability control, adding even more lifesaving potential to a technology that has already been very successful.
It won't be too much longer and hardware design, as we used to know it, will be remembered alongside the slide rule and the Karnaugh map. You will need to move beyond those familiar bits and bytes into the new world of software centric design.
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