Yes, Ann, I was under the impression the shift from baby boomers to younger workers is still within the community of engineering. But maybe not. Maybe they're replacing the boomer engineers with non-engineers. I would make an interesting article.
The new thing here is the standardization of HMIs screens to a common look and feel. OEM machinery builders, apart from the packaging industry, might resist this just because the operator interface is a clear part of the value added of the machine. It will be interesting to see how widely this is adopted, especially adding the functionality of changing system parameters directly from the HMI (versus using the automation vendor's computer tools). Overall, the operator interface is going through a significant transformation with lower cost, much more capable hardware and now also touchscreens joining in. Should be interesting to see how it develops toward becoming more of a "Dashboard" for machines.
Ann, I think the trend here is younger, less technically educated operators rather than engineers being replaced by younger engineers. With the level of automation in some plants, even fewer operators are required. This movement is toward integrating training resources (ready access to documentation, training videos and more) from the HMI itself. That enables more self-teaching, and innovative use of machine animations which can "show" how to perform a maintenance task, for example, versus reading a series of steps. This type of animation using 3D models is still expensive to develop but doesn't seem beyond reach in the not-too-distant future. Some automation vendors are moving in this direction but getting photo-realistics 3D animation is still in the future. Great to see how things are moving ahead in this area.
The overlap between these two trends -- baby boomer retirement and lower-skilled operators taking over plant functions -- may be opportunisitic. If the baby boomers are retiring, it's a good time to switch from an engineer to an operator.
We can expect more progress on this topic in 2013. Even though the concept of standardizing machine user interfaces seems straightforward and easy, it really is an area that defies standardization. Especially in a packaging line, individual cells and operations have distinctly different needs. So it will be interesting to keep an eye on the work of the OMAC Packaging Workgroup this year.
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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