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HMI Definition

Fascinating current chapter of Techno at the technical high school, HMI means man-machine interface. It is the set of all past, present or future means that allow a human to control equipment. He gives it orders and the device executes, but can also provide information on its operation or its environment. Many methods have been used for this purpose since the Industrial Revolution. You may recognize the dashboard of your car, the touch screen of the ATM, but other examples can explain the magic of the HMI.

Understand the human-machine interface through different examples

The HMI refers to the dashboard that allows you to control a machine. Before arriving at Zenon software, humanity explored all avenues to communicate with its inventions.

  • In 1890, Herman Hollerith took advantage of computer technology using punched cards. This system made it possible to control period looms and barrel organs. Named Tabulating Machine Co, the curious electromechanical equipment that resulted would become the ancestor of the IBM computer. Partially automated, it was used for the census of the American population.
  • 1960: the first computer keyboard was created. Manufacturers agreed on the QWERTY layout that was developed on typewriters 100 years earlier. AZERTY and other schools appeared much later, but the principle remains the same: being able to communicate with a PC.
  • Also in the 1960s, the infrared remote control was born to replace an ultrasound model that was not effective enough. This interface allows you to change channels on the cathode television set. This HMI is still used for various home automation equipment and household appliances. In the same section, there are guidance boxes like for drones. Anecdotal fact, Nicolas Tesla owned an electric boat controlled by radio control in the 18th century.
  • Nowadays, buttons and levers have given way to the touch screen. This HMI controls the refrigerator, camera, various vending machines, ATMs, etc. The signal is transmitted through a panel with a very thin layer of electro-sensitive tin. As the tip of your finger is a conductor, the current passes and transforms into order for the device.
  • Another contemporary technology, leap motion is inspired by the operation of the touch screen, but without the slightest contact. Instead of a resistive panel, a system composed of LEDs, a magnetic field and a 3D camera carefully observes your hands. All it takes is a gesture to signify an order. Intended to replace the mouse and keyboard, this operational invention was a commercial failure.

The HMI is not limited only to the transmission of the order to the machine. Communication must also go the other way. Various technologies allow devices or equipment to talk to humans.

  • Sensors: these parts are intended to collect information of various kinds. On a car for example, they take the engine temperature, the gear engaged, the CO2 level, the speed of the car as well as various information. All these parameters are centralized on the on-board computer, but only the truly essential measurements are displayed on the console.
  • Needle dials and counters are much less present in cars in favor of digital technology, but are still legion on board planes. Reliable, they provide the pilot with all the essential information to control the aircraft. These classic HMIs are also common in an industrial environment, in this case production factories.

HMI mainly concerns industrial equipment

The man-machine interface is omnipresent in homes. However, it is mainly professionals who deal with these intermediaries on a daily basis. Many industries cannot do without dials and hands, even though digital devices are also available. In household appliance assembly lines, for example, robots are controlled by touch screens. Often, the monitor displays values ​​and gauges that the operator must fully master.

industrial hmi interface

Industrial production companies are not the only ones to use human-machine interfaces specific to their professions. Public services such as the road network, the electricity supplier or the fire brigade also sometimes operate levers and dials. The railway stations have slightly different representations from the others with an HMI allowing trains to be directed. Some commands have only one function. Others have several with possible complex settings.

In addition to operators, system integrators and engineers are required to use HMI in their profession. These people interpret data that a layman will not be able to read on a screen. Often, they follow training that allows them to understand the process taking place upstream. They also know the machine’s responses to each of their actions. In other words, HMIs in the industrial field are simplified and often include clear indications, but also require real skills.

Generally speaking, an industrial HMI works using several components including the

  • input/output sensors
  • control and data acquisition units (SCADA)
  • programmable controllers

Information is collected by sensors. They are centralized in SCADA units before being displayed on the screen in the form of a gauge or indication understandable by the operator. Unlike medical imaging which requires interpretation, HCI is an exact science. This interface also has the merit of bringing together in one place the information that humans need. He is kept informed of the operation of the equipment, but also of their performance.

In the factory, the HMI allows electromechanical engineers to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of a production unit. They start from the different parameters to make adjustments. Maintenance managers also rely on indicators. They rely on this information to manage risks. Regardless, each HMI has its own way of conveying danger. Red light, audible warning and other alert messages are provided for this purpose. Some machines can even send a text message to the manager.

HMI: man-machine interface SCADA: supervision-control-data acquisition
Made up of a dashboard, the HMI represents the visible part of the iceberg. This interface works thanks to the upstream work of a SCADA system and dozens of sensors. SCADA is the nervous system of an entire machine or factory. It includes different units. Besides the HMI, there is the PLC, RTUs and sensors.
The HMI constitutes the visible part. By analogy, it is the software that the operator must control. SCADA works mostly in the background. Discreet, this hardware component does most of the “work”. The repair involves welding and changing parts by a technician.
An HMI solution provides an ergonomic dashboard. A SCADA system must collect and record data. It can also include automation modules and other specific tasks.
Without an interface, humans will not be able to control a machine.

Without SCADA, equipment does not exist or becomes a simple automaton.

The advantages of a Zenon-type unified control solution

The world of HMI brings together different kinds of solutions to choose from. Here are some good reasons to adopt Zenon:

  • This HMI software has the particularity of being easily integrated into already functional equipment. You do not have to redo the installation from A to Z. The program is based on more than 300 communication protocols. It adapts to a wide variety of systems. Everything can be coordinated from a PC running Microsoft Windows.
  • A web server or HTML5 engine allows the operator to control the machines without being present in the factory. Zenon Online uses the same operation as an installation on a desktop PC. The user benefits from numerous updates offered by the HMI solution provider.
  • Users will be able to freely configure their dashboard, notably by creating widgets. They prioritize displaying the most relevant information they need. Certain indicators can be locked to prevent third parties from keeping information affecting the performance of a machine.
  • The application dedicated to industrial use suggests richly varied color palettes. This gives the opportunity to personalize the dashboard. The gain in ergonomics becomes palpable. It is also a way of helping color blind operators to clearly distinguish color codes.

More generally, here are some advantages of modern HMIs

  • Visibility is optimized thanks to a high-performance HMI. Humans can better supervise operations and recognize what stage the process is at. Furthermore, he also receives clear indications on the efficiency of the equipment. The dashboard gives an overview, but also allows you to diagnose a malfunction. The most efficient software can even anticipate failures by issuing a warning in advance.
  • Increasing efficiency is a primary reason why industrial companies invest in efficient HMI solutions. Managers want to have a visualization of operations in real time. They also want to boost productivity. It’s even better if it is possible to have analysis technologies. The competitiveness manager will look at the data to make concrete improvements.
  • Integrated control software reduces machine downtime. These must continue to rotate to be amortized. Alerts on the dashboard identify and locate problems. This sensor-based system even makes it possible to anticipate mechanical breakdowns. Because the operator and maintenance technician know exactly what is wrong, they can quickly fix it.
  • The gain in ergonomics is also an essential point. Current HMI modules communicate with humans using graphics or tables. These visualizations are a change from the needle dials and color codes of a few years ago. The operator no longer has to interpret the information. Moreover, modern interfaces are often accompanied by guides to remind you of the essential points, but also of what to do in the event of an anomaly.
  • Zenon is once again cited as an example of consolidating control units. This software allows you to order a set of equipment. It all happens on a single, maximally synthesized platform. This unification prevents the operator from having to look at numerous meters and other levers. The global view of the installations helps to make decisions quickly.
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The evolution of HMI solutions

In the all-digital era, HMI solutions are approaching science fiction. The Internet of Things, IoT, artificial intelligence and the discoveries of the last two decades have turned habits upside down.

  • Voice control is a reality. Just say OK Google, Alexa or other magic words for the interfaces to understand. This technology is still in its infancy, but virtual assistants already make it possible to control many applications. Connected speakers can dim the lights in your home, send music from Bari White and adjust the heating. Google Home, which is at the top of the intelligent HMI modules, lists the weather by searching on the Internet. He finds out about road traffic and even replaces the secretary by reminding people of appointments.
  • The multitouch touch screen is a reality. Tablets are integrated into factories that have freed themselves from cranks and taps. This digital technology benefits companies who spend less time training operators. The synthesized view also reduces the risk of omission since the employee no longer has to physically check flow rates and speeds. Furthermore, screens are more durable than mechanical parts such as buttons, keyboards and joysticks.
  • The HMI on a mobile phone represents the future in this field. Zenon is available in Android version. The workshop manager can preheat the devices even before arriving at the factory. The entrepreneur also has the possibility of seeing what is happening in real time in his company. Instead of waiting for verbal reports, it tracks operations through a shared interface. This is a very useful configuration during teleworking periods.
  • Intelligent control software is often attached to HMI and SCADA. This saves the operator from having to keep an eye on his dashboard. Only the most relevant information is communicated to him. He can still see the details if he wants, but overall the production unit can be managed autonomously using artificial intelligence and a little programming.
  • In the third millennium, HMI has evolved significantly. Software is already capable of reading facial expressions. With this in mind, the vigilance warning devices on the car issue an alert if the driver closes his eyes for more than two seconds. Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla and Starlink, is about to propose neural technology. Thanks to sensors that detect stimulated areas of the brain, humans will be able to control electromechanical equipment. In short, the era of bionic limbs and cyborg robots is not far away.

What is an HMI?

Industrial control systems are constantly evolving, and in today’s environment, the tasks operators must perform can change regularly.

Your controls must be both versatile and ergonomic in order to effectively manage this complexity.

This is one of the advantages of using HMI.

With a zenon-based graphical user interface (HMI), you can simply connect to machines and get operational data on all your equipment and installations in one place.

An HMI is defined as a man-machine interface.

In computing, the term “human-machine interface” refers to a dashboard that allows a person to interact with a machine, computer program, or entire system.

Technically, the term “human-machine interface” (HMI) can refer to any display used to communicate with a device, although it is most often used to describe displays used in industrial situations.

HMIs are used to display real-time data and allow the user to manage machines through a graphical user interface (GUI) on their computers.

Take the case of an automobile.

An automobile is a complex piece of machinery.

The engine, steering, headlights, air conditioning, radio and many other aspects can all be controlled by the driver.

However, you don’t have to directly interact with each of these parts to control them and get information about how they work.

The speedometer shows you how fast you are going.

You can use buttons to operate the radio, lights, and air conditioning, or use a touchscreen to manage them all.

The accelerator pedal is used to turn the engine, and the steering wheel is used to control the direction of the vehicle.

These control and feedback devices are analogous to the vehicle’s human-machine interface (HMI).

Imagine being able to manage all the parts of your car and receive detailed information about its operation from a single screen.

If you had the chance, you would make your car dashboard look even more like an HMI.

An HMI can take on different shapes and sizes in an industrial environment.

Screens can be stand-alone devices, dashboards coupled with other equipment, or tablet computers with a touch interface.

Whatever the case, its main function is to allow users to view operations data and manage machines through a web interface.

Operators can, for example, use a graphical user interface (GUI) to check which conveyor belts are in use or to regulate the temperature of an industrial water storage tank.

Using a Graphical User Interface

A graphical user interface (GUI) is used in many industries.

Various kinds of items, ranging from automobiles to food and beverages to pharmaceuticals, are frequently produced using this method of production.

An HMI can be used in a variety of industries, including energy, water, wastewater, construction and transportation.

HMIs are widely used by system integrators, operators and engineers, especially in the field of process control systems engineering, to display information.

Machines, cars, factories and buildings can all be controlled by these specialists using HMI.

Increasingly crucial in industrial facilities, HMIs are becoming increasingly useful as the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to play an increasingly important role.

Their functionality includes allowing you to review information about numerous linked devices within your property, as well as operate them.

HMI integration

HMI solutions are available in a variety of configurations, from a standalone terminal to a tablet to a dashboard connected to another machine.

It is possible to use a central HMI or many dispersed HMIs, all of which can be connected via the Internet, in a single installation.

A powerful HMI gives you superior insight into your operations at any time, whatever the time of day.

The performance of your equipment or installation can be viewed on a single dashboard, making it easier to manage.

You can even access this dashboard from anywhere in the world.

These capabilities help you steadily increase your productivity while responding to notifications more quickly over time.

hmi photo

Gaining efficiency is possible because an HMI provides continuous access to real-time data, allowing you to monitor production and adapt to changing demand conditions in real time.

Data visualization, especially when used in conjunction with data analysis tools, can help you identify areas where you can increase the efficiency of your business operations.

Reduce downtime: By receiving notifications on the single dashboard, you can respond to issues more quickly, thereby reducing downtime.

It is also possible to uncover indicators of potential mechanical problems and address them before they develop to the point of causing significant delay.

HMIs improve usability by making it simpler for users to monitor and understand data, as well as control machines and other equipment.

They offer data in the form of graphs, tables, and other visual representations, which help consumers understand the information easily.

Users can also customize their dashboards using zenon to meet their own requirements and tastes.

Zenon allows you to control all your equipment from a single platform, making it easier for new operators to learn. System unification:

As an added bonus, you can see all your data in one place, making it easy to get an overview of your entire system.

Plus, all users receive real-time updates, ensuring everyone on your team is constantly on the same page.

HMI and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition)

A significant number of SCADA and HMI systems are integrated into one larger system.

The SCADA system operates in the background, with the human machine interface (HMI) being the main point of interaction with users.

This is why users often think of them as a group.


Touchscreens have gained popularity following the proliferation of smartphones, in part due to the multi-touch screen, which allows users to interact with the device using many buttons and gestures at the same time.

With the introduction of zenon, the first HMI/SCADA to enable Multi-Touch gestures, this functionality is now accessible in the industrial sector as well.

With zenon’s Multi-Touch feature, you can zoom in and out, drag and drop objects on the screen, and perform other natural actions with just two fingers on the screen.

Here are some of the benefits of using a Multi-Touch HMI:

photo of a multitouch interface

Operational safety is improved through easy control of the HMI, decreasing the likelihood of errors.

The Multi-Touch feature also allows for two-handed use, meaning that some tasks will require the use of both hands when used together.

This feature helps prevent errors that could be costly or even fatal.

Zenon is a company specializing in ergonomics.

Multi-Touch gestures are simple to use and provide a comfortable experience.

Instead of complicated menu systems, you can use ergonomic drop-down toolbars to complete your tasks.

Users will find it very easy to drag and drop objects to get the information they want.

Reduced training time: The ease of use of the Multi-Touch feature reduces the time spent on training.

More experienced users can manage projects more efficiently and more safely if they learn to use the system more quickly.

Durability: Because there are no moving components, touchscreens are more resistant to harsh environments than keyboards, mice, and other devices.

This means your equipment will last longer and perform better.

Flexibility: Because a touchscreen eliminates the need to rewire a control panel, it is easier to make process adjustments.

Just update your program.

Users can also simply design their own custom dashboards based on their specific requirements and preferences.

Remote control

The ability to manage the current HMI remotely is another useful feature.

With zenon, authorized users can view dashboards and reports from any computer with a web browser, anywhere.

You can use a PC in the office, a tablet at home or a smartphone to monitor operations and carry out operational tasks.

When you have remote control, you can supervise without having to be onsite, and you have greater process control and easier access to your data.