HMI redefined: a radical technological change in Human Machine Interface (HMI) hardware – and HMI development

Technical Theme: key technical developments from across the packaging machinery industry. A TWM report.

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OPTIMA Nonwoven’s Gustav Marwitz discusses the recent research results.

Smartphones and tablets are continually driving tissue machine operator’s expectations from packaging equipment. Until June 2017, Optima has been involved with a project (Phasenübergreifende Entwicklung von Benutzerschnittstellen im Maschinen- und Anlagenbau – or PEBeMA) to determine the cross-phase development of user interfaces in  mechanical and plant engineering.

One part of the research project handles organisational issues, and this ensures that the Human Machine Interface (HMI) development has a higher priority in the engineering process. The goals of this part strive for more speed, more flexibility and high HMI quality early on.

The second part involved hardware. Today’s smartphones and tablets mean that users demand intuitive and clearly arranged interfaces in order to operate their devices. But these devices do not always transfer practically over to being used in every instance in the tissue industry. Other devices promise even greater potential.

In our research study, we asked whether it was possible to merge the hardware requirements from the world of the tissue packaging industry with the world of consumer electronics.

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The HMI: Optima technician at the control touchscreen displaying information and receiving data input

Industry 4.0: HMI for the modern age
An HMI usually brings to mind the control panel of a machine, which today normally comes in the form of a touchscreen for displaying information and receiving data input in order to pass it on to the machine control system. In actuality, there are other HMIs. Technically, every single adjustment knob and on/off button is a HMI. They, too, are used to issue “commands” to the machine.

The new design of HMIs incorporates all of these control options to generate a new complete HMI concept.

The project examined which forms of operations work best in which cases. This required considering which types of devices might make a splash in the near future. The variety of devices emerging is immense; smartwatches and tablets wired to gloves to virtual, augmented and mixed reality devices. This is why it is especially important for us to understand the potential of the device characteristics against the needs of packaging machine users. Determining the diverse needs and scenarios was one task in the early stage of the project.

All of the devices have been analysed based on criteria that are typically very important in mechanical and plant engineering. For example, converting and packaging machinery can be loud, which means audible warning signals are only suited for a few instances and voice input does not really work for machine control.

The flexible availability of information is another example. Already today, a machine operator or service technician can use the HMI of an Optima packaging system to watch videos of functions and make adjustments to match the situation on the machine, and this is very helpful for understanding processes. The only downside is limited to being mounted to the machine.

Comparing the actual and target state becomes a challenge even if the process under observation is just a few feet away from the user interface. Tablets are one possible solution for this. But are they rugged enough for use in harsh industrial applications? Flexibility and durability are additional criteria for selecting devices.

Analysis and classification of technology was followed by prototype development of control concepts and validating such concepts. Using precise application scenarios as a basis, the PEBeMA project group has developed design rules and strategies for the new, innovative mix of technology. This was the first step to making it possible to implement the individual requirements for the HMI in projects at all.

The market launch for the new HMI concepts was held in April and it provided a first glimpse into this area. Hololens and other hardware options are now available. They will be further developed and continually analysed by Optima. Meanwhile, the first applications with new hardware have been delivered to customers.

Development: A new workflow for the HMI 
Until very recently, machines were developed sequentially. One step followed the next until finally the software had to be written, usually under tight deadlines. Optima Nonwovens implemented an organisational form suited for mechatronics early on and took part in several research projects. Today, the Engineering 3.0 process has become an established part of the company. An important part of that process is the parallel workflows for mechanical systems, electronics and software, which requires early coordination in a project.

But even under Engineering 3.0, HMI development was simply lumped with software development to date. The PEBeMA project has changed that. Meanwhile, HMI development will run in parallel as a fourth discipline alongside the three mentioned previously.

The lean UX approach used for HMI development has found its way into “cross-phase development”. This means that HMI development not only takes place at a new point in time, it also has new “rules of the game” to follow.

In this approach, the requirements of the customer always take centre stage. These requirements are determined and defined specific to users. This is a fundamental difference compared to previous HMIs, which had a structure focused solely on functions.

The structure and display of new HMIs  can be oriented to various user roles. The requirements for a machine operator are very different from those of a service technician or a technical director. The latter is interested primarily in analyses such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), while the former appreciates a clearly arranged format selection. Thus, customised representations on the HMI are useful.

Away from functions, towards users
These individual user scenarios that a HMI must display can be represented and developed easily with the help of a separate symbolic language. Over the course of the PEBeMA project, Optima Nonwovens has implemented and adapted a specific symbolic language (Scribbles).

In conjunction with agile software development, the customer benefits from an accelerated processing time. The customer provides feedback on “its” HMI modules and, even when nearing the project end, change requests relating to the HMI are still possible, while a developed HMI is also available at a much earlier point.

In order to prevent detrimental effects on the cost, HMIs – like the machines themselves – will have a modular design. At the same time, the HMI development for each module never really reaches an end.

A continuous improvement process ensures optimal quality and the base functionality is expanded and continuously improved. Many operating systems and control programmes experience successive development based on this principle.

Examples of this include computer and smartphone operating systems as well as automobile control software.

This article was written for Tissue World magazine by Optima Nonwoven’s engineering group leader Gustav Marwitz.

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