Discrete and Process Automation

The impact of the human-machine interface on industrial automation and productivity

28 April 2023
This HMI displays and monitors work orders (top half of the screen) for an airplane production floor at a university facility. Key performance indicators are displayed on the bottom left; overall equipment effectiveness data is on the bottom right. Source: Tamaki Controls

The human-machine interface (HMI) has transformed the way that industrial automation is managed, as it allows operators to interact with and control industrial machines and processes, as well as quickly adjust processes in response to changing conditions. It can take various forms, from simple buttons and switches to sophisticated graphical user interfaces.

By combining physical components such as keyboards, monitors and touchscreens with software components such as specialized graphical user interfaces, HMI provides users with the ability to control and monitor industrial automation processes. This combination of hardware and software creates an efficient, user-friendly interface between the operator and the industrial system. A plant-floor operator may utilize an HMI in the same way a homeowner interacts with their AC system to monitor and adjust the temperature of a storage tank of industrial water or to determine whether or not a specific pump in the plant is functioning as expected.

Characteristics of an optimal HMI

The goal of a well-designed HMI should be to go beyond simple process control. It must be risk-free, dependable and economical, and it must give the operator a bird's-eye perspective of the whole operation. All tasks should be accomplished with little to no effort on the part of the user, and productivity should go up as a result. HMIs exchange data with programmable logic controllers and input/output sensors to gather and provide data to humans. Depending on how they are set up, HMI displays may be used for simple tasks like tracking and monitoring or for complex tasks like turning machines off or raising the production pace. The following are qualities that a well-designed HMI should have:

  • Every major programmable logic controller brand's protocol should be supported as machines used in industries might come from anywhere in the globe and be equipped with a wide variety of controllers.
  • It should be able to work in challenging conditions.
  • A high-quality backlight and detailed graphics are must-haves.
  • USB, Ethernet and SD card slots are required.
  • Capable of recording data is a must.
  • The ease of use of the program is also of paramount importance.

[Learn more about HMI technology on GlobalSpec]

Advantages of HMI systems

  • HMI systems help reduce the need for manual labor, as operators can quickly identify potential issues and make changes to the system remotely, eliminating the need for on-site personnel while also increasing safety, as operators can control the system from a safe distance.
  • It can improve decision-making and reduce the risk of human error.
  • By eliminating the need for personnel to be in the vicinity of dangerous machinery, HMI systems can reduce risk and provide a safer working environment for those who must work near hazardous equipment.
  • HMI technology allows operators to quickly and easily examine the state of the system, including the presence or absence of any dangers, and take corrective measures as needed.
  • Time spent operating lights, machines and other equipment is reduced due to streamlined inputs.
  • Inexpensive quality assurance and time savings and increased productivity for businesses.

Applications of HMI in industries

Using supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) management software like Ignition or ThinManager, industrial HMI systems are often used to operate complicated manufacturing and industrial processes by a small number of workers working remotely. Since these systems are dependable and simple to operate, they have been embraced by industries of all kinds. In the realm of automation, they may be used for everything from security and access control to warehouse management and inventory tracking. The following are some examples of where the HMI technology is being employed:

  • Manufacturing: HMI is commonly used in manufacturing environments to control and monitor production processes, such as assembly lines and automated machinery. This allows operators to monitor machine performance, troubleshoot issues, and make adjustments as necessary to improve efficiency and productivity.
  • Oil and gas: HMI is used in the oil and gas industry to control and monitor drilling and production processes, as well as to manage and control the flow of oil and gas through pipelines.
  • Power generation: HMI is used in power generation plants to monitor and control the performance of turbines, generators and other equipment. This allows operators to ensure that the power generation process is running efficiently and safely.
  • Food and beverage: HMI is used in the food and beverage industry to control and monitor production processes, such as packaging and labeling, as well as to manage inventory and logistics.
  • Pharmaceuticals: HMI is used in the pharmaceutical industry to control and monitor production processes, such as mixing and packaging, as well as to manage inventory and logistics.
  • Automotive: HMI is used in the automotive industry to control and monitor production processes, such as welding, painting and assembly, as well as to manage inventory and logistics.
  • Water and wastewater treatment: HMI is used to monitor and control the performance of water and wastewater treatment plants, allowing operators to ensure that the treatment process is running efficiently and safely.


HMI is essential for any industrial application, as it allows for user-friendly control of machines and processes, improves operational efficiency and productivity, and provides enhanced data collection. Human machine interfaces are used whenever humans need to engage with machines or processes in an industry. The future of HMI is bright as data plays an increasingly crucial role in production. Even though we've made a lot of progress, there are still countless opportunities to further this technology.

To contact the author of this article, email GlobalSpecEditors@globalspec.com

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