The Critical Connection: How to Interface with Your Manufacturing Equipment

The relationship between your workers and your manufacturing technology investments is still a relationship. It takes more than a pretty face to make things work. In manufacturing technology terms, this critical component is called the human-machine interface (HMI). Not only is competition imposing an unrelenting focus on improving machine productivity and efficiency, increasingly, there is a need for tracking and mining the valuable production data in those machines and putting it to use for a more efficient and profitable business. How operators, supervisors and business principals interface with their equipment is changing as dramatically as the interface devices themselves.

 

It’s getting more informative and more intuitive

 

The relationship between your workers and your manufacturing technology investments is still a relationship. It takes more than a pretty face to make things work. In manufacturing technology terms, this critical component is called the human-machine interface (HMI). Not only is competition imposing an unrelenting focus on improving machine productivity and efficiency, increasingly, there is a need for tracking and mining the valuable production data in those machines and putting it to use for a more efficient and profitable business.

 

How operators, supervisors and business principals interface with their equipment is changing as dramatically as the interface devices themselves.

 

“Most of our industrial indicators are showing positive signs for continued growth in HMI products through 2017,” says Bill Faber, director, industrial automation business group product management and marketing for Delta Products Corporation. “Companies are continuing to make business investments in automation to achieve higher levels of efficiencies.”

 

Connectivity with handheld devices is one feature of 21st-Century HMI thinking. Image courtesy startribune.com.
Connectivity with handheld devices is one feature of 21st-Century HMI thinking. Image courtesy startribune.com.

 

As industrial machinery use grows in the U.S., there is a greater need to interface with machinery in a more intuitive and informative way, technology providers say. “There are many transformations our industry is taking to accomplish this,” adds Remy Echavarria, Delta PLC and HMI product manager. “On one hand, we have the operators, on the other hand, we have the machine owners. Both are looking to operate their equipment more efficiently, but they’re going about it in different ways. To satisfy both, the HMI is a gateway and a visualization tool – transferring useful data/information and presenting data on a screen in a way to build information profiles about the machine and involving the operator in key decisions.”

 

From Data to Information Profiles

 

These information profiles are today’s version of the old recipes you’d see in the HMIs of the past, he continues. “This data is rapidly moving toward cloud storage and is developed off processed data transmitted to it through standalone devices,” Echavarria continues. “The HMI serves not only as a gateway for the data, but also a way to transform the data to informative application profiles. Through application profiling, machine owners can get machine-specific operating data converted to information, allowing them to quickly identify and act on any potential issues that may be coming down the line. This saves both the operator and the machine owner costs in avoiding unnecessary routine maintenance and downtime. We need both computation algorithms and operator judgment to convert raw data to real actionable information. And HMIs with the right feature set will help bridge that gap.”

 

Delta’s “eServer” is a primary application, according to the company. It allows you to take Delta’s HMI and transmit all the data from it to a local analytics database, similar to a data concentrator. This, in turn, ensures both the data and information from the HMI will be analyzed on a local server to help perform smart actions. Another feature involves the transmitting of this data to Delta’s proprietary DIACloud, which not only enables all the analytics that could be done locally, but also provides a secure connection to/from the devices and allows for remote monitoring and remote maintenance.

 

Formatting, copying and encrypting files also figure in to the mix. Image courtesy Delta Products Corp.
Formatting, copying and encrypting files also figure in to the mix. Image courtesy Delta Products Corp.

 

All of this is pointless, however, without the ability to communicate with end devices. This is why HMI providers including Delta are committed to provide extensive third-party device support. Delta’s HMI supports connectivity with over 30 manufacturers and over 100 devices. This allows the HMI to act not only as a gateway and display, but also as a data concentrator.

 

There are a few other factors to address, such as control options, and, of course, pricing. Control options refer to the ability of some HMIs to also function as a machine controller. Used properly, this capability can reduce the complexity of a system.

 

The best advice is to choose functionality, then compare pricing. Selecting an underpowered HMI based on price will eventually result in much greater costs in the long run.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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