In the food processing industry, users choose human machine interfaces (HMI) based on their potential to make operational performance improvements, which generally means the HMI needs to be easy to use. Ease of use supports increased operator efficiency and productivity. But with today’s technology advances, there’s lots more to think about. I recently got to discuss this in an article in Food Processing. Here are some of the highlights.
Selecting the right HMI for a food processing application today is a balancing act between performance and durability. Yes, industrial displays are available as panel PCs and web panels that offer a lot of computing power at the machine. The intelligence of the machine doesn’t matter, however, if it can’t endure a true industrial environment. IP66 ratings are required to assure the HMI can withstand high pressure water jets, plus the operating temperatures in a food processing plant need displays with wide operating temperature ratings. Since HMIs are only replaced every 7-10 years, that makes the ability to resist chemicals, impact, scratches and dust even more important.
All industries including food processing are reeling from the generational shift in workforce. Today’s workers have different digital expectations of their interfaces and both the training time and productivity will be greatly enhanced if the user chooses HMIs that meet those expectations – HMIs with highly intuitive and graphical smartphone-like operation. Efficiency is also increased when HMIs have protective capacitance touchscreen technology that allow users to interact with the screens even when wearing gloves. Operators with various levels of training respond immediately to the ability to swipe, pinch and zoom as they do on their own devices.
Today’s HMIs go far beyond visualization capability and users should look for IIoT-ready machines that will allow analytics and valuable insights to be made available both to the equipment operators and shared with all stakeholders. Likewise, collaboration via HTML5 is also important to mitigate the reduction in expert workers and to allow operations, maintenance and management to all view the same screen at the same time no matter where they are.
Just as industrial displays need protection from the harsh environment, they also need to be shielded from the increasing number of cyberattacks impacting industry. Making sure the HMI is manufactured in accord with IEC 62443 standards will help reduce the risk.
Far from just a nice, easy-to-use screen, today’s HMIs can significantly boost the productivity and profitability of a food processing plant.