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EAO – Your Expert Partner for

Human Machine Interfaces

White Paper

Design Considerations for Effective

Human Machine Interface Systems
John J. Pannone, VP Sales, HMI Systems

Human Machine Interface (HMI) Systems provide the controls

by which a user operates a machine, system, or instrument.
Sophisticated HMI Systems enable reliable operations of
technology in every application, including high-speed trains,
CNC machining centers, semiconductor production equipment,
and medical diagnostic and laboratory equipment. HMI Systems
Picture Picture
encompass all the elements a person will touch, see, hear, or (grayscale)
use to perform control functions and receive feedback on those
actions. Today’s HMI Systems can include supervisory control
and data acquisition (SCADA) and alarming, as well as deliver
information to and receive information from, other networked
systems, such as materials-handling or enterprise-resource- An HMI System is the principle point of contact between user and equipment.
planning systems (ERP).

The task of an HMI System is to make the function of a HMI solutions are functionally critical to major industry sectors
technology self-evident to the user. A well-designed HMI – machinery, transportation, electronics, medical, audio/video,
fits the user’s image of the task he or she will perform. The telecommunications, process control, life sciences, lifting and
effectiveness of the HMI can affect the acceptance of the entire moving machinery, unattended payment terminals, and public
system; in fact in many applications it can impact the overall access. Depending on application requirements, an HMI System
success or failure of a product. The HMI System is judged by its can be anything from a panel with a set of electromechanical
usability, which includes how easy it is to learn as well as how controls such as a pushbutton, keylock, or rotary switch, to
productive the user can be. a multi-layered graphical touchscreen interface networked to
production and/or corporate systems.
An HMI System performs the functions that the user requires
to carry out the prescribed task with a minimum of expended
effort while improving productivity. Finally, it needs to perform to Why is Well-Considered HMI Design Important?
the user’s satisfaction. It is the task of everyone involved in the
HMI design, the engineers, management, HMI consultant, and The interactive impact of the human/machine interface is much
industrial designer, to meet the defined usability requirements for more significant than its basic functionality. HMI Systems are
a specific HMI System. the principal point of contact between the user and a machine
or process. A good HMI System makes this interaction seem
A well-designed HMI System does more than just present intuitive. A poor HMI System can alienate users or potential
control functions and information; it provides an operator customers, encourage users to circumnavigate the system, or
with active functions to perform, feedback on the results of result in poor or unsafe system performance. As the direct link
those actions, and information on the system’s performance. to the user, HMIs directly represent the core system’s quality
Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

and value. A sophisticated mix of design

and layout considerations, such as
contemporary style, color, and tactile
response coupled with ergonomic and
intuitive operation, create an optimal user
experience that determines a customer’s
satisfaction with the core product.

An example of the impact of effective

HMI System design can be found in
the iPhone™ developed by Apple
Computer, Inc. Here, an innovative
In depth knowledge of relevant ergonomic, safety, and industry standards is critical to an effective
design based on capacitive technology HMI System.
enhanced the usability of a smartphone
by introducing an elegant user interface application of engineering best practices is the case for applications subject
that also increased functionality and throughout design and panel layout, to ADA (Americans with Disabilities
productivity. The combination of quality, production, testing, and quality assurance Act) Guidelines. On the other hand,
innovation, and intuitive design proved processes. Just as critical, in-depth production floor applications are
to be an extremely effective marketing knowledge of, and compliance with all typically robust and strictly functional,
strategy, illustrating the enhanced value of relevant ergonomic, safety, and industry driven by the need to withstand a harsh
elegant control functionality applied to a standards must inform each step of the environment. In the transportation
commonplace product. design and manufacturing cycle. Clear industry, for example, consistency with a
definitions of the functional requirements, previous design – to provide a consistent
Not every HMI would benefit from a the operator’s level of expertise, and any operator environment – is very often the
capacitive iPhone-like interface, however. communications/interactions with other ruling priority.
In other applications, for example systems provide the starting point in the
where motion is controlled, a capacitive knowledge-intensive design process. General functionality
interface could be less effective than How many functions will be controlled by
a joystick in providing the operator this interface? Where a single function
effective control and tactile feedback. Defining the operational/functional might be served by pushbutton, keylock,
The overriding rule is to fit the technology requirements and rotary switches, multiple functions
to the application. Understanding the The tools needed for effective operator could require several screen displays to
diverse criteria driving layout, component control of the equipment as well as the cover operator functions and options.
selection, ergonomics, safety, industry/ requirements of the overall application What kind of visual, auditory, or tactile
international regulations, and a range of determine the selection of interface feedback will best serve the operator in
other design and manufacturing options functions. There are many factors to performing the defined functions?
and constraints is absolutely critical to consider in the initial design phase that
optimal HMI System design. are critical to both the HMI and the core
system to which it is interfaced. Besides
industry and functional requirements,
How Do You Design an HMI System? selection priorities also depend upon
the experience level of the operator
A highly-reliable HMI System that and environment, among many other
delivers safe, cost-effective, consistent factors. The driving priority might tilt
It is important to provide control for all required
and intuitive performance relies on the toward ergonomics for example, as operations.

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

Does the operation require real-time Operator feedback Lifecycle durability

indicators? Multiple data-entry points? Feedback is critical to operator Not only should the HMI System be
How many times is a button pressed? effectiveness and efficiency. Feedback rugged enough to withstand the elements
Are there safety considerations? Are can be visual, auditory, tactile, or and heavy use, but it should also last for
emergency stop switches required? any combination necessary for the the duration of the equipment lifecycle.
Which standards apply – industry, safety, application. Feedback is essential in For example, a Magnetic Resonance
international? systems that have no mechanical travel, Imaging (MRI) HMI System interface
such as a touchscreen or a capacitive should last at least 10 years, while
The goal is to provide an HMI System device that when triggered has no a kiosk for public use could have a
that clearly communicates the information moving parts. In some cases feedback shorter lifecycle due to a more dynamic
necessary to accomplish the specific provides confirmation of an action, while environment eager to adopt the latest
task assigned to the defined component, in others it adds to the functionality. in HMI technology, or just the fact that
system, or equipment. the Return-On-Investment for a kiosk is
Interface/Interconnection shorter and the replacement cycle faster.
Degree of input complexity with other systems
Input can be as simple as an on/ HMI Systems must be able to interface/ A product is as good as its weakest
off switch or a touchscreen display. interconnect with the system under link. If the HMI System fails, it is most
Touchscreen HMI Systems are control as well as other related systems. often perceived as a failure of the core
increasingly popular in public transaction For example, in an industrial setting system itself. Therefore the operator
applications, because they can simplify the HMI might connect via hardwire or interface should be designed to an even
complex operations, and tolerate a a serial bus to I/O points that provide higher level of reliability, because it is the
moderate degree of rough use. They machine status. Additionally, it might be
are also used in clean production networked to a manufacturing execution
system and a supply logistics/inventory
system. In an ATM application, for
example, the HMI interface securely
connects to the bank’s financial systems.

Environmental considerations
The application environment – If an HMI System fails, it is often perceived as a
encompassing both physical location failure of the core system.
and vertical industry environment
In public transactions, a well-designed
HMI System can simplify complex operations. – determines HMI System durability critical link between the operator and the
requirements. Environmental stresses equipment. An operator or customer’s
environments, for example, in the include exposure to moisture and the perception of the interface – particularly if
semiconductor industry, where they elements, temperature extremes, wear it is a highly reliable and intuitive interface,
are often interfaced to machines that and tear, vandalism, and general rough with good styling, tactile response, etc. –
perform many different sets of processes. use characteristic of harsh environments extends to the user’s appreciation of the
Touchscreens are not a good choice in such as an industrial production floor. equipment itself.
environments where oil, condensation, For exterior use, consideration also must
or airborne debris can collect on flat be given to the effects of prolonged Style
surfaces. Defining input requirements will exposure to UV radiation. In addition HMI System style is a high priority for
help decide which control technology is a display might need to work in a high many consumer goods and especially
best suited for a specific application. ambient light environment. luxury products. In the marine industry,
the consoles for high-performance racing

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

boats feature contemporary styling and

an array of ergonomic technologies.
Such as responsive tactile feel and color
illumination in support of the confirmation
of quality and luxury befitting a product
commanding a high end price point. HMI
style considerations are effective when
they create a level of product differentiation
that delivers a unique selling proposition.

Regulatory/standards considerations
A thorough knowledge of technical
Panel layout, switch selection, information presentation, and feedback are important considerations
ergonomic, design, and manufacturing for operator and user or patient.
standards is fundamental to HMI System
design. These include engineering Will the operator be a passive/intuitive Supervisors
standards, such as MIL-STD-1472F, user? If so, commands/functions should A higher level of control is generally
which establishes human engineering be simple with an easy-to-comprehend granted to supervisors and access may
design criteria for military systems, interface. For this type of user, repeatability be controlled by a password/log-in
subsystems, equipment, and facilities; is also important – information and actions procedure. This may include separate
federal standards set by the Americans should appear consistently from use to screens of detailed information and offer
With Disabilities Act; and industry use. more data entry options.
guidelines such as those from SEMI
S2-93, the global semiconductor For an expert user, where more Maintenance
industry association, covering HMI for sophisticated control is desirable, there Maintenance personnel can be given
semiconductor manufacturing equipment. may be multiple layers or levels for full access to machine control and
Additional HMI specifications are defined interfacing with equipment. data displays. These capabilities are
by ANSI, IEEE, ISO, and others. often inaccessible by operators and
Typically there are three general categories supervisors.
Depending on the ultimate product of users (whether they are novices or
application, observing appropriate experts): operators, supervisors, and For any user along the range from
standards assures that a product will maintenance personnel. intuitive to expert, interface ergonomic
meet industry criteria. Standards govern considerations should include: panel
placement of components, legend Operators layout, HMI component selection,
size and color, emergency stop switch The primary concern is providing the information presentation, feedback,
configuration and guards, and other operator with intuitive access to the subset and safety considerations.
ergonomic factors that improve usability, of controls necessary for daily production
efficiency, and safety. See page 15. tasks on the equipment. In general, the Panel layout
idea is to minimize unnecessary data The panel layout should be designed to
while keeping detailed data available upon provide the operator functional groups
Define the operator request. Changing parameters is typically of related information in a predictable
Know your operators – the key to a restricted to prevent potential errors or and consistent manner. In addition,
successful HMI System implementation experimentation. The controls should allow the system must require an operator
requires a well-grounded definition and an operator to make intelligent decisions to initiate action and keep the operator
understanding of the operators. but limit the potential for error or improper informed by providing timely feedback
control settings. on those actions. The layout should be

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

organized so that the operator is clearly Keep colors bold and bright and use information – provide clear labels. If there
prompted in advance when the next a neutral background if necessary are alarms, give them a clear meaning
operator action is required. to make them stand out. Use colors and provide error reporting. The operator
conservatively, conventionally, and should be informed in plain language that
The HMI designer needs to select the consistently. Color should never be the an error has occurred and if possible,
appropriate control technologies as well sole source of information. given guidance on how to solve it or
as switches and components to suit the whom to contact. Help files should be
application. In general, any displays should HMI illumination technology can integrate easily accessed.
be located close to the controls that affect the use of multiple indication colors using
them. The panel layout should minimize widely available RGB LEDs. The LEDs Don’t use acronyms unless all potential
the need for the operator to change can generate each primary color but users clearly understand their meanings.
positions, present the controls according also blend colors to create an unlimited Provide support for multiple language
to their expected order of use, and group number of indication choices. This color implementation.
related controls together. Emergency-stop generation capability provides an HMI
and related safety-critical controls need to designer with the ability for multiple uses User feedback
be clearly identified and typically require of a single discrete switch for multiple Feedback is critical to ergonomic
two distinct actions to activate – for functions via a combination of software industrial design. Make sure the results
example, a push and twist, or push and sequence and color creation. of pressing a control button, toggling
pull for release. Controls should also allow a switch, or entering a command are
fast recovery from error. Information presentation absolutely clear. Determine if operator
Once again, simplicity is the key. Don’t feedback is visual, auditory, tactile, or a
HMI component selection crowd a screen – avoid cluttering it with combination of multiple techniques.
HMI designers can simplify their irrelevant data. Forcing an operator
search for the appropriate switch or to search for the required information Illumination of multi-colored LEDs,
HMI component by carefully analyzing increases response time and potential illumination of different switches or
their application requirements then errors. Have a consistent set of menu switch positions, on-screen highlights,
determining the following: buttons and functions from screen to flashing lights or icons – can each provide
Electrical ratings screen. important feedback to the operator such
Actuation preferences (momentary, as system status, confirmation of an
maintained, rotary, etc.) If you have multiple screens of operation, or fault/ alarm. HMI display
Physical configuration and mounting information, make the operator’s progress
needs through them intuitive and logical. Always
Special requirements such as provide a clear way back. Whenever
illumination, marking, environmental appropriate, provide information
sealing, etc. graphically – use meters or moving bars
– rather than alphanumeric indicators.
Color scheme Line up numeric values and clearly label
The key to effective use of color is with units. Keep fonts to a minimum, use
Operator feedback can be visual, auditory,
simplicity. Avoid too many colors or upper and lower case (more legible), and tactile, or any combination.
flashing alarms. Stick with the “traffic use dark fonts on a light background at a
light” model for key actions: size that is easily readable. technology can also use multicolored
Red for stop/failure/fault illumination to distinguish various
Yellow for warning To indicate changing states, use functions and processes performed by
Green for OK/start/go/pass changing icons. Once again, don’t rely multi-operational equipment.
solely on color to indicate important

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

Be consistent in your approach to How Do You Choose the Best when gloves are worn. A rotary switch
illumination. If a switch with halo Control Technologies Appropriate with marked iterations can also be used
illumination indicates standby in one to the Application? to provide a quick visual indication.
instance, don’t use it to indicate a different
process status, unless a change of halo Once you have defined HMI functionality, Rocker/toggle switches provide higher
color is generated. Feedback response you are ready to investigate control current capability and are also used when
signals can also be audible or tactile, such technologies. Each technology has a very quick visual indication of “on” or
as a mechanical click or snap, or a tactile advantages and disadvantages related “off” is necessary. Rocker/toggle switches
haptic response or vibration. to the HMI System, equipment, and are prevalent in low-cost applications,
application. because they can handle direct power
The feedback could also represent a pre- demands without incorporating additional
emptive warning. Here familiar symbolic Cursor Control (Trackball, joystick, current handling devices, such as relays.
keypad, touchpad, etc.)
The selection between different control Rotary-switch and keylock technologies
technologies is primarily determined by serve best when the application requires
the resolution of control that is required position indicators such as those used in
by the application. For example, a heater or fan control. Keylocks provide
medical device used to outline a patient’s an additional layer of security to the
tumor – in order to obliterate or radiate application. Rotary switches also can be
the area without inflicting collateral used for an application requiring multiple
It’s important to provide intuitive feedback to the positions – up to 12 indexed stops with
operator for a rapid response.
highly complex contact configurations.
colors serve effectively, for example,
red signifies a fault condition and green Slide switches are the technology of
indicates the satisfactory completion of a choice when ease-of-use and low-cost
process. In the computer industry, blue is switching is desirable – commonly found
used to indicate that it is safe to perform on notebook cases and handheld on/
a service function, for example to remove off functionality. A slide switch can take
A joystick can provide granular or fine control.
a piece of hardware while a system is computer users from operational to
running. It is most important that the damage – requires the finest degree of programming mode quickly and intuitively.
whole feedback function feels intuitive control achievable. A trackball or joystick
to the operator, encouraging a rapid enables granular, pixel-by-pixel control, a Short travel technologies (Conductive
and intuitive response supporting optimal far higher resolution than possible with a rubber, membrane, keyboard, keypad, etc.)
operator performance and also customer typical PC point-and-click controller. Short travel technologies have been
satisfaction. developed for industries where ease
Switches (Pushbutton, rocker, slide, of cleaning or disinfecting is mandatory,
Differentiate between data entry points keylock, rotary, etc.)
and status indication so that an operator Pushbutton switches allow the option of
can distinguish between what can be illumination to indicate open/close switch
changed and what is being reported status when a quick visual indication is
at a glance. desired. They are also useful in machinery
and machine tools, electronic production,
rail and bus transportation, medical
treatment and diagnostics, or other
Short travel technology can be provided with flush
environments for easier manipulation resilient surfaces.

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

for example pharmaceutical, chemical, as well as by color requirements. Active

and food processing, or in a hazardous matrix LCD technologies are commonly
environment where a sealed system used for color functionality, while legacy
is required. Short travel technology LCD technology is used in applications
can include cost effective, conductive where monochromatic feedback is
rubber keys in a typical keyboard, dome sufficient or power consumption is an
keys under an overlay, or a multi-layer issue. A newer technology, OLEDS,
membrane. organic (carbon-based) light-emitting
diodes, can currently support smaller
Touch and switching technologies, displays and offer very low power
(Capacitive, Piezo, high frequency, etc.) consumption, but have not yet been
Applications operating in aggressive widely implemented in commercial
environments such as public access or, applications.
for example, soda dispensing, where the
syrupy liquid tends to get into crevices Interactive Displays, Touchscreen
and gum up the machinery – require Touchscreen technologies offer a range
a rugged, completely sealed surface. of functionalities and characteristics that
Piezo, capacitive, and high frequency govern HMI Systems choice according
technologies all offer rugged switch to application and environment. It is
technology with long life cycles and important to determine which touch
low maintenance costs. Piezo products technology will be used in the early
can use virtually any top layer material stages of the design cycle as the different
including stainless steel, aluminum, options offer quite unique electrical and
silicon rubber, or plastic with either tactile mechanical requirements.
or non-tactile activation.
Capacitive touchscreen technology
Interactive displays provide the user required
Capacitive or high-frequency signals consists of an insulator surface such as information when needed.
electronically activate an on/off function glass, which is coated with a transparent
by changing capacitive load. Capacitive/ conductor that transmits a finger’s light over the surface of the screen.
high-frequency technologies require electrical current to embedded sensors. When a finger or other object breaks
the use of nonconductive front panel The resulting change in capacitance those beams, the X/Y coordinates are
materials which can be up to 15 mm activates the on/off signal. Capacitive calculated and processed. These cost-
thick, for example those operating technology offers one-touch or multi- effective touchscreens can also be used
under protective glass within hazardous touch options, the latter has been by workers with gloves and are relatively
environments. popularized for mobile handheld use by impervious to damage.
the iPhone. Capacitive touchscreens
Display technologies (LCD, Active Matrix, transmit 75% of the monitor light Resistive touchscreen technology offers
OLED, FED, Plasma, etc.) (compared to 50% by resistive cost-effective, durable performance
The basic function of displays in HMI touchscreens), resulting in a clearer in environments where equipment
applications is to provide an information picture. They use only conductive input, must stand up to contaminants and
source – operators interact to obtain usually a finger, in order to register a liquids, such as restaurants, factories,
information or to prompt for the next touch. and medical environments. The glass
screen. Display technology choices are screen covers two opposing layers,
dictated by the HMI System environment Infrared touchscreen technology projects each coated with a transparent resistive
and its degree of ambient illumination, horizontal and vertical beams of infrared material called indium tin oxide. When

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

touched, the conductive coating makes E, W arrangement of Hall Effect cells and more expensive, which can be
electrical contact with the coating on the positioned around a central magnet detrimental in some applications, such as
outer layer, the touch coordinates are provides low-cost, and stable directional transportation.
registered by the controller to activate the control that is often used in video games
on/off function. Resistive touchscreens or for security surveillance cameras, where As an example, an application requiring
don’t support multi-touch and require a motion resolution need not be that fine. a hard-wired assembly or panel might
firm touch by finger or stylus. They also consist of a metal panel plate with 10
support gloved operation in harsh or cold switches connected to two wires apiece,
environments. Connecting/Communicating with 20 wires in all. Each of these wires
an HMI System must be conjoined with 10 application
Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) touch connectors beneath the panel plate. An
technology sends acoustic waves across Once you have established how your added illumination requirement would
a glass surface from one transducer HMI will look, feel, and operate, you
to another positioned on an X/Y grid. need to consider how the HMI will
The receiving transducer detects if a connect to and communicate with the
wave has been disrupted by touch and core equipment or system under control.
identifies its coordinates for conversion Typically, communication can be achieved
to an electrical signal. SAW serves well through several approaches: hard wired
in outdoor and harsh environments connection, serial bus connection, or
because it can be activated by a heavy wireless connection. Each approach has
stylus or gloved fingers. SAW allows pros and cons – selection will depend Hardwired connections are still used in many
100% light throughput and perfect image on how your HMI needs to fit within your applications.
clarity, making it best for displaying application.
detailed graphics. However, it is the most double the wire count, resulting in 40 wire
expensive of the four technologies. Selecting the appropriate communications connections to the application.
technologies may include combining
Motion Control some or all of these approaches. In some industries, such as rolling stock,
Motion control most often employs users prefer hard-wired HMI Systems,
joystick technology for applications Hard-wired connections in many instances because of an
requiring macro control, such as Conventional, hard wired systems are attachment to legacy technology, but also
controlling the bucket on a payloader, a still used in many transportation and because of the ripple effect impacting
robotic arm, or directional control for a industrial legacy systems. Hard wired documentation, maintenance, service,
piece of materials handling equipment, systems require no special tools and are and the effect on training operational
or pull mechanisms. A joystick can also simple, visible, and easy to understand, personnel across the vast scale of the
be used for higher-resolution applications especially where the HMI interface fleet. Such a change represents a very
as illustrated by the medical application controls a single machine. substantial challenge in terms of time,
example above, under “Cursor Control.” effort, and cost that may not be offset by
There are many drawbacks, including enhanced efficiency, performance, and
Joystick outputs can yield simple difficulty integrating changes or new revenues.
contact – open/closure in an N, S, features – new features require new
E, and W directional layout. Motion wiring. Conventional wiring also requires Serial Bus Systems
control applications usually work with more space due to the number of wires As equipment and control systems
proportional output, where the joystick and the actual size of the wires and larger became more complex and data hungry,
is interfaced with a sensor or array of connectors due to higher pin counts. A transmission of data became a critical
sensors for directional control. An N, S, hard-wired system is typically heavier issue. Data transmission depends on

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

distance and speed. The longer the cable buses include: PROFIBUS, DeviceNet, faced substantial challenges and costs
length, the lower the transmission speed ControlNet, CAN/CANOpen, KeyLink, implementing both local- and wide-area
to keep bit-error rates acceptable. InterBus, Foundation Field Bus, and networks (WLANs and WWANs), among
HART. them lack of standardization, multiple
To facilitate faster data transmission vendors and incompatible equipment,
rates, devices incorporated serial bus Higher level networks connect with field interference issues, and network reliability
connections – especially in electronics, bus protocols primarily across variations and security breaches. Great strides
semiconductor, machining, industrial, of Ethernet. These include: PROFINET, have been made in all of these areas, but
process and transportation. A serial bus Ethernet/IP, Ethernet Powerlink, interference, reliability, and security continue
approach eliminated data transmission EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP and SERCOS III. to present difficulties in the HMI universe.
slowdowns due to cable length and For industrial applications, there are now
delivered reliable, real-time operations and additional protocol layers that format data A WWAN utilizes mobile communication
work-in-process feedback. to enable efficient data exchange across networks such as cellular, UMTS, GPRS,
different networks, buses, and pieces of CDMA2000, GSM, CDPD, Mobitex,
Bus systems provide many advantages equipment. HSDPA, 3G, and WiMax. All of these
over hard wired connections, including networks offer wide service coverage and
easy addition of new functionality – There are also buses for specific are normally used for citywide, nationwide,
typically through software – without adding applications, including BACnet, LonTalk, or even global digital data exchange. In
or replacing hardware. Wiring is much Konnex, C-Bus and others for building cellular communication, GSM (Global
simpler and more flexible with smaller automation; and LIN, CAN J1939, System for Mobile Communication) is
cables and connectors allowing for more FlexRay, and others for automotive the leader with over 80% market share,
compact design, and easier hardware applications. followed by CDMA (Code Division Multiple
updating and relocation. Bus systems also Access). The biggest issues regarding data
allow for any combination of information In addition to the above mentioned exchange over a WWAN are the associated
from multiple different sources to control technologies, there are also USB costs, bandwidth, and IP management.
output devices. There are tradeoffs, connections between industrial networks However, as technologies improve and
however. Systems are more complex and USB hubs and ports. costs drop, WWAN is predicted to replace
when only a small number of inputs and traditional microwave, RF (radio frequency),
outputs (I/O points) are required. Also, Buses bring all the switching and and satellite communication due to its
special tools and well-trained personnel illumination wires out as one connection, lower infrastructure costs.
are required to design and service a bus reducing wiring, assembly, repair/
system. maintenance time, and weight which in WLANs transmit data over a shorter
transportation translates into lower fuel distance, normally 100 meters or so.
Field bus protocols evolved for costs. Bus connections incur slightly In terms of transmission technology,
interconnecting industrial drives, higher upfront costs, but these are WLAN uses spread-spectrum or OFDM
motors, actuators and controllers. Field outweighed by increased performance (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing)
and long-term savings. modulation technology to provide the
convenience of exchanging data without
Wireless connections/communications the limitation of cables.
Industrial applications have employed
wireless technologies over the last 20 or Popular wireless communication
so years, primarily to take advantage of technologies being applied to industrial
real-time data transmission, application applications include WiFi, Bluetooth,
mobility, and remote management and ZigBee.
Bus systems simplify wiring and provide easy
addition of new functionality. capabilities. Corporations and government

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

Safety considerations According to international standards, International and U.S. Standards

For HMI Systems design, safety the emergency stop function must be for HMI Systems
considerations are a critical part of the initiated by a single human action using
system. Human error is a contributing a manually actuated control device. The Key to the entire HMI System design
factor in most accidents in high-risk E-Stop function must be operational at all cycle is a thorough knowledge of
environments. Clear presentation of alarms times and designed to stop the machine federal, industry, ergonomic, safety, and
as well as the ability to report errors, are without creating additional hazards. design standards. These include Human
crucial elements in any HMI. Resetting the electrical system can only Engineering standards, such as MIL-
be done by first releasing the E-Stop that STD-1472F, which establishes human
In addition, emergency stop switches, was originally activated. If E-Stops were engineering design criteria for military
generally referred to as E-Stops, ensure activated at multiple locations, all must systems, subsystems, equipment, and
the safety of persons and machinery be released before machinery restart. It facilities; federal standards like those set
and provide consistent, predictable, should be noted that resetting E-Stops by the Americans with Disabilities Act;
failsafe control response. A wide range does not in itself restart the machinery; and industry guidelines such as those
of electrical machinery must have these it only permits restarting through normal from SEMI, the global semiconductor
specialized switch controls for emergency procedures appropriate for the machinery industry association, covering HMI for
shutdown to meet workplace safety and involved. semiconductor manufacturing equipment.
established international and domestic
regulatory requirements. E-Stops differ Ergonomic, electrical, mechanical, Additional HMI specifications are
from simple stop switches (that merely and color requirements for E-Stops furnished by ANSI, IEEE, ISO, and others.
turn equipment off) in that they offer are quite specific. The E-Stop control, The EU provides specifications in its EU
“foolproof” equipment shutdown. This is commonly a distinctive pushbutton Machinery Directive for any equipment
accomplished through advanced switch switch or “mushroom type” pushbutton for domestic, commercial, or industrial
design that requires a twist, pull, or key (although wires, ropes, bars, handles, or applications that have parts actuated
to release electrical contacts to allow foot pedals are sometimes employed), by a power source other than manual
machinery restart. must use direct mechanical action with effort. Meeting this directive earns the
mechanical latching. When the E-Stop equipment a CE mark.
E-Stops are generally designed for failsafe is activated, it permanently opens the
operation so the stop command has electrical contacts through a latching There are also standards for public
priority over the sustaining function. This mechanism. To close the electrical access HMI Systems, including security
has led to innovative switch designs that contacts and allow machinery restart, and cryptography standards for systems
prevent “blocking” (wanton or accidental the E-Stop actuator must be manually that handle payment cards; specific
obstruction of the actuator with foreign unlatched with a twist or a key release. flammability standards and test procedures
objects) and “teasing” (which could result Some E-Stop actuators can simply be for transportation systems, and medical
in premature or unreliable action). pulled to close the electrical contacts. device and equipment standards.
This approach may be less desirable from
a safety standpoint than a twist or key to Depending on the ultimate product
release, which requires a more deliberate application, observing appropriate
action by an operator. standards assures that a product will meet
industry criteria. This includes placement
Designers should be aware of of components, legend size and color,
international and U.S. standards and emergency stop switch configuration and
regulations that impact the design and guards, and other ergonomic factors that
Observing appropriate safety standards assures
use of E-Stops. improve usability, efficiency, and safety.
that a product will meet industry criteria. (See standards)

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone


Manufacturing and
Process Industries
Manufacturing production floors – and
particularly machine tool manufacturing
environments present a number
of challenges for HMI Systems.
Requirements include environmental
sealing (IP 65 or greater) against
moisture, cutting fluids, oil, and dirt. HMI
Systems must also be able to withstand In an industrial environment, HMI System design is primarily about functions.
temperature variations, excessive heat
and cold, etc., as well as shock, vibration, The interface functionality requires a quite often such as stop/start and quick
and high duty cycle. broad selection of switching technologies positioning can be associated with
that address the range of applications discrete push buttons. Also frequently-
Where water, fuel, cleaning solutions, that might be present. Options range from used controller sequences can be
fine dust, and other materials may come different types of actuator functions and associated as a macro of functions,
in contact with HMI control panels the illumination to push buttons, keylocks for activated by a switch on the control panel
following, international ingress protection security, and emergency stop buttons for as well.
(IP) codes apply: safety—all in varying shapes, colors, and
IP 40 – granular material (dial <1 mm) sizes to make the HMIS easily operable. Communications technology could
tight but not protected from water; include hardwired connections or any
IP 60 – dust tight but not protected Most manufacturing equipment panels number of bus connections such as
from water; have a basic controller for the higher-level Ethernet, Profitnet, CAN/Open, etc.
IP 65 – dust tight and protected functions of the application. Typically Wireless technologies can be used in this
against water and liquid jets; alphanumeric data input is required, environment but interference from the
IP 67 – dust tight and protected which might be through a keyboard or core machinery itself must be taken into
against temporary water and liquid other data input device. Displays with consideration as a risk factor.
immersion. basic functionally such as display of
key data, alarming and system status Integration with other equipment or
In an industrial environment HMI System may also be used, though without a lot systems in a machine center environment
design is primarily about functions. Key of graphics. Touchscreen technologies may include infrastructure—such as
capabilities can include: aren’t always the best choice for industrial conveyor belts and other materials
Real-time operation to detect state manufacturing environments because handling equipment.
changes and take appropriate actions; airborne contaminants can create a
Deterministic operations to execute a significant build up that is heavy enough In many manufacturing environments the
pre-determined and pre-ordered set to affect system performance. HMI System is not only an interface to
of instructions; equipment under control, but also to a
Reliable operation often with Because operators frequently have to SCADA system. Here a computer system
redundancy; move tool configurations as they work, coordinates and may control processes in
Safe operation; controls incorporate scrolling between real time. The system would include the
Rugged construction to withstand screens and setup to enter the job HMI interface as well as programmable
the manufacturing environment. parameters. Functions that are used logic controls (PLCs), remote terminal

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

units (RTUs) and sensors to log data,

update process status and send
alarms. The HMI software for a SCADA
system may actually “mimic” the real
manufacturing process in a diagram so
the operator can see the manufacturing
process and the effects of operator
actions on that process. Where once HMI
software was closely tied to the hardware
in the SCADA system, today there is
more opportunity to mix and match
An HMI System for a locomotive could include alarm and status signals from a variety of the
vehicle’s subsystems.
Transportation Industry
There are two distinct categories of long life, bright illumination, and also saves require that controls be accessible for
HMI Systems related to transportation: on power consumption. Additional lens passengers with disabilities, utilizing the
operator controls and passenger protection can be achieved with extended overall simple functionality and ease-of-
controls. or sealed rings and lens caps. Multiple use criteria applicable to all public access
shapes, textures, and haptic response applications.
For operators of rail vehicles, buses, are used to differentiate specific control
and emergency vehicles, the key to an functions and provide a tactile indicator Passenger applications often use audible
effective HMI System is consistent and without the need to look at the controls. feedback such as voice/sound indicators
predictable performance with time-proven Also, Operator HMIs are designed to allow for door open and close functions. In a
controls that are familiar to multiple for fast and complete test procedures stop-request application, passengers can
operators. As transportation systems required prior to operation. alert the operator by pushing a button
grow more complex, operator controls when approaching a desired stop. They
should be easier to understand and use An HMI System for a locomotive, for receive immediate confirmatory feedback
in order to reduce the risk of human error. example, could include alarm and status via a sound, or visually via LED illumination
signals from a variety of the vehicle’s on a control panel where LEDs illuminate
Meeting industry best practices is subsystems, such as braking, propulsion, requested stops in the same way that
important in placement of components, positive train control, surveillance, HVAC, interior elevator panels illuminate selected
large surface area, legend size and color, and sander systems. The system should floors. Other passenger HMI controls
emergency stop switch configuration, be engineered to fit standard cab console include override systems, emergency-call
protection guards and shields, and other panel dimensions and opening, so that equipment, prompted by audible, visual,
ergonomic factors. The goal in designing retrofitting is easy. A typical locomotive and hidden indicators and programmable
operator controls is to provide optimal application could include four or five acoustic warning signals.
usability, efficiency, and safety. modules in the forward-facing control
console and two or three in the head-end Controls must also be durable and as
Measures to assure safety and usability power (HEP) or electric train supply (ETS) tamper-resistant as possible. Durable
include: flush-mounted switch controls, console. mechanical stops protect against
rotary and linear actuators, and excessive force on both the operational
indicators, as well as screw terminal or HMI Systems that offer reliable, and passenger sides. Controls on vehicle
PIT (push in terminals) to protect against predictable, and ergonomic performance interiors must be able to withstand low-
accidental operation. Sealed light- are important on both the operator and pressure hose downs, and high-pressure
emitting diode (LED) illumination offers public-facing sides. ADA regulations hosing on the outside.

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

The confined space of passenger switch, which allows operation with Medical Equipment
car interiors are subject to stringent the palm of the hand, in order to guard The medical environment is quite
regulations regarding the flammability of against accidental shutdown and the broad with applications that include
combustible materials. At issue are the loss of work-in-process. Other specific clinical, diagnostic, patient use, or
burn rate and the resulting flammability, characteristics include some use of skilled operator use equipment such
toxicity, and smoke density. The Federal tethered pendants with operations as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
Railway Administration (FRA) under the brought to a tethered box—both Diagnostic equipment manufacturers
DOT defines all safety standards for the wired and wireless boxes allowing the focus on patient-facing priorities
industry. Fire safety regulations for railroad operator to move away from the main including ergonomics and reassurance.
passenger equipment are specified under control panel to perform tasks such as Large diagnostic equipment like MRI,
49 CFR Ch.11 (10-1-04 238.103. This setting parameters, for example. Most Computed Tomography (CT), or other
document identifies testing methodology other functions are similar to other Diagnostic X-Ray machines, where the
and performance related parameters manufacturing environments. patient is being scanned from a stationary
required to maintain a safe operation position, have both operator and patient
environment. It is the American National controls to stop the process in case of
Standards Institute (ANSI) that specifies patient discomfort. The operator is highly
the detailed testing methodology and skilled, and the control station is very
performance criteria parameters. For similar to a computer workstation. The
example, ASTM 162-02a covers testing controlling interface keyboard is typically
for the surface flammability of materials comprised of a cursor control device and
(burn rate) and ASTM 662-03, testing for short travel technology, which may be
the specific optical density of smoke, and EtherCAT has been specifically developed for the located outside of the equipment suite.
Bombardier SMP 800C, for testing for semiconductor environment.

toxic gas generation. Clinical equipment could be an infusion

Communications use a range of or blood pump, or machine for dialysis
Semiconductor Production hardwired/bus control and wireless for control. Cleanliness is a key priority,
Applications in semiconductor tend to the tethered applications. A specific incorporating antimicrobial surfaces with
have many operator terminals. They version of Ethernet has been developed the ability to be sterilized. Most functions
often consist of touchscreen displays for the semiconductor environment. are in the hands of a skilled operator but
that are essentially flat-screen computers Called EtherCAT Industrial Ethernet, is in clinical equipment may be operated by a
of various sizes interfaced to production use in a wide variety of semiconductor skilled patient/user as well. Displays are
machines. The environment is generally and flat panel display manufacturing used to show key data, alarming, and
extremely clean. Emergency stops operations. EtherCAT provides superior system status. Touchscreens may be
are always a discrete function in this performance, bandwidth, and topology used but must be resistant to cleaning
environment. The SEMI S2 Guidelines flexibility to cover the entire range solutions to limit the spread of infection.
identifies them as Emergency Machine of communications requirements in
Off (EMO) stops, distinguished from semiconductor manufacturing equipment Communications include CANbus,
E-stop configurations used in other with a single technology: from process wired, and Ethernet, but wireless
industries. The primary difference is control via control computer integration to communication is difficult in this
SEMI’s requirement of a guard over the high-end motion control applications. environment. It is thought to be a little

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

less reliable, susceptible to signal ruggedized to withstand the environment. PIN security requirements cover the
interference, and may interfere with ATMs are almost impenetrable. secure management, processing and
other equipment due to unsafe radiated Illumination and audio considerations transmission of Personal Identification
emissions. are also critical. An outdoor environment Number (PIN) data during online and
might provide excessive ambient light offline payment card transactions at
Public Access during the day and no light at night – ATMs, and attended and unattended
Public use equipment – ATMs, kiosks, selecting a display that can work in both point-of-sale (POS) terminals.
gas pumps and self-checkouts, etc. – sets of conditions is key. In the same Objectives include:
is one of the most difficult environments. way, if audio cues are used, the impact of PINs used in transactions are
The controls must be rugged enough ambient noise should be considered. processed using equipment and
to survive harsh use but also as simple methodologies that ensure that they
as possible. Operators are assumed are kept secure;
to be unskilled. Control panels use big Cryptographic keys used for PIN
buttons and target areas, and display encryption/decryption and related
menus should require a minimal learning key management are created using
curve with quick input. Touchscreens processes that ensure that it is
are widely used because they present a not possible to predict any key or
quick graphical display and menu to walk determine that certain keys are more
Security is an important factor in public
the user through the process. Intuitive access applications. probable than others;
operation prevails. If the human factor Keys are conveyed or transmitted in a
is poor or it is intimidating to use, the An operator interface should provide the secure manner;
product will not be successful – intuitive ability to safeguard information. ATM Key loading to hosts and PIN entry
operation is a feature of the marketing debit transactions require that personal devices is handled in a secure manner;
strategy. If the application requires information be entered, resulting in a Keys are used in a manner that
considerable input, a touchscreen is not higher level of security and standards. prevents or detects their unauthorized
optimal. A keyboard and sequenced Financial institutions must use high level usage;
menus may be better alternative. 3DES encryption and not allow personal Keys are administered in a secure
data to be stored in local or remote manner;
Public applications represent a security locations. Equipment used to process PINs and
risk, so they have to be sufficiently keys is managed in a secure manner.

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

U.S. and Industry Standards by U.S. Federal:

Application flammability-smoke-locomotive-cabs-
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) 19946592##ixzz0n5YL4A8X
Manufacturing and Process Industries (shop Standards for Accessible Design, 28 CFR
floor applications) Part 36 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
International standards: American National Standards Institute
EU Current Machinery Directive, from Dec. NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers (ANSI)
2009 Association) similar to the international IP standard, e.g., the NEMA 4 standard is IEEE
ce_new_machinery.phpMIL-STD-1472F, similar to IP 65
addresses human engineering design IRIS (International Railway Industry
criteria for military systems, subsystems, ANSI (American National Standards Institute) Standard)
equipment, and facilities Rev. 02; ensures products meet globally
Industry standards: recognized quality levels
IP (International Ingress Protection) codes
IEC Safety Integrity level (SIL) Semiconductor Industry
ISO 9001 and ISO 14001
Semiconductor Equipment and Materials
CE Mark – Meets European Union (EU) Transportation Industry International
requirements and guidelines for safety, index.htm
health, or environmental requirements ISO (International Standards 
Organization): 9000, specifically for Safety Guidelines for Semiconductor
CSA International – Canadian railway Manufacturing Equipment SEMI S2-93
Standards Association provides product
testing and certification EN 5155 develops standards for Safety Guidelines for Ergonomics/Human
electronics on railway passenger vehicles Factors Engineering
UL, C-UL – Underwriters Laboratories, of Semiconductor Manufacturing
U.S./Canadian rating organization The Federal Railroad Administration Equipment SEMI S8-95
(FRA, under the U.S. Department of
VDE – Electrical, Electronic & Information Transportation) is responsible for defining Medical Industry
Technologies, a German testing organization standards covering safety issues ISO Standards for medical devices – ICS
11.1100.20 and ICS 11.040.01 [5], [6]
DIN EN ISO 13850: 2008 ASTM (under ANSI) specifies testing
(Safety of machinery – Emergency stop – procedures in transportation; A range of Quality and risk management – ISO
Principles of design) ASTM standards provide methodology 13485 and ISO 14971
The first edition of ISO 13850 (published and performance specifications for
in 1996) replaced the EN 418 “Emergency testing FRA regulations flammability IEC 60601-1 and IEC 62304 for medical
Stop” directive in March 2008. Significant testing software
changes in this second draft:
49 CFR Appendix B to Part 238 – Test U.S. FDA 21 CFR Subchapter H –
Mandate manual resetting of E-Stops. Methods and Performance Criteria for Medical Devices [7]
Require E-Stops to use mechanical the Flammability and Smoke Emission
latching. Characteristics of Materials Used in Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act – Section
State that the revision will remain Passenger Cars and Locomotive Cabs 510(k) – for pre-market notifications
unchanged until 2010. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
PCI 2.1 encryption standards

Design Considerations for Effective Human Machine Interface Systems John J. Pannone

EAO Switch Corporation

98 Washington Street
Milford CT 06460
T: (203) 877 4577
F: (203) 877 3694

Member of the EAO Group