Computer-based Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) was developed in the 1980s. it took some time to develop it into the present conditions.
Today’s user interfaces are much more advanced than their predecessor thanks to better hardware, networks, communication protocols, displays, and technological advancements. Strong connectivity has made supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that go beyond discrete user interface functions ubiquitous for decades. Most industrial users have a well-developed understanding of what HMI/SCADA is and what it can do.
With the recent innovations, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), system integrators (SIs), and end users have added features that can improve efficiency and enhance user interaction.
The recent decade
Technology developed rapidly. Faster processors, faster data connections, artificial intelligence, and the cloud have changed the way people work with smartphones, computers, or laptops. Every industry and sector, from shipyards to hospitals to all business models, has been captured by digital transformation. The way people interact with computers has barely evolved in the last 30 years.
Most work with computers is still done with a keyboard and mouse. In private daily life, the touchscreen of a smartphone or tablet has become the new norm, but even this more than ten-year-old technology has not yet reached all the places where it could make people’s lives easier. But things are changing slowly.
Multiple pilot projects around the world demonstrate the promise of health services through digitization, supported by technologies such as VR and AR and doctor-controlled robots in a new and intuitive way. With today’s human-machine interfaces, a specialist in Berlin can easily treat a patient in Tokyo. The development of new promising surgical solutions is fast, but the development of digital UX in the daily life of hospitals is quite slow. New-generation tools can change this and make the daily work of doctors easier.
The same logic applies to ports, airports, or traffic control centers in general. Instead of just looking at screens, innovative HMI technologies such as augmented reality or 3D volume displays can improve all jobs requiring traffic monitoring and tracking.
The latest HMI technology also has the potential to restore jobs that digitalization has seemingly already destroyed. For example, in retail. Why shouldn’t a friendly shopkeeper soon use augmented reality or hologram technology to place the product the customers are looking for on the counter and quickly present the available colors and models even if the product is not in stock, but then automatically shipped to your address? This experience can offer customers something Amazon can’t, reviving both the old brick-and-mortar store and making store clerks’ jobs easier.
Modern HMI/SCADA can be built and deployed based on a network-based architecture, regardless of whether the applications are used from one or more locations. The network architecture allows the user to communicate from any target device. It also allows developers to focus on the content they are visualizing while designing with confidence, knowing that the data will be presented in the format and location each end-user needs.
Expanding and unlocking new potential
There are other ways to extend the user interface beyond the traditional limitations. Mobile phone cameras combined with the ability to read QR codes enable new workflows where users can easily access relevant information. Web widgets and libraries support standard and efficient use and reuse of code elements.
Technical architectures should support full scalability from the smallest systems to unlimited configurations if sufficient hardware is available. Business models should be simplified so that developers can fully focus on the existing application without worrying about the limitations of the number of tags and screens.
Industrial HMI/SCADA has evolved into a very mature space, and it is important to remember the evolution that has taken place over the years, but this legacy does not prevent innovation. On the contrary, the accelerating performance of hardware, software, and communication technologies allows HMI/SCADA to expand in new directions.
For end users, SI companies, and OEMs to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace—while differentiating their automation and equipment offerings—designers should look to HMI/SCADA platforms that offer web-based deployment, personal reconfigurability, and more. Combining these technical features with easy-to-use business models really opens new and better HMI/SCADA user interface experiences.