HMI usually stands for “human machine interface.” This term points to the flow and format of the user screens displayed on the control panel of a CNC machine or piece of manufacturing equipment. System developers strive to make the HMI usable, efficient and attractive.
We could also talk about the “human manufacturing interface”—the image that manufacturing projects to the outside world. For years, advocates for manufacturing have worked hard to counter the prevailing impression that all plants and factories are dirty, dimly lit and dangerous places where workers toil under oppressive conditions. Of course, a great many manufacturing facilities are more like science laboratories or art studios than most people imagine.
Even so, manufacturing may be poised for a yet more modern and attractive makeover. Glimpses of this new look were evident at the recent EMO show in Hannover, Germany. For a strong hint of this new image, take out your smartphone, tablet or other mobile device and turn it on. What you see is a lot like what many machine tools and manufacturing systems are starting to resemble. By design, machine tools are beginning to look and act like oversized digital devices. Their appearance and functionality are being modeled after the digital devices that enable everyday communication and connectivity.
At EMO, this emerging HMI was especially evident at the DMG Mori Seiki display, which occupied an entire exhibit hall of its own at the huge fairgrounds. Although a number of machine tool builders have turned to high-profile industrial stylists to create sleek and chic designs, this builder has been particularly proactive at “shaping” the look and feel of machine tools to match the expectations of professionals who adopt every advance in personal electronic devices.
More importantly, the company introduced a new “operating system” for CNCs and shop networks that will be available on its high-tech machines early next year. Called CELOS, this operating system gives the CNC unit the distinctive, multimedia functionality of a smartphone or tablet. For example, both the screen and the keypad use multi-touch technology for navigation and interaction. More important, CELOS is designed to be the basis for a comprehensive shop network that grows in capability as the user downloads application modules just as you would on a mobile device. Apps for shop monitoring, ERP and other basics will be available initially, but many others are currently under development for rollout later.
Other exhibitors at EMO showed that they are moving in the same direction. This is a positive trend. It enables manufacturing to merge with other aspects of human endeavor. This progression will ultimately overcome the “separateness” that has existed since the first Industrial Revolution. The new HMI is truly a portal that draws in the generation that has grown up in a digital, wireless world. Where young people find manufacturing workplaces with a comfortable, familiar (inter)face, they will discern career paths compatible with their view of a promising future.