What is High-Performance HMI?

Aug. 17, 2023
Find out the difference between traditional and high-performance HMI screen styles, as well as which type manufacturers tend to use most and how difficult it is to switch from one version to another.


David Greenfield Welcome to the Automation World Gets Your Questions Answered podcast where we connect with industry experts to get the answers you need about industrial automation technologies. I'm David Greenfield, editor in chief at Automation World and the question will be answering in this episode is what is high performance HMI and joining me to answer this question is Travis Cox with Inductive Automation which makes the Ignition software development environment that can be used for HMI, SCADA, MES, alarming, reporting and industrial Internet of Things applications. So thanks for joining me, Travis.

Travis Cox Thanks for having me, David.

David Greenfield All right, so you know, let's get right to the reader question. First off, there they were asking what is high performance HMI and about its uses. But let's just start with what's meant by the term high performance when it comes to HMI screens.

Travis Cox Yeah, the principle of based or behind high formation wise is really to utilize designs and displays that help the viewer make the best decision in the shortest amount of time, right? So with interactive with the HMI, the idea is that we want the HMI to tell you what's going on and tell you about issues without having to have a lot of background knowledge and domain expertise, right? Especially if you bring on new people, you know, new operators are coming in. Sometimes you spend hours and hours, if not days and days on just training and how the HMI works. Well, the idea behind this will of these principles help them, you know, do their job a lot faster.

David Greenfield What's the big difference then? You know, if it's so much easier to understand and comprehend, even for people without a lot of experience, as you mentioned, what are the big differences between high performance HMI screen graphics and the more standard ones that we've seen for years and years now?

Travis Cox Yeah, I mean, so there's quite a few differences and I know there's a lot of people that are pretty not say against, but you know that are not you know that are hesitant to kind of go to the high permission by principles but you know they kind of like to stay with the more classic traditional representations.I mean, a lot of the classic ones. It's a literal visualization representation of the process, right? You're seeing exactly how it's laid out and you get a lot of detail on the screens, a lot of information you have to kind of digest and there's a lot of colors, a lot of lot going on. It's because, you know we want to represent the process the best way we possibly can.Well, at high performance HMI, it's really there. There they look a lot more simplistic, right? And they're typically using grayscale rather than traditional graphics and bright colors. And conceptually, this operates under the idea of visually contrasting critical and noncritical states, so that way when something goes wrong, high performance HMI will quickly guide the user to the source of the problem just at at a glance. For example, if we had a real grayscale screen at a glance, if I saw a red, that's gonna signify that there is an issue, right? If there's a, you know you read orange or yellow, especially if there's not only color but there's multiple like redundant coatings. If they're symbols and things that go along with that helps us understand where those issues are really coming from. Plus, it's all about adding more context to the data and that's really important, right? Want to be able to look at the screen and be able to understand the data that's being presented in the fastest way possible, and I always like to use the example. If you go to the doctor and you get, you know your they do some uh, you know blood work on you and you get the results back and this give you a bunch of numbers you know and the numbers are just all the same color.

How would you know without having to go look up each of those numbers? What's the normal range of that number? Am I good? Am I bad? And so we want to be able to apply these principles to an HMI so that instead of just getting back numbers, I get back, for example, a range. And I can see an indication in the middle of that range. Hey that I'm in a good I'm in the accepted range or no, I'm outside of it and now it's colorized. Ohh, that's a that's a number that I should be looking out for, right? If I have a set point out there, if there's for example, I have a tank and there's a level on that tank, I want to know is that within the right set point. Uh, you know, is it too high or too low? And if I have a little what they call moving out log indicator, I can quickly see if that's in the accepted range or not. Just by saying that it's in inside of it, right? And if it's out, I get a color, some representation. So it's not only about providing making it easier to understand what's going on, but providing that context making so that people don't have to do a lot of thinking, right? The human brain is really, really good at actually finding out all these like, like visually seeing these, these little, you know, like digesting that information. We want to be able to help it out.

David Greenfield I like the examples you gave there with the lab report information from your doctor and such. And this is kind of getting back to your point about the point highlighting the criticality of some information versus others. Would you say this is kind of part of an idea or a concept around HMI to make it not a screen that you're necessarily have to look at all the time and be focused on, but something that you can glance at periodically and if there's anything trending out of the normative range that is going to show immediately. So is this to kind of open up the field of view for operators? Is that kind of the idea behind it, or is it from something else?

Travis Cox No, exactly. I mean, you look at it there a lot of the, a lot of our systems have a a local display next to it, right. So we can kind of go over to it and take a look at it, but you don't wanna park somebody in front of that display all the time watching it really intently.

Am I going to have problems? You know you want to be able to do their job more effectively, and so the idea of having a screen that even if they're further back, they can look at it and get a sense if there's if things are OK or if it's not right. And if it's not, they can kind of go in and get a lot more detail about, you know, going a little closer to see exactly what part of the process and really understand that a lot, a lot faster. Think about it. We started getting digital displays right and we had to then put our process on digital display. Before that it was very, you know, very much in a control room you had lights and indicators and buttons and all the physical things. Right now we have the digital display and we said, hey, our engineers, your job now let's go put your process on that digital display and it's like well, how do we do that the most effective, we didn't really give people a set of guide tools or guides and how to do that effectively and that's really what high performance HMI is all about doing is given the tools and guides to help them display it in the best way possible.

And you get to critical processes. Like, if you look at in petrochemical or if you're doing nuclear reactors in your monitoring, that you're gonna need these principles because there's just so much data and you got to make sense to that data very quickly.

David Greenfield Thanks for clarifying that. So, you know, do you know where this idea of high performance HMI idea originated from? Was there a certain event that started it or is it from a group of people? Do you know anything about the history of this?

Travis Cox So I don't know the exact history. There's been a couple of decades where, you know, engineers have had to kind of think about how their displays and how they're going to provide that information the best way possible, right to their operators and especially for these, like I said, critical processes like nuclear reactors and petrochemical, they had to kind of do the faster because they had a need for that. So I don't know exactly who started a trend, but it was just engineers in their kind of thought process and the applying some of these rules and working with you know some UI people to help you figure out like and you know, especially even psychologists, right, to figure out how, how do we do this. You know the best way. So I think that's sort of how it kind of came about, but I think really what I think stem the growth of this a lot was the High Performance HMI handbook and we talked a lot about that by Bill Hollifield and Eddie Habibi. That book, it's on Amazon. I think that came out in 2008 – it’s a great example of putting all of those the guidelines and you know, in an easy form to digest. And I think from there a lot more people start to become more receptive to it and you know products like us, you know as a vendor, we really saw the value. And so we made sure all these techniques are easy to do in the product. And so the more that we did that and the more that people could take advantage of it, right, rather than have it do all of it on their own, they're given more tools to do their do it most effectively.

David Greenfield You would say it was pretty much an organic process coming out of industry? It wasn't like any one technology supplier or another who started it. It was more of an organic process. Is that a fair characterization?

Travis Cox Yeah, that's a fair characterization because I've even looked it up to try and see what is the exact origins of it, and it's not really attributed to, you know, any one source. It's kind of just something that's kind of came about as engineers had to deal with this problem set for a while.

David Greenfield OK, so in your experience working with manufacturers of all types who can use Ignition to, as you point out, you can create either the traditional highly graphical HMIS or the high performance HMI screen. What have you seen? What type is most often used in industry?

Travis Cox If you look at new projects that are happening now, the high performance in my techniques are the ones that people are starting with are are, are going with the right versus the more traditional graphics. I think there's more awareness around this concept these days. It used to be, you know, like there there is something you said about pretty graphics, right? It looks really good, especially if you have some 3D animation on there. It looks really cool. It's a great process and it does it make it makes it look like you put a lot of work into the interface, right? And especially executive folks, they like it. That's really cool, right? Looks really good, but ultimately it didn't do his job effectively. It's the high performance HMI is that really allowed the operators to do their job the best way. So yeah, it may not be as visually appealing, but it's proven in terms of being able to save time and to be faster and and provide more context.

David Greenfield   Yeah.

Travis Cox There's tons of data points out there that prove that, and so now with that awareness, I think it's kind of a no brainer for people to start with that or at least adapt it to their own how they wanna do it right. Not every system's gonna be exactly the same in terms of the techniques they use, but I think if you developed some guidelines for yourself that works really well that you get value out of it.

David Greenfield OK, so for those manufacturers that aren't using high performance HMI, do you find that they don't use it based on a specific preference for the more colorful HMI graphics or is it just, you know, here's what we have, this is what we're used to. You know, we're not going to reinvent the reinvent the wheel. Where does that fall?

Travis Cox  I think is definitely more we just don't want to reinvent the wheel. We put a lot of investment already into the existing screens and infrastructure we have. If they use new products, they're still kind of caring those principles over right. They've done a lot training to their engineers or they're operators and you know, obviously if we change that up, there's gonna be some retrains got to happen, right? It's gonna be some investment into it. It's not just an acceptance of the screen. It's kind of a culture change, right? We're doing this because it's gonna give us XYZ return, right? I think this looks like a pretty big uphill battle for some, and and they'd rather just not disrupt that, right? Just kind of keep what they're going.Things are working all right. And the adoption because look, we're bringing on new generation of engineers into these facilities and we have to be able to train them and they're gonna have they they're used to getting things on their phones and tablets and all that.

David Greenfield Yeah.

Travis Cox And so there's kind of this because of that, this new wave and where redesigning systems anyway, so we might as well adopt better principles when doing that. So for a lot of, they're doing that. But you know, there's still some classic holdouts that we've got this at works. Why change it? You know if it works.

David Greenfield Yeah, I wondered myself with this was due to so much of the mobile HMI use that's come up with Perspective and across the board over the past several years—if that was going to facilitate a move towards more high performance HMI use and as you noted with the new, at least with the newer installations, that does seem to be the case with that, no.

Travis Cox  Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And you know, did they, you know, the interfaces are just more, they're more streamlined, right? If you look at a lot, even just aren't working and or apps that we use in our personal lives, right, they're very kind of clean, right? Simple interfaces and the high performance station.

My techniques are that it's all about keeping it clean and simple and using not like crazy 3D graphics things like that, just so that way it just it's very easy for people to use it and the user interfaces and user experiences these days. There's a lot of focus and when you do mobile design, you have to right, you have to think about that.

David Greenfield Yeah, even more so.

Travis Cox And so yeah, it just lends itself so well to this kind of design.

David Greenfield So for those who are using the more traditional the highly graphical HMI, is it complicated or expensive to switch over to high performance HMI?

Travis Cox No, it's not. It's not complicated or expensive. I mean, most products have support for these. I mean, really, we're talking about color colors being able to kind of look at the, how you your color methodologies are, you're looking at certain kinds of components that there are the concepts and high performance HMI like sparkline charts, which are just the access list charts kind of show the trend of values rather than showing current value of the tank. I show a trend of the last couple hours to see how his trending. Is it going up? Is it going down? We get more context by looking at the trends, right and along with having the current value, things like that moving at analog indicator. And so the law, these products out there have support for this. So it's if it didn't, of course, you're gonna have to upgrade to something that would have it, right. So there might be an expense to that, but I think the return on it is so big that it can easily outweigh that expense in terms of effort and complication at being complicated, it's not right. We're just basically taking the existing process we have and sort of and read three, thinking it in this in this way. And it means you'll spend definitely some time in that design phase, but it implement it. You know, you once you build out a couple of templates, you can do this pretty quickly, right? It's just about the acceptance.

Travis Cox I think once you say, OK, we're going to do this, we're gonna. Here's we're gonna build our standard. Then it's about going implementing that right, making it happen.

David Greenfield And you know, one of the things that made me start thinking about this in advance of this podcast about how higher perform high performance HMI graphics and the use of those are becoming a little more ubiquitous. And this is probably not the greatest example, but I couldn't help mention it, but I saw on the side of a sake can they had a spider plot and it was basically the sweetness versus dryness, the alcohol content versus others. It was like 5 points in the spider plot.

Travis Cox Yeah.

David Greenfield It's like, OK, this is getting pretty common. They're putting it on the side of a sake can — you know this is not you know, you know this is something that I would just expect to see on an HMI or another type of engineering screen, but here we go.

Travis Cox Yeah.

David Greenfield You know, this might be becoming more and more common, absolutely.

Travis Cox Yeah, the spider plots or radar charts, you know they allow you to provide a lot of different set points in a in an easy digestible way, right cause idea is that if they're all in the right range, you'll draw a perfect circle, right. You kind of see that, and if anything's outside of that, you get a sense of there's something going out, right?

David Greenfield They and then sake, it might be what you're looking for. You know the sweetness or the dryness being outside the norm.

Travis Cox Exactly. I mean these, it's it's all about, you know, being able to again just help help the eye see the data in a in a faster way. It's I love the techniques. I think they're so so useful.

David Greenfield So I just have one last question for you Travis and I think in the course of our conversation, you've kind of answered it and you kind of did a little there, but just to kind of wrap up our discussion here, you know, you know though there's obvious user preferences for the different HMI graphic types have we've been discussing what's your preference based on what you've seen first hand from an operational effectiveness point of view.

Travis Cox I definitely think high performance HMI is more effective. I mean, that's no question here. In terms of effectiveness, it's not just being able to quickly diagnose issues, right or to be able to get more context, those are important. But we got to consider things like color blindness with HMI is these days right. And these techniques, they already have that kind of baked in, right? We're not talking about green and red and yellow and orange, we're talking about, you know, very muted if things are OK. And then there's changes. If it's not right, so it's easier for for people you don't have to worry so much about about things like that. Things that you know nowadays thinking about not engineer who's building systems thinking.

David Greenfield Yeah.

Travis Cox Oh my gosh, I gotta do this. I gotta build it for color blindness and this and that and right. It's a lot to think about, but these techniques kind of have. It's like a benefit of it, right? So definitely from the people and the companies that we've talked to who use this and the operators who use it on daily basis, they're very uh, you know, they're very happy with the result that they get, right, because it helps them do their job better. Whenever we can do that, they can focus on what their real job is. It's not babying an HMI. They're real job is running the process and the more you can help them with that the better.

David Greenfield Well, thanks again for joining me for this podcast, Travis. And you know, thanks of course to all our listeners and please keep watching this space for more installments of Automation World Gets Your Questions Answered and remember you can find  at automationworld.com to stay on top of the latest industrial automation technology insights, trends and news.

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