How many of you have struggled with the remote control of your TV set? Why is every remote different from its neighbor? There’s no way the engineer who designed this thing tested it before releasing it to the market—and it seems no one else did, either. Mine has over 75 buttons, of which I only use about 20; not to talk about the fact that they all carry obscure acronyms...The moral being: You never find the right button when you need it.

To miss the beginning of your favorite show can be a big deal; I understand that. However, let’s transpose this situation to the industrial world, where poor design can have really negative effects.

The main purpose of an operator mimic is to help quickly identify problems and causes. Similar to the remote, which is the link between the user and the gadget, the HMI is the link between the operator and the industrial process. However, many users underestimate the importance of a good design. Operators should be able to recognize which information needs their attention and what it indicates—at a glance. For that, the operator not only needs a good user interface but a system, which delivers a great user experience.

Operator screens are often designed by engineers who turn technical diagrams into plant mimics. They are trying to push the systems to the limits using a profusion of symbols and widgets, too many colors, no hierarchy of information, resulting in an unreadable—more concerning—pretty much useless interface in case of emergency. It translates into increased response time, prolonged downtime and possibly safety issues.

At GE, we have worked with selected customers and institutions such as universities in seven different countries to identify the main topics that should be considered when designing an HMI screen. We have come up with nine main topics, such as visual coding, information layout, screen hierarchy and navigation, alarm presentation, and more. These are the rules that we apply when we design our own systems.

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The main purpose of an operator mimic is to help quickly identify problems and causes. Similar to the remote, which is the link between the user and the gadget, the HMI is the link between the operator and the industrial process.
HMI remote control.

Whether it is about the objects used to build the mimics or the colors used for their animation, keep it simple, readable, always with the end-user in mind. Avoid 3D objects, shades and bright colors…One word can summarize the overall approach: simplification. And simple design rules can help reduce the time to identify issues and access the relevant information.

The operator should have confidence in the system and be able to recognize and understand information with ease and speed, anticipate and recognize issues quickly, respond instantly, complete his tasks and navigate seamlessly.

A good operator interface in a production environment means…

Less training

Faster reaction

Less errors and safer operations

Increased productivity and efficiency

Some of our customers have seen a 5X increase in problem detection and a 37% increase in efficiency when dealing with abnormal situations.

Interested in learning more about efficient design principles and High Performance HMI? Watch the on-demand webinar: High Performance HMI/SCADA Improves Efficiency

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