Touchscreens could boost industry by making machines more usable

The development of more advanced human-machine interfaces (HMI) for industrial machinery is spurring both competition and demand, say experts in the field.

"The need for newer and more sophisticated displays is gaining importance," said Frost & Sullivan industry analyst Sivakumar Narayanaswamy. "The ability of an HMI to fulfill this demand is continuing to drive the growth of the HMI market."

He added that, although the financial crisis affected most end-user sectors across the world, the demand for HMI has been sustained through government-aided stimulus packages in key end-user segments - in particular, increased government spending on infrastructure, including power and water.

Narayanaswamy noted that market growth will also come from sophisticated and high-definition displays with the ability to visualise system parameters and display the execution of the process. "Software is the key to intelligent HMI solutions," he said. "An appropriate mix of technologically advanced hardware and software will successfully address the demand for more intelligent functionality."

However,  Dr Klaus Wiltschi, head of the industrial customers department at Munich-based engineering and software company Berner & Mattner, warned that this extra intelligence must be both elegant and easy to use.  

“Intuitively usable human machine interfaces are competitive factors in today´s industrial device development,” he said. “Very often, however, the resulting market opportunities are not being used in the development of new products.”

He said one of the most obvious ways to enhance usability is to use touchscreens, which can act both as display and control panel. He said his company was therefore working with another German firm, user interface specialist Centigrade, to build usability into its systems.

“The user interface plays a very important role in most industrial software applications,” said Thomas Immich, Centigrade’s general manager. “For the operator, the user interface is the application. This effect is even further enhanced by the trend towards touchscreen operation because more and more hardware keys are being replaced by switch buttons within the software.”

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