Give Your HMI an Ergonomic Tune-Up

Ergonomic Tune-Ups Make Sure Operators Are Safely Paying Attention to the Increased Amount of Operating Data Without Being too Comfortable to Be Attentive

By Control Design Staff

Our multi-machine workstations haven't changed much beyond the sophistication of the HMI software and better tactile input methods. The operators now spend more time at the workstation and less time patrolling the machines with clipboards since we have much more operational data feedback at the HMI. We need an ergonomic tune-up to make sure the operators are safely paying attention to the increased amount of operating data without being too comfortable to be attentive. Any experiences to share?

—From September 2014 Control Design


Mixed Technologies

This can be best accomplished by employing a mixed-technologies approach along with ergonomic design principles when creating an optimal user interface.

By utilizing and implementing a design which incorporates all forms of human-machine interface (HMI), a complete and consolidated user experience can be accomplished. HMI systems have to be designed with the user and application environment in mind. You first have to define the operational and functional requirements. This can encompass durability requirements and environmental stresses including exposure to moisture, vandalism, temperature extremes, cleaning agents and general rough use. Operator feedback is critical to capture end-user attention and to ensure overall effectiveness and efficiency. Understanding the application can dictate the degree of HMI complexity. And regulatory standards must be considered to meet industry criteria.

Also read: Versatile HMIs Combine Functions

All of these aspects influence the design of the interface in order to capture user attention and to ensure safe operation. This is why a mixed-technologies approach is best. Not one single technology has the ability to provide an all-encompassing solution. Once the application and user requirements are defined, a mixture of pushbuttons, cursor controls, keyboards, touch technologies and interactive displays can interface with industrial computers to inform, alert and efficiently update the user of machinery functions. Use of illumination techniques such as ring, Halo or animation combined with audible alerts capture end user attention in both an aesthetically pleasing, modern appearance and forthrightly effective manner. The mixing and matching of components and technologies allow for a consolidated user interface along with a central and sometimes singular point of data feedback.

Dan DiGioa
marketing manager,

Ergonomic Outlook

CD1411RealAnswersWinstedSitStandIt's important to take the time to do an ergonomic tune-up. Ergonomics plays an important role in health, safety and productivity. Technological advances have overloaded operators with information, and their scope of responsibility is ever expanding. Many operators work long hours in less-than-ideal conditions. Well-designed control rooms balance productivity with ergonomics, and a key component is the operator console. The console is the bridge that connects the operator to the technology, and therefore has a significant impact on performance.

Sit/stand consoles are a great choice for an ergonomic upgrade. Recent studies have shown that too much sitting can be detrimental to your health. Movement throughout the day is important to maintaining good health. Alternating between sitting and standing is a healthy activity that increases energy and reduces fatigue. Sit/stand consoles also provide adjustability to meet the needs of each individual operator.

The ergonomic standards outlined in ISO 11064 are a good reference for any ergonomic initiative. ISO 11064 standards are designed to improve efficiency and reduce human error in the control room. A good ergonomics program translates into significant ROI in terms of reduced healthcare costs, increased productivity and fewer errors. Beyond the numbers, ergonomics can improve the quality of life for workers. Operators who are more comfortable and better able to do their jobs find more satisfaction in their jobs, which improves the morale of the organization.

Brent Leimer
marketing manager,

Machinery Visibility

As your question points out, even with sophisticated output from software, visibility to machinery is still key. In fact, lean manufacturing techniques have led to a shift in the use of control enclosures to allow visual contact between operations and cells. Luckily, there are a variety of HMI CD1411RealAnswersSYSPEND281PendantArmGroupenclosure systems available beyond traditional, static workstations to help you create a solution specific to your business’ needs. Great examples of this are vertical motion and suspension systems, which allow operators to reposition equipment as necessary throughout their shifts. Look for a system that allows for multiple combinations of components for innovative system solutions for any work environment. For even more flexibility, you may want to investigate industrial tablets, which blend all of the benefits of modern technology with the ability to patrol machinery as you would with a traditional clipboard. Ultimately, there are more HMI enclosure systems out there than ever, which can be tailored to fit your application.

Emily Delozier,

global product manager for large and HMI enclosure systems,


Operator Ergonomics

HMIs are available as free-standing operator stations, console stations or pedestal or support arm systems. Depending on the application and available floor space, appropriate solutions can be selected. Systems are available in aluminum, mild steel and stainless steel to address differing application, environment and aesthetic requirements.

Many users are transitioning to the support arm with enclosure solution as it can be safely moved in and out of the workplace when programming or data acquisition has been completed. Support arm systems provide options for vertical motion, swinging motion and swiveling to move the HMI enclosure into the most ergonomic position for the operator to access. Considerations for operator ergonomic use, safety, floor space, environmental performance, weight load, heat management, aesthetics and cost should all be considered when selecting the correct HMI solution.

Greg Quick,
product manager,
wallmounts and HMI,

The following responses to the question were posted on LinkedIn.

Data Flood

An interesting quandary you envision. Most processes I have worked with still involve regular operator interaction to load parts and/or renewable supplies and provide regular quality checks, some as often as every 10 or 15 minutes, so I think that we have freed up the operator to focus on the process and the product, rather than boring him so much that he becomes inattentive. As interface designers, we gather and present more and more data, and our challenge is to crunch the data and present it as simplified choices the operator can make quickly, rather than flooding his screen with distracting raw data and expecting him to analyze it. My goal is to always reduce the amount of data and choices and operations in any given sequence an operator will have to make. For every decision or step of manual workflow that you can remove for an operator, you exponentially reduce the possible outcomes and effectively reduce risk by the same factor.

Steve Meredith,
reliability electrical coordinator,
Corod Division at Weatherford


There is a tendency to put so much information on the operator screens that they can't see the things that are really important.

In the process of making our systems fully automated, we're making operators less attentive and less prepared to handle problems. There is a tendency to put so much information on the operator screens that they can't see the things that are really important. I advocate systems like poka-yoke that reduce chances of mistakes, rather than making operators passive.

Chua KM,
Bistanika Sdn Bhd

Operator Evolution

It sounds like the right direction—machine data processing evolution—but operator evolution may be a concern. As more data is collected, the machine should process more data, so the operator has to process less data. The direction of less human dependency in the process equals less human error and risk, and greater safety, reliability and repeatability. But at the same time, operator evolution must take place to guide the operator to perform new tasks with their new time that was freed up by machine evolution.

Excitingly and interestingly, machine data collection will eventually evolve to collecting data about the human operators, too, so as to further reduce human error and increase safety. The human motion/gesture sensing on games such as Xbox will be incorporated; later, even health vitals and retina scans will be incorporated. So the machine may sound an alarm if my human operator has fallen asleep, is drunk, is sick or is in the wrong place at the wrong time, that is, for the few machines in that distant future that still require a human to operate them.

Don Fitchett,
Business Industrial Network


I also believe automation today is and should move toward autonomous automation, where whole facilities can be run from a central SCADA position with multiple monitors observing multiple machines and maybe even multiple facility locations, simultaneously.

Monty Bass,
engineering & maintenance manager,
Exide Technologies