Real-Time and Historical “Decision Support” systems are key operational tools in manufacturing and industrial facilities. Automation has been proven to make a huge difference in operational excellence however, people and their ability to do the right thing makes all the difference in the world.

In my last post Better Technology Skillsets Mean Improved Production Up-time, I mentioned that APICS, the Association for Operations and Supply Chain Management states that the measures of performance of any manufacturer are: Quality, Speed, Dependability, Flexibility and Cost. There I outlined the positive effect of improved associate skillsets on the overall dependability of your company to deliver as promised to your customers.

Here I continue that thread with improved product quality in mind with respect to worker competencies, skillsets and the tools they use daily to make critical decisions.

In many manufacturing or other industrial environments with sufficient automation, operations personnel use graphical Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) to visualize and interact with the production process. These HMI’s should provide the operator with information like machine & process current state, production performance and critical to quality (CTQ) parameters that are out of an acceptable range in an “Alarm” condition.

All too often, the problem with how information is presented to operators on HMI screens is that much of the information is distracting, not needed or displayed in ways that do not convey the correct meaning. Users often will ignore or not notice time critical indicators mixed with other indicators considered to be a nuisance. Poor screen design can also cause information and sensory overload especially when process upsets occur and the HMI is flooded with information such that the operator is unable to take corrective action in time to prevent product issues. The final result is often product that is made out of specification which may need to be scrapped or reworked. This is a major cause of waste in the production process and often results in missed order delivery dates, more customer complaints, higher product recalls and higher manufacturing costs. The Cost of poor Quality (CoPQ) has been estimated to be 5-30% of a manufacturer’s gross sales1.

So if poor HMI information design is the problem, what is the solution? The answer is graphics that are designed to make the operator “situationally aware” which presents operational parameters in a way that is not distracting, cluttered nor does it contain superfluous information. The concept of situational awareness is not new and applies to many types of interfaces including airplane cockpits which are designed to allow pilots to avoid mistakes which can be deadly. Here is a good article on this concept as related to human factors in airplanes.

Obviously HMI developers must rely on the best tools available to design better interfaces for their end users. If your HMI development tools do not include the concepts of situational awareness, you are basically left with using what you have to develop custom graphics which certainly has its negatives including longer development cycles and lower efficiencies due to lack of re-usable content.

Wonderware’s InTouch HMI package supports situation awareness design with an extensive library of symbols which helps you to adhere to industry standards for HMI development specifically the ISA HMI 101 standard2. These symbols allow you to depict data in a powerful combination of numeric and graphical formats.
This library is extensive and it provides the capability to create your own symbols in the ArchestrA Graphic Editor. These symbols are exceptionally powerful so InSource recommends your development team build their skillsets with training courses like InTouch Classic Stand Alone course or the System Platform – InTouch View Client course.

In summary, HMI design and information presentation matters. People need information presented to them in ways that allow them to perceive current situations and better predict future situations. That’s being “Situationally Aware”. Increasing product Quality is paramount to remain competitive in your product space so spend some time evaluating the impact of your operational HMI interfaces. InSource can help you by providing great HMI development tools and training to support your Situational Awareness design needs.