How Industry 4.0 is changing human-technology interaction


Accelerated by technologies such as 3D printing and intelligent robots, the role of the human machine interface (HMI) is becoming more sophisticated.

This is altering the way industries approach increasingly complex processes of machines and systems in order to improve efficiency and decrease downtime.

Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) are at the centre of new technological approaches, development, production and the entire logistics chain – otherwise known as smart factory automation.

HMI is implemented in any industry where human intervention with a machine or automated device is necessary. The high rate of demand for HMI is being driven by the need for enhanced efficiency, data security and compliance, mobility, remote services and reliable hardware.

>See also: Why cloud technology is central to Industry 4.0

Huge shifts in manufacturing require industries to adopt smarter, agile and innovative ways to advance production with technologies that complement and augment human labour with robotics and reduce industrial accidents caused by process failure.

HMIs use sensors, robots, software, wireless systems, enterprise software, machine-to-machine learning or other technologies to gather and analyse data.

This data can be used to manage operations, connect production facilities with the corporate back-office and on-site robots, as well as partners and suppliers across the supply chain.

Disruptive technologies

The main aim of automation and integrated intelligence is to reduce dependence on human interaction with the operation and at the same time increase the quality of interaction in order to respond to things more efficiently.

With a growing implementation of AI within the manufacturing system, HMI may be reduced in quantity, yet this increases in importance when machines cannot handle themselves.

In an intelligent system, there is no need for humans to spend time monitoring a regularly flowing process. However, when a machine predicts or detects a shift in normality which it is unable to fix itself, human decision and intervention will be required.

Industrial HMI needs to be robust, reliable and long lasting, especially when workers are interacting with technologies in noisy, dusty, humid and dark environments.

In Industry 4.0, where human interaction is largely reserved for critical decision-making, the presentation of data is a critical part of the design. It should not be limited to displays and touchscreens, but should incorporate augmented reality, conversational speech interaction and intuitive visual data presentation.

In maintenance and repair, augmented reality glasses will play a critical role in showing the impact of data collected from sensors and how that is translated so that the technician can quickly resolve the problem. This could be done by live streaming data with visual displays to enable easy understanding.

The future of HMI

As HMI technology connects people and devices, a new era is dawning where even more connected devices – whether they be augmented reality glasses, smart watches or wearables in the workplace – help workers perform functions faster and more accurately.

However, for this to happen there needs to be a faster, easier and more efficient interaction between human and machine in order to develop autonomous and open systems.

Robot orders increased from 8,800 in the first half of 2007 compared to 14,100 during the same period in 2014, and venture funding in robot technology start-ups rose from $30 million in 2010 to $172 million in 2013.

>See also: Hand in hand: cyber security and industry 4.0

Along with touchscreens, one growth area looks set to be speech interactions with machines. The penetration of artificial intelligence along with optical, speech and processing power and algorithm enhancements will improve data analysis, speed and accuracy significantly.

With IoT, there is an explosion of the amount of data that is accessible and can be used to make informed decisions. HMI will play a key role alongside artificial intelligence within the Industry 4.0 process where human decision is needed, especially in cases that are time sensitive and critical.

Therefore, the HMI system, which delivers the most critical data in a form that is easily and rapidly understood, and allows commands that are easily and rapidly entered, will significantly increase the accuracy of decisions and speed up the execution of commands.


Sourced from Mesut Eraslan, senior director and HMI centre of excellence Leader, Flex Innovation Labs


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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...