What is a Human Machine Interface?

From simple switches to advanced touchscreen and AI-driven interfaces, industrial HMIs are transforming industrial automation.

Published on June 7, 2024

What is a Human Machine Interface?


Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) are pivotal in industrial settings, acting as the bridge between people and machines. These interfaces have come a long way, especially with the rise of new technologies that are transforming manufacturing in Industry 4.0. From simple buttons and switches to advanced touchscreens and virtual reality systems, HMIs have improved to make interactions with machinery easier and more efficient.  

In this blog, we’ll explore what industrial HMIs are all about. We’ll look at the key features and how they are used in various industries like manufacturing, automation, and transportation to improve productivity and safety. We’ll also discuss the latest trends, such as the use of artificial intelligence and gesture-based inputs, and what the future might hold for these interfaces.  

Understanding Industrial HMIs

Definition and Components

An industrial HMI is a crucial tool that facilitates effective communication between human operators and machines. These systems are designed to streamline operations by providing a user-friendly graphical interface that displays vital data and controls complex industrial processes. 

An HMI typically includes several key components: 

  • Display Screen: The display is the most visible part of the HMI and is usually a monitor or touchscreen. It shows real-time data, such as machine status, production statistics, and error messages. The screen is customizable, allowing different level of hardware for advanced graphics or AI.
  • Input Devices: These are tools operators use to interact with the HMI. Input devices include keypads, buttons, and touchscreens. In advanced systems, voice commands or gestures help further user interaction.
  • Software: The software is the brain behind the HMI. It integrates with the machinery’s control systems and translates complex data into a graphical format that operators can easily interpret. 
  • Processing Unit: Advanced HMIs have built-in processing units that handle data processing and control commands. Processors can improve the responsiveness of the system and allow for more complex operations. 

Arm processors help balance performance, power efficiency, and versatility and can sometimes be included in a system-on-module (SOM) or single board computer (SBC) for quicker designs. For example, our Tungsten700 SMARC SOM is equipped with a powerful MediaTek Genio 700 processor capable of 4K resolution and high-performance machine learning.  Working with a module partner that provides a range of processor options gives flexibility and scalability to your design.  

  • Communication Interfaces: HMIs connect to various machines and control systems through interfaces such as Ethernet, serial ports, or wireless connections (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) to help exchange data between the HMI and machinery. 

Functionality as a Bridge

HMIs serve as the crucial bridge in industrial environments, facilitating intuitive interaction with machines. Their primary function is to translate complex machine data into accessible information, allowing operators to monitor, control, and adjust processes in real-time. Here’s an expanded look at how HMIs function as a bridge:

  • Data Translation and Visualization: Real-Time Monitoring displays data from sensors, showing equipment status instantly.
  • Control and Interaction: Input mechanisms enable immediate adjustments to maintain optimal performance and reduce downtime.
  • Enhancing Safety and Efficiency: User-friendly interfaces help reduce errors and support remote access for continuous operations. 

Types of HMI

Industrial HMIs come in various forms, including:

Standalone Terminals: These are complete units with dedicated hardware and software, used in specific locations within industrial settings, such as control rooms or operator stations. They are designed for easy installation and often feature robust exteriors to withstand harsh environments. 

  • Use case: These terminals are ideal for applications that require dedicated monitoring and control points, such as power generation facilities where operators monitor and control turbines, boilers, and other equipment from one central location. Factory floors in manufacturing plants use standalone terminals to display real-time production data for assembly lines. 

Embedded Panels: Integrated directly into machinery, these panels save space and are engineered for robustness and longevity.

  • Use case: CNC machines in metalworking shops use embedded panels where operators input machining parameters and monitor cutting operations. Also, food processing plants use these panels in packaging machines to monitor the packaging process.

Mobile Devices: With the rise of mobile technology, HMIs have also transitioned into mobile formats, offering flexibility and remote access capabilities. These mobile HMIs provide flexibility and enable remote access to industrial processes.

  • Use case: Oil refineries technicians use mobile HMIs to track inventory, manage stock, and coordinate shipping/receiving operations. Mobile HMIs are also frequently used in warehouses for logistics and inventory management.  

Common Uses of Industrial HMIs

Industrial HMIs play a vital role in various applications, enhancing the efficiency, safety, and productivity of industrial operations. 

Here are some common uses:

Monitoring and Controlling Processes

At the core of HMI functionality is the ability to monitor and control the machinery. This includes managing production lines, supervising robotic systems, and adjusting operational parameters to enhance efficiency.

Example: Manufacturing Plant

  • HMIs are used to monitor and control robotic arms that perform welding, painting, and assembly tasks. Operators can adjust speed, sequence, and parameters of the robots. 

Visualizing Data

HMIs are instrumental in visualizing real-time data, which helps in making informed decisions. This includes displaying metrics such as production timelines, system statuses, and operational outputs, which are essential for maintaining the efficiency of industrial processes.

Example: Food and Beverage Plant

  • HMIs display real-time data on production metrics such as batch times, ingredient weights, and machine status. This visualization helps operators ensure that products meet quality standards and production schedules are on-time.

Interaction Enhancements

Modern HMIs incorporate touchscreens and other interactive technologies to provide immediate control and feedback, making them indispensable in today's automated and fast-paced industrial environments.

Example: Warehouse Fulfillment Center

  • Interactive HMIs assist workers in managing packing and shipping tasks. Touchscreen interfaces allow quick entry of shipping information, scanning of barcodes, and tracking of package statuses, streamlining the entire packing process.

Current Trends in HMI Technology

Integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is revolutionizing HMIs by making them more adaptive and intuitive. This technology enables HMIs to predict operator needs and automate responses, significantly enhancing operational efficiency.

In predictive maintenance, AI-driven HMIs can analyze historical data and current machine conditions to predict when maintenance is needed, reducing downtime, and preventing costly failures. For instance, an AI-enabled HMI might alert operators to a potential bearing failure in a production line robot before it happens. 

Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Gesture-Based Inputs

The integration of NLP and gesture-based technologies in HMIs is making interactions more natural and efficient. This trend is particularly beneficial in complex industrial settings where speed and ease of use are crucial.

With NLP, operators can control machinery using voice commands, which is particularly useful in hands-free environments. For example, in a chemical processing plant, an operator can verbally instruct the HMI to adjust temperature settings or start/stop equipment. Especially helpful in clean-room application to reduce contamination caused by touching surfaces. 

Blind HMIs

The concept of 'blind HMIs' involves controlling devices via mobile apps without the need for traditional display panels. This approach leverages the ubiquity of smartphones, reducing hardware costs and increasing accessibility.

Blind HMIs enable remote monitoring, allowing operators to oversee operations from any location. For example, in an oil and gas facility, engineers can monitor pipeline pressure and flow rates from their mobile devices, making real-time adjustments as needed without being on-site. 

These current trends in HMI technology are driving significant advancements in industrial automation, enhancing efficiency, usability, and flexibility across many sectors.

The Future of HMIs in Industrial Applications

Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning

Future developments in HMI technology are likely to harness predictive analytics and machine learning, enabling proactive system management and anomaly detection before they impact production.

IoT Enhancements

The integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to expand the capabilities of HMIs further, connecting them across devices and systems, thus enhancing the overall functionality and efficiency of industrial operations.

The IoT will help HMIs connect with a wide range of sensors and devices, providing a complete view on the entire operation. In a smart building, an HMI could integrate data from HVAC systems, lighting controls, security cameras, and occupancy sensors, offering comprehensive monitoring and control from a single interface. It can also optimize energy consumption by adjusting lighting and temperature based on occupancy and weather conditions, improving energy efficiency. 

Customization and Scalability

As industries continue to evolve, the ability to customize and scale HMIs will become crucial. This adaptability will allow HMIs to meet specific operational needs, accommodating various industrial applications.

Future HMIs will offer highly customizable interfaces that can be tailored to specific workflows and user preferences. In a smart building, facilities managers might need a low resolution, simple HMI whereas a smart factory industrial plant may need higher computational power to perform analytics. Ezurio's Industrial HMI offers a range of processors (from the high-end to the value-conscious) that are configurabile to your desired application. 

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Challenges and Considerations

Security Concerns

With greater connectivity comes increased risks. Security in HMIs is paramount, especially as they become more integrated with other systems and the internet.

As HMIs connect to more devices and systems, they become potential targets for cyberattacks. In medical settings, a compromised HMI could lead to unauthorized access to security systems or private patient data. Working with an industrial HMI supplier like Ezurio who has experience in protecting user-sensitive data, such as our Summit Suite Security, ensures that data transmitted from an HMI is encrypted and protected, and that only trusted software runs on the device. 

User Training and Adaptation

As HMIs advance, so does the need for comprehensive user training to ensure operators can fully leverage these new technologies. The user interface of HMIs must be intuitive to facilitate easy adaptation. Having operators and other staff quickly learn how to control normal processes, such as controlling robotics arms or simpler tasks as reducing room temperature, reduces the learning curve and improves productivity. 

Balancing Cost and Technology

Investing in advanced HMI technology is a significant consideration for many companies, necessitating a balance between the cost and the benefits of technological advancements. Companies must evaluate the return on investment (ROI) when considering advanced HMI systems. The initial investment in advanced HMIs might be high, but the long-term benefits such as reduced downtime and improved facility performance may outweigh the costs. 

Communicating with an experienced HMI manufacturer will help identify the right HMI for your application and integrate any advanced features like AI-driven analytics and IoT connectivity as needed. 


Industrial HMIs are at the heart of modern industrial automation and control systems. With continuous advancements and applications, HMIs are set to transform industrial operations significantly. The future promises even greater integration and intuitive interfaces, making industrial processes more efficient, safe, and user-friendly.

To harness the full potential of HMIs in your industrial systems, consider exploring the latest technologies and customization options. Contact us at Ezurio to discover how our cutting-edge solutions can enhance your operational efficiency and prepare your business for the future demands of industry. Also, check out our blog on An Engineer's Guide to Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) to learn more about the hardware, software, and services offered on industrial HMIs. For further insights into related technologies like SCADA systems, IoT platforms, or automation solutions, visit our website's resources section.

To learn more about Ezurio’s industrial HMI solutions, visit us at


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