It’s becoming evident that the future of industrial componentry lies in the seamless unification of technology. This approach not only simplifies the assembly process but also enhances the efficiency and reliability of the systems in which these components are employed.

This trend is illustrated by the emergence of multifunctional devices and assemblies: from cases that arrive with bearings and seals pre-installed, to cable carriers furnished with pre-attached cables and connectors. Similarly, motors now frequently come with integrated drives, belt pulleys include built-in locking mechanisms, and conveyors are equipped with sensors from the outset. Moreover, devices critical for controlling motion—such as actuators and stages—are ready for immediate operation, embodying the full potential of integrated functionality.

HMIs (Human-Machine Interfaces) are also following the trend of integration, with the industry introducing many new products capable of traditional HMI tasks like data collection, batch processing, displaying information, and various control functions.

For example, Maple Systems provides HMI + PLC solutions that merge the functionalities of HMIs with PLC control. The advantages of this integrated approach include:

  • Reduction in the number of parts and less cabling required, simplifying installation and maintenance.
  • A more compact design that optimizes space on machinery or in control cabinets.
  • Centralized control and interface, making the system easier to manage and operate.
  • Shorter development times, thanks to a unified development environment that streamlines the creation and deployment of applications.

As a result, this approach allows users to customize systems to their specific application requirements, effectively lowering costs, saving space, and ensuring a high level of functionality and reliability.

HMI Screen of HMC4070A-M

The HMC4070A-M is one of our most popular HMI + PLC units because of its I/O capability, amount of information you can fit on the screen, Remote Access features, and attractive graphics.

HMI Screen of HMC4101A-M

The HMC4101A-M is our most capable HMI + PLC units because of its I/O capability, amount of information you can fit on the screen, Remote Access features, and attractive graphics.

HMIs have undergone a remarkable transformation over the years, evolving from simple, manual inputs to sophisticated digital interactions. This journey from the basic cathode ray tube (CRT) displays to today’s advanced touchscreen panels illustrates a significant leap in technology and usability.

Initially, the early versions of what we now recognize as HMIs were built around cathode ray tube (CRT) displays, accompanied by keyboards for input. These keyboards were crucial for tasks that required frequent updates or text inputs, such as CNC machining. CRTs worked by using high-voltage power supplies to direct electron beams at phosphor dots inside glass tubes, creating images.

However, CRT technology came with its set of challenges. It required bulky, expensive transformers and coils, and also generated magnetic fields. To mitigate these issues, early programming terminals often used temporary connections to display screens. This allowed programmers to interact with the system without the downsides of a permanent CRT setup. Additionally, control systems based on relays often adopted a simpler approach: they used traditional tactile-control user-input components, like pushbuttons, and status outputs, like pilot lights, for a cost-effective machine I/O arrangement.

Fast forward to today, and the landscape has drastically changed with the introduction of low-cost flatscreen displays. This innovation has significantly reduced the cost of incorporating modern HMIs into control systems. Moreover, the decrease in prices for control-panel technologies means that Operator Interface Terminals (OITs) now often include small, digitally programmable displays.

But the real game-changer has been the introduction of touchscreen functionalities. Modern HMIs can now display text, images, and videos, making them the most powerful and cost-effective option for interacting with machinery. This shift not only represents a leap in technological advancement but also makes HMIs an indispensable tool in today’s automation industry.

Maple Systems, for example, offers a wide array of touchscreen display sizes ranging from 4.3″ to 15.6″. This variety ensures tailored solutions for everything from small machinery interfaces to comprehensive control systems, aligning with diverse operational needs and enhancing efficiency in automation tasks.

HMI Screen of HMI5043Lv2

This 4.3″ operator interface is perfect for small spaces and can function in portrait or landscape mode. The HMI5043Lv2 takes advantage of the wide feature set in our free configuration software and proves an excellent value for its powerful capabilities.

HMI Screen of HMI5070Bv3

The HMI5070Bv3 provides a high-quality unit for applications requiring straight-forward HMI functionality at a great price. Paired with our free software, this operator interface is an exceptional value.

Screen of the HMI5100Bv2

The wide-screen HMI5100Bv2 provides a high-quality unit for applications requiring straight-forward HMI functionality at a great price. Paired with our free software, this operator interface is an exceptional value. 

12″ touch panel powered by a Quad-Core RISC processor, 4 GB flash memory, and 1 GB RAM. Experience seamless multitasking with the cMT2128X, as it effortlessly handles multiple tasks. Unlock the power of remote access, IIoT functionality, and an advanced feature set for your application.

HMI Screen of the cMT3152Xv2

The cMT3152Xv2 features a powerful CPU, remote access capabilities, IIoT functionality, and our most advanced feature set, making this capacitive touch panel a powerful solution for your application.

A common type of HMI that we now take for granted is built around Industrial PCs. Today, most design engineers likely envision HMIs as self-contained PCs or similar fanless devices based on a single circuit board running Linux or another operating system (OS). These Industrial PC components are more complex and expensive than some alternatives because they include more electronics and software resources. However, over the past 20 years or so, they have become standard, executing machine controls on a common microprocessor in traditional setups. 

Recent years have introduced new Industrial PC models with dual and even quad-core processors (1 and 1.6-GHz) to offer the advantages of an integrated system while separating HMI and control functions for real-time processing of advanced motion and automation tasks.

Regardless of the specific PC electronics, HMIs integrated into PC-based systems are part of a multifunctional design, allowing for the expansion of system functions as needed. Later in this guide, we will explore how some HMI systems provide capabilities beyond machine control, including integration into automated factory and enterprise-level systems through digital and analog I/O.

The integration of control functions into HMIs is a natural evolution, as traditional PCs rely on a centralized processor with an OS to manage resources such as memory, external communications, and, importantly for our discussion, visual displays.

That means that utilizing a PC already in the system for managing an industrial screen adds no extra cost. When suppliers design PC components to fit into a flat format, it offers the added advantage of a streamlined and cost-effective unit with a single housing and mount.

Industrial PC products also facilitate efficient fault and diagnostic messaging, adjustments of machine functions for maintenance and repair tasks, and network communications.  It’s no surprise that Industrial PC products that combine a touchscreen with control electronics have become so common in automated applications  in various industries around the world.

However, there’s an important consideration when using Industrial PCs for controls: design engineers used to traditional approaches may initially specify a control system and then choose a suitable HMI later in the design process. Selecting Industrial PC components, or any HMI that takes on control functions, requires a more comprehensive design approach to fully benefit from the interoperability of all components.

Today’s HMIs include low-maintenance, cost-effective embedded options that run on an embedded OS to minimize memory and processing power usage. The software in these embedded HMIs is tailored exclusively for HMI-related computational tasks, unlike the Industrial PCs discussed previously, which require engineers to purchase and install software separately.

Embedded HMIs usually come with both the OS and application software already installed, offering a straightforward setup. Despite their simplicity, embedded HMIs can be quite advanced, particularly when they’re part of networked systems.

For example, Maple Systems offers HMIs that can perform tasks typically handled by Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), featuring what is often referred to as soft PLC functions. These functions are integral to the machine-control industry, with HMIs supporting CODESYS, a comprehensive control solution adhering to the IEC 61131-3 standard for PLC programming.

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are electrical devices that control and automate industrial processes. They work by reading digital and analog inputs, like push buttons, limit switches, temperature or pressure sensors, and then they control devices such as LEDs, solenoids, relays, or motors by writing to digital or analog outputs.

PLCs come in a wide range, from basic controllers executing simple ladder-logic instructions to complex units managing multiple control modes across various processes and, in some instances, motion control tasks. The capabilities of HMI PLCs are just as varied.

HMIs that are powerful enough to take on PLC functions have enough processing power and memory to run sophisticated software and support Ethernet, I/O, COM, or other forms of connectivity. These HMIs are capable of performing both traditional HMI tasks like data logging, plotting, graphing, alarm setting, and trend monitoring, as well as PLC functions, including:

  • Processing and handling I/O data.
  • Executing all PLC ladder-logic instructions and PID control for discrete motion tasks.
  • Running any programming developed in a licensed copy of the IEC 61131-3 Controller Development System (CODESYS).
  • Providing deterministic and real-time control over critical operations.

Maple Systems offers different types of PLCs to meet your system requirements, or control panel needs. These PLCs easily integrate with most other industrial automation brands and SCADA system equipment if needed via common industry communication protocols.

Our all-in-one PLCs feature built-in I/Os and are ideal for your small-scale projects.

Expandable up to 11 additional I/O modules including Digital, Analog, PWM, HSC, TC, and RTD Modules.

Healthcare professionals often administer an IV to patients soon after hospital admission. The initial needle insertion may cause discomfort. However, the plastic tubing design connecting the IV bag to the patient’s arm reduces this discomfort. Engineers have made sure it smoothly glides into veins. It also stays comfortable for the duration of its necessity.

Silverstone Automation manufactures equipment that produces this critical component. Their SilverCATH 1100 and 2200 series machines specialize in forming the plastic tubing used for catheter tips. For the SilverCATH machines, Silverstone needed a high-resolution touchscreen with multiple features. They wanted integrated recipe functionality, a USB port for data, user-friendly programming, and password protection. They chose the Maple Systems HMI5100L for its slim design, cost-effectiveness, and easy setup, due to its 1.57-inch depth. The device’s 10-inch color touchscreen lets operators quickly change settings. It also provides separate screens for operators and technicians. This design streamlines control and reduces accidental changes. The capability to store pre-programmed recipes also greatly reduces the data entry required for machine changeovers.

It’s important to note that the HMI5100L model has been discontinued. Maple Systems now offers updated alternatives such as the HMI5100Bv2 or CMT2108X2V2, among other 10-inch HMI options, ensuring continued innovation and support for manufacturing needs.

Silverstone continues to integrate Maple Systems HMIs across a broad spectrum of their proprietary machine designs. These HMIs come in display sizes ranging from 4.3 to 15 inches, each custom-tailored to fulfill specific operational requirements, further demonstrating Maple Systems’ commitment to providing versatile and cutting-edge HMI solutions.

Integrating control functions into HMIs represents a major leap in automation technology. Throughout this chapter, we’ve seen that merging HMIs with control functionalities goes beyond industry trends. It’s a strategic approach to achieve more unified, streamlined, and adaptable automation solutions.

Maple Systems has been at the forefront of this innovation, offering integrated HMI and PLC solutions that epitomize the benefits of this technological convergence. These solutions reduce complexity by minimizing the number of required parts, thus simplifying installation and maintenance. They also provide a more compact design, optimizing the use of space on machinery and in control cabinets, and offer centralized control and interface for ease of management and operation. Furthermore, the unified development environment these integrated systems provide shortens development times, enhancing efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Innovation in HMI technology shows a strong commitment to advancing what’s possible in automation. Looking towards the future, it’s evident that HMIs will play an increasingly significant role in the automation industry. Advancements in touchscreen technology, networking, and connectivity are making HMIs even more essential. These technologies will be crucial for the operation and management of complex systems. In the next chapter, we will explore how these advancements will enhance HMI functionalities. We will highlight the importance of integration and connectivity in maximizing the potential of modern automation systems.

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