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How a Smart Machine Interface Can Simplify Operator Training and Lower Costs

by Kevin Moore | Feb 16, 2023

One of the biggest issues facing consumer packaged goods (CPGs) companies today is their workforce—specifically the recruitment and retention of their workforce. It’s harder than ever to find skilled personnel to keep production lines operating smoothly and, even if a company is lucky enough to find the right candidate, retaining them is perhaps an even bigger challenge. With operator turnover high, CPGs are desperate for solutions, and original equipment manufacturers (OEM)In the packaging industry, an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is the company which manufactures the machinery used to facilitate the packaging process. are working hard to provide them.

One of those solutions is to make operator training quicker and easier than ever; this is where smart human-machine interfaces (HMI) can help. In this post, I’ll explain what makes a “smart HMI” “smart,” how a well-designed HMI simplifies operator training, how smart HMIs can help CPGsConsumer packaged goods (CPGs) are relatively low-cost products like food, beverge, dairy products, and personal care items. Oftentimes, the abbreviation CPG refers to the actual manufacturer of the goods themselves. save money, and what sets BW Packaging’s HMIs apart from the rest.

What Makes a “Smart” HMI Smart?

Picture a cellphone from the year 2004. In retrospect, the graphics look outdated, the navigation is difficult, and it can be tough to find the features or functions you need. As phones have developed through years of testing and user feedback, though, functionality and user experience have improved greatly. They’ve become “smart” phones. Industrial HMIs have undergone a similar journey.

There are two aspects of HMIs that make them smart. The first is that they feature an intuitive design. A straightforward, easy-to-use interface provides a level of intelligence for the user. It helps an operator to identify and address a machine’s processes and problems through graphics and visual representations rather than through long, complicated warning codes and parts descriptions. The less time it takes for a user to identify and utilize information displayed on the screen, the more intuitive the HMI’s design is.

The second aspect that makes an HMI smart is its advanced feature set (and the ability to tailor control over that feature set to a user’s expectations). Not all production lines are made equal, so not all production lines should have the same HMI features or controls on their machines. Being able to customize the critical features of a machine to your specific production line’s needs is a huge component of a smart HMI. 

How HMIs Can Simplify Operator Training

When it comes to using a smart HMI to simplify the training process for a new operator, it all starts with the layout of the interface itself. A well-designed user interface isn’t cluttered with an overabundance of information. One of the best solutions is to put the most used features and functions of the HMI front and center; the less time operators spend looking for those key components, the better. Another element of a well-designed HMI is that it’s intuitive and easy to navigate. Settings that are easy to find and menus that are simple to use mean operators can troubleshoot problems more easily and find essential machine functions more efficiently.

For times when operators do get stuck, remote monitoring and troubleshooting tips are invaluable assets that smart HMIs have to offer. Using these capabilities, employees can get in touch directly with the original equipment manufacturer to solve problems and fix mechanical issues. A smart HMI’s database can even keep a repository of commonly recurring issues on hand so operators can address them quickly if they come up again. Finally, site visits and audits by the OEM allow operators to give feedback on the HMI directly to the manufacturer, who can then turn around and implement helpful software updates as needed. Consistent collaboration between those who make the machines and those who operate them helps ensure the easiest, most intuitive HMI experience possible (and, as a result, quick and simple training for new operators).

How Smart HMIs Help Save Money

Unplanned downtime is an enormous detriment to the manufacturing process. For every minute a machine isn’t running on schedule, CPGs lose valuable production time. By its nature, unplanned downtime can never be fully alleviated, but smart HMIs offer plenty of preventative solutions to help keep the production line moving. For instance, smart machine interfaces can monitor the number of actuationsActuation is the act of making a machine move or work to facilitate an operation. critical wear parts undergo and suggest ordering a replacement part even before the original goes bad. Smart HMIs are often connected to the internet, and ordering machine parts directly from the interface itself helps to streamline shipping logistics. Other critical and preventative alerts also help to keep machines running smoothly. All these features work in tandem to help maximize machine uptime and keep production on schedule.

Smart HMIs also help CPGs save money through the simplification of operator training. As old machine operators leave and new workers are hired on, companies lose time and resources getting their new operators familiar with the machinery and its functions. An intuitively designed HMI helps to shorten the training process significantly. The faster and more efficiently operators are trained, the better and more efficiently the production line will run. The more quickly an operator gains experience, the more quickly they can troubleshoot problems to minimize downtime. Despite the unrelenting trend of operator turnover, CPGs can keep a steady supply of well-trained personnel by way of a smart HMI, reducing gaps in the manufacturing process and keeping profitability up. For more information on how operator training translates to operational costs, check out our post on total cost of ownership (TCO) calculation.

What Sets BW Packaging’s HMIs Apart?

At BW Packaging, we’re constantly working to come up with innovative solutions to meet the ever-evolving needs of both the market and our customers. And while other OEMs certainly work hard to make the best HMIs they can design, we believe there are three aspects of our HMIs that truly set them apart: their usability, their video training capabilities, and their standardized user interface.

Optimizing the usability of a smart HMI is a constant two-way dialogue between a CPG and an OEM. Our controls engineers spend time visiting manufacturing plants and watching operators interact with our machines. We ask those operators about their experience using our HMIs, and we use their feedback to improve our interfaces. We monitor operators’ processes and watch for inefficiencies, getting rid of what doesn’t work and improving what does. This fluidity in user experience makes for a design process that continuously improves over time to meet the individual needs of each unique production line.

Many of our smart human-machine interfaces maintain the capability of hosting videos directly on the interface itself. This allows us to take video recordings of common machine actions like cleanings, adjustments, and regular operations, and to upload those videos onto the interface for future operators to watch. No matter how many operators come and go, the machine preserves a constant repository of video training materials catered to each machine’s specific operating procedures. Even if an interface lacks the ability to host videos, we can add QR codes into the machine which link to training videos hosted elsewhere. No matter the circumstances or the design of the equipment or its interface, training materials for new operators are always nearby.

BW Packaging offers a wide array of packaging solutions, from filling, sealing, seaming, and capping equipment to end-of-line packaging machines. No matter the machine or its place in the production process, though, we’ve worked to standardize our human-machine interfaces’ UX to create a smooth, consistent operating experience. After all, despite their wide range of functions, all the machines we make have some default commonalities: they all start and stop, they all need adjustments, and they’re all controlled by human operators. The machines do different things, but the means of controlling them are essentially the same. These commonalities have allowed us to develop a uniform HMI operating system and design layout. Familiar design elements and menu navigation have helped us establish a recognizable user interface that makes our HMIs easy to use and understand.

Final Thoughts

As technology develops and improves, industrial HMIs follow suit. Despite the unforgiving industry trend of operator turnover, smart HMIs make packaging machinery easier to learn and operate than ever. Well-trained operators coupled with the preventative maintenance functionality of a smart HMI mean more savings for CPGs.

It takes an investment in innovation and a keen eye toward customer needs to develop next-level smart HMIs, and BW Packaging’s interface designs are driven by both. Standardizing advanced features and an unparalleled attention to user experience are at the core of BW Packaging smart HMIs. As a result, CPGs utilizing BW Packaging machines maintain a steady supply of well-trained operators and enjoy uninterrupted, profitable packaging line operations.

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Kevin Moore

Kevin Moore

As a Senior Digital Innovation Controls Engineer for BW Packaging, Kevin Moore develops and deploys new technology onto an array of machines in the Barry-Wehmiller packaging platform’s lineup. Kevin’s tools help to streamline processes and expedite comprehension to aid BW engineers. He brings over a decade of engineering experience in the packaging industry to BW Packaging.

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