Man-machine interface

The design engineers at the SME had developed a rather innovative machine that would undoubtedly capture the imagination of their customers and win them plenty of orders.

Not only would it make entire manufacturing processes a lot more effortless, it would make them faster too, enabling the company’s customers to bring their products to market in a much shorter time.

Being a bunch of highly talented mechanical engineers, the team had worked arduously to ensure that its design would work as anticipated once it was in the field. Not only had the engineers performed an extensive simulation of the design, they had also ironed out many of the manufacturing issues to enable the machine to be manufactured as cost-effectively as possible.

But as with many mechanical design teams, when it came to proficiency in the field of computer systems integration, the engineers realised that they were no experts. So they called in a group of professionals from a local electronics company to help them build a control system for the machine.

The electronic engineers were dab hands at all things computer and software related. They recognised immediately that the problem of controlling the various parameters in the machine was a pretty straightforward one.

Indeed, it appeared so relatively unsophisticated that they recommended the use of a straightforward off-the-shelf pre-designed PC-based human-machine interface package that they might quickly re-configure for the particular process in question.

Keen to bring the system to market as quickly as possible, the mechanical engineers could not fault the logic behind the idea. So they embraced it wholeheartedly and, thanks to the human-machine interface, the system was indeed brought to market rather swiftly, where, I’m pleased to say, its functionality has been met with many accolades.

Sadly, however, the poor individuals that were required to run, maintain and service the new machine were not so happy when the beasts were installed in their manufacturing establishments. While they recognised that the new systems were more effective at manufacturing their products than their previous systems, the human-machine interface was far from user friendly.

To be sure, it certainly presented them with all of the operational parameters of the machine, but that was the problem. You see, the system’s developers had forgotten to hide much of its complexity from the user. Instead, they had presented them with a plethora of options from which to choose, rather than focusing on the key parameters that would be regularly used and hiding those functions that were only needed occasionally.

Fortunately, the machine’s developers have now conducted some field studies to redress the issue and I’m pleased to say the next generation of the machine’s man-machine interface has taken on board many of the suggestions from the operators in the field.

It’s just a shame they didn’t think to bring the operators into the design equation a little earlier.

Best wishes,

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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