What will human machine interfaces (HMIs) look like in the future? And how can operators themselves influence optimum use of systems by means of user-generated operational aids? The joint project “HMI 4.0” created by Fraunhofer Institute for Labor Economics and Organization (Fraunhofer IAO) is focusing on these questions. The software specialist, COPA-DATA, is also on board as know-how and software partner for this cross-industry, innovative collaboration.

In a trend study Fraunhofer IAO has identified and examined the most important areas to consider for successful human machine interaction in production. The study provides insight into ergonomic HMI design and the integration of new technologies such as social media, interaction and recognition technology.

Matthias_Peissner_Fraunhofer-IAOProject Manager, Dr. Matthias Peissner from Fraunhofer IAO explains: “In the future the meaning of HMIs will go over and beyond pure monitoring and operation. HMIs will also become a platform for the team where cooperative decisions, knowledge building and problem solving can take place. We are developing tailor-made approaches in the innovation network HMI 4.0. This is how we can help our partners achieve a competitive advantage.”

The joint HMI 4.0 project was established after the study and runs from fall 2014 until May 2016. Companies that work with complex production equipment, machine manufacturers as well as software and technology corporations such as COPA-DATA are on board. Together they are developing how, in times of Industry 4.0, user-generated operational aids can be implemented in the HMIs of the future. The project thereby highlights the useful options of HMI design and performance from as many perspectives as possible.

Uncovering a Worldwide Key Problem

Across the world numerous production sites are confronted with similar key problems in machine operation. Only a limited number of employees have the know-how to quickly and successfully repair a fault. Often the optimum settings of machines and equipment are also left to individual experts. Their know-how is only rarely systematically recorded, thereby remaining unavailable for other employees and also for the knowledge management of the company. Entire plants are therefore dependent on a few individuals and their availability.

“Dealing with malfunctions is crucial for efficient production plants,” Dr. Peissner asserts. Thus, the ones who will succeed in creating a successful solution for making faults accessible to all machine operators, are improving the performance of the entire system and will, in turn, increase the productivity of a plant. Often however, sufficient documentation of the problem from the users themselves is lacking.

Uncovering these issues is what the participants of project HMI 4.0 are working on; which properties future interfaces must present in order to motivate employees to share their knowledge. As a result, HMIs of the future should actively contribute to storing and distributing knowledge within a company, in a simpler and more reliable way.

Prototypes Based On Zenon Lead The Way

In order to unite science and practice most effectively, innovative concepts and solution approaches are first being developed within the joint project. Findings from topics such as gamified design, psychology or awareness and learning are collected in order to bring together useful and necessary components from instructions. In focus are the usability and efficiency of operational aids, the motivational intensive, the organization, as well as the profitability of such a system.

In the second step the workshop participants implement their solutions in concrete prototypes in reference to specific use cases. Here, COPA-DATA’s automation software zenon serves as a basis for the development of interactive and motivational HMI operation aids. “Ergonomic human machine interaction is one of our core competencies. The project ties in perfectly in order to continually build on this. For us, the human in the Smart Factory of Industry 4.0 plays a significant role. With an ergonomic software and his know-how, he or she will have the competitive advantage in every production,” explains Phillip Werr, Marketing Manager at COPA-DATA.

In the future, user-generated operational aids should efficiently support handling in error situations of automated processes. They should become a tool to relay their machine operating knowledge to the expert more easily and rapidly. The background system must additionally carry out important quality assurance tasks. On the one hand what counts here is the analysis of the area and how didactically user-friendly the aids are. On the other hand, motivational factors for the user should be included, so that the existing knowledge can be fed into the system promptly.

From Research To Product Development

Guidelines for creating helpful and secure instructions are developed from sketches of the prototypes from user-based information within HMIs. “zenon will make the integration of generated knowledge possible, even in higher-level systems right up to the general knowledge management of a company and in Cloud applications,” explains Werr.


The goal of taking the quickest way to include current research findings in market-ready products is always in focus at COPA-DATA. In 2014 the software manufacturer invested around seven million Euro into Research and Development. “For us, COPA-DATA is an important member of the team. With the advancement of zenon the acquired solutions are finding quick and effective use in practical applications”, says Dr. Peissner regarding further steps for the scientific project.