History of the Human-Machine Interface


With the evolution of technology becoming more sophissticated stresses the importance of faster and more efficient communication. In the early days of machinery, the way humans interacted with equipment would be with pullies and levers. While this system made labor easier, it still required a lot of physical involvement and manpower. Also because workers had communicate manually, orders on each level took a while to convey. As manufacturing and industrial processes advanced, there was more progression in the way humans and machines interacted.

In a previous article, we discussed the Second Industrial Revolution which was characterized by the expansion of electricity. The modern concept of automation begins around this time. Hefty ropes, pullies, and levers eventually became surpassed by switches and buttons. No longer did a team of workers pull heavy chains to raise and lower heavy objects. The use of electricity meant that motorized pulleys and wenches could replace these tasks with a push of a button. This development also meant faster response times in between processes, therefore resulting in faster production times.

While this by far made production in factories a lot faster and more efficient. The need to be more streamlined meant factories still needed to up the game on productivity. This is where the HMI enters the story.

A Brief History

In the Beginning

Typewriters are considered the earliest examples of HMI. Source: Wikipedia

While we are hard pressed to find one today, the earliest HMI can be traced back to the typewriter. Invented in the 1860s, the device provided a tangible connection between human input and machine output. While the typewriter is considered rudimentary by today’s standards. A person able to punch keys and output the information onto paper marked a milestone in machine interfacing. However, the biggest progress for HMI technology comes about during the 20th century.

Xerox Alto. Source: Wikipedia

The 20th Century

The mid-20th century saw the rise of computers. Unlike the typewriter, these powerful machines and their interfaces evolved from punch cards to command-line interfaces. This later would progress to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). By 1965 the Royal Radar Establishment developed the first touch screen. Popularized by Xerox PARC’s Alto computer in the 1970s, the GUI allowed users to interact with computers through visual representations such as icons, windows, and menus. Ths technology saw niche use in industries like air traffic control. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that it gained widespread recognition. Two prominent examples of devices being the Hewlett-Packard HP-150 and the Atari 520ST. Touchscreens revolutionized the way users interacted with machines, providing a more intuitive and direct method of input. Another significant advancement in HMI was the introduction of voice recognition systems.

HMI in the Digital Age

Recent years have witnessed the rise of virtual and augmented reality as emerging interfaces. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies have gained significant traction. VR immerses users in computer-generated environments, while AR overlays digital information onto the real world. These immersive technologies are opening up new possibilities with training and the way operators interact with equipment.

What is HMI?

In the world of industrial automation, Human-machine interface (HMI) plays a crucial role in completing tasks. It enables effective communication and interaction between humans and machines in manufacturing and industrial settings. HMIs serve as the primary interface through which operators monitor and control industrial processes. These interfaces provide real-time data visualization, alarms, and controls that allow operators to make informed decisions and respond quickly to changing conditions. They typically consist of touchscreens, graphical displays, and input devices such as keyboards or keypads. HMIs are used to manage a wide range of industrial automation systems, including robotic assembly lines, control panels, and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

HMI’s like this Fanuc Teach Pendant rose to prominence throughout the 80’s. Source: FanucExpress

The use of HMIs in industrial automation has greatly enhanced productivity, efficiency, and safety in manufacturing environments. HMIs in minimize human error and help with downtime. They allow operators to visualize critical information, receive real-time alerts, and respond promptly to abnormal conditions. HMI’s provide clear and concise displays, making it easier for operators to interpret data and make informed decisions. Furthermore, HMIs implement preventive maintenance strategies by providing insights into equipment performance and condition monitoring. By integrating advanced functionalities like data analytics and predictive maintenance, HMIs contribute to proactive approaches in industrial automation.


As industry continues to evolve we already seeing the integration of VR and voice commands in HMI technology. At this point the questions is not so much about “Can we do it?” but rather how streamlined and cost efficient can they be? Only time can tell.

Go! Go! Maglev Train!

Since its first major introduction to the world in 2004, the maglev train exists as an unchallenged technological wonder. Its ability to allow people to travel great distances in a short time at an affordable cost while having a relatively low environmental impact, has gained much praise from various communities around the globe. At one time the maglev train captivated applause from people all around the world. They saw it as a viable answer to problems regarding transportation, infrastructure, and environmental impact. However, over 20 years later despite all its progress, only three countries (China, Japan, S. Korea) have implemented it on a large scale. This leaves the question of “why”? With all its advances and the future looking bright, the maglev train has struggled to catch on in other countries. More specifically the United States.

In this article, we will explore what a maglev train is, and how it works. What it takes to run it. And what has been the deciding factor(s) on whether or not a country will adopt it for use?

Quick History of the Maglev

Maglev, short for magnetic levitation, is a high-speed transportation system that uses magnets to levitate and propel vehicles. The first patent for a maglev system dates back to 1905 by the American inventor Alfred Zehden. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the technology began to gain traction when engineers at various universities and research institutions began exploring the use of magnets to levitate and propel trains.

In 1984, the world’s first commercial maglev system began operating in Birmingham, England. The system, known as the “Maglev 2000,” used electromagnetic suspension and propelled trains at speeds of up to 42 mph. Unfortunately, technical difficulties and high costs plagued the project and it eventually became abandoned. One New York Times, article states, “The Maglev 2000 was the victim of high costs, political indecision, and technical problems.”

1985 video of an early maglev train in Berlin

Despite the setbacks, maglev technology continued to develop throughout the decades. In the 1990s, several countries began investing heavily in maglev research and development. Japan became a leader in Maglev technology. The country’s high-speed Maglev train set a new world speed record of 361 mph in 2005. One Forbes article wrote, “Japan has been at the forefront of maglev development for decades, and its high-speed maglev trains are the fastest commercial trains in the world.”

How Does it Function?

Maglev, or magnetic levitation, is a high-speed transportation technology that uses powerful magnets to suspend and propel vehicles along a guideway. According to a report by the Federal Railroad Administration, “Maglev trains operate on the principle of magnetic repulsion between the vehicle and the guideway, which eliminates the need for wheels and steel-on-steel contact.”

The maglev train consists of two major components: the vehicle and the guideway. The vehicle carries passengers or cargo. Powerful electromagnets are located under the vehicle. Electromagnets also line the guideway and create a magnetic field. This interaction between the two electromagnets creates a levitation effect and propels the vehicle forward.

Photo provided by: SciTechDaily

Sophisticated computer systems on the vehicle ensure the train stays on course and maintains a safe distance from other vehicles. The computer system monitors the position and speed of the train and adjusts the magnetic fields as necessary. This keeps the train moving smoothly and safely.

The Advantages of Maglev Trains

The most obvious advantage of a maglev train system is the ability to travel great distances in a short amount of time. At 375 mph(603.5km/h) a maglev train can get passengers from New York to Los Angeles in about 7 hours. Of course, when bringing up massive objects going at high speeds, public safety remains a primary concern. Since magnetic fields propel maglev trains, all trains remain spaced equally apart, making a crash unlikely. Furthermore, it’s the same magnetization that keeps trains from derailing off the tracks. The absence of rails also means the absence of friction allowing the trains to move more efficiently as opposed to traditional trains that rolled on tracks. Another advantage that comes from magnetism is that less friction means fewer moving parts. This roughly translates to a lesser need for frequent maintenance as there is a reduction in wear and tear.

Challenges Maglev Trains Face

The advantages of the maglev train seemingly make it an amazing option for traveling. Yet, decades after its introduction, only three countries have successfully implemented its use on a large scale. Maglev trains have seen small-scale use in Europe and practically none in the United States. This of course raises the question of “Why?”.

Cost remains a primary obstacle in the adoption of maglev trains. One report by the National Maglev Initiative states, “Maglev systems are currently more expensive to build than traditional rail systems, due to the high cost of the guideway and the specialized equipment required.” This makes investing in maglev infrastructure difficult to justify. Especially in regions with traditional rail systems already established.

Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure. Maglev systems require dedicated guideways that are separate from existing transportation infrastructure. Building new guideways to accommodate maglev trains would be necessary. This of course is both a time-consuming and expensive process. In addition, maglev systems may face resistance from communities and property owners who do not want the guideways built in their area.

MagLev trains also face the challenge of having a lot of competition. Not only would it be competing with the automotive industry, but also with commercial travel. Despite these challenges, there is optimism that magLev trains may have a place as a daily commuter transport. Adopting the magLev train system on a smaller scale might make it more feasible in the US.

The Fate of Maglev

From its first conception in the early 1900s to its wide-scale use today, maglev trains exist as a technological wonder that simultaneously astounds the world while also being an afterthought. As the world grapples with the issues of climate change, resource scarcity, and economic disparity maglev trains continue their struggle in finding their place in the world. The maglev train has a lot to offer us, but the challenges surrounding it require addressing before it can become a viable solution.

Industrial Automation and Sustainability

When discussed in the context of sustainability, the average person might not think of industrial automation as ‘sustainable’. After all, when we think of industrial automation our brains turn to the worst thoughts. We think of dirty machines sucking up enormous amounts of energy while being in factories outputting copious amounts of waste. However, recent decades have shown companies moving towards sustainability. Not just because of environmental issues, but also as a means to cushion the cost of manufacturing.

As the world continues prioritizing sustainable practices, industrial automation has emerged as a potential solution for reducing environmental impact. However, there are concerns about whether industrial automation in general is sustainable.

What is Sustainability?

What do we mean by “sustainability”? According to the United Nations, sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In short, sustainable practices should not harm the environment in ways that can obstruct future generations from thriving.

Common Sustainability Concerns

One major concern is the energy consumption of automated systems. Automated machines require significant amounts of energy to operate, especially during the initial stages of setup and installation. This high energy consumption leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to climate change. Additionally, companies design automated systems to operate at full capacity, regardless of the actual product demand. This can result in overproduction, leading to a waste of materials, energy, and resources.

Another concern is automation is the displacement of human workers. Automation usually results in job losses for human workers. This is especially true when performing repetitive and monotonous tasks. This not only affects the livelihoods of these workers but also has social implications. Extreme unemployment and income inequality can lead to social unrest and economic instability.

The Road to Sustainability

The direction of sustainability in industrial automation needs plenty of improvement. However, current trends show a shift by companies toward a sustainable goal. This includes things like reducing waste, improving energy efficiency, and safety conditions for employees.

When talking about efficiency, companies using sensors and software in manufacturing processes can reduce material waste. They achieve this by accurately measuring and cutting materials to exact specifications. This reduces the amount of scrap material wasted and lowers the overall environmental impact of the manufacturing process. Additionally, automated systems can optimize production schedules and reduce downtime, resulting in less energy waste and lower carbon emissions.

When people talk about employees regarding sustainability in industrial automation. They often think of job security as the thing to fear when it comes to automation. However, when discussing sustainability, employee safety often gets left out of the conversation. Keeping healthy and uninjured employees also counts as sustainability. Automation allows machines to complete the most dangerous tasks. This reduces the risk of injury or death to workers. Companies can use automated safety systems to detect potential hazards and shut down machinery if necessary.

Regarding environmental sustainability, having more efficient manufacturing does help stave off environmental impacts. It also has more efficient logistics that can result in better sustainability. Automated vehicles can optimize routes, reduce fuel consumption, and lower emissions by avoiding traffic congestion and reducing idle time. This not only benefits the environment but also saves time and money for businesses. Additionally, automated warehouses can reduce the need for large, energy-intensive storage facilities. This lowers the overall environmental impact of the supply chain.

The Outlook

The general consensus seems to be that industrial automation has the potential to be a sustainable solution. Especially if implemented responsibly and with consideration for the broader social and environmental implications. While there certainly exist concerns that need addressing. The overall evidence suggests that automation may be a key tool when pursuing long-term sustainability.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 has become the standard labeling of our society reaching the fourth industrial revolution. Previous revolutions have been marked by game-changing inventions that have significantly impacted our way of life. The first was the steam engine. The second is mass production via electrical power. The third is the use of electronics and network infrastructure otherwise known as the ‘digital age’. Now we approach the fourth industrial revolution, one highlighted by the boom of computer technology.

The Predecessors

First Industrial Revolution

The first industrial revolution landed between the years 1760 and 1840. Its mainly characterized by the innovation of steam/water powered. Other significant milestones also include the growth of textile and iron production. As well as innovations in agriculture and mining. The first industrial revolution also saw a boom in middle-class growth.

Second Industrial Revolution

The second Industrial Revolution has at times been called the “technological revolution” which took place between 1871 and 1914. While by today’s standards, the technological leap may not seem that significant, for that time society saw these advancements as nothing less than groundbreaking. The biggest innovations to come from that era included the railroad and telegraph lines. These innovations widely improved people’s ability to not only have mainstream access across the continent but also to share ideas a lot faster.

Probably the most revolutionary advancement around this time was the streamlining of electricity. With this innovation, electricity could be in not only in homes but also to better run machines in factories. Pushing them to develop the modern production line that we know today.

Third Industrial Revolution

The third industrial revolution is marked towards the end of the 20th century. Advancements in things like Boolean logic and computer language code were huge game changers in setting up the way computers and machines communicate with one another. Speaking of communication, one innovation that really took off during this time and has had a massive effect on multip generations is the internet.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Building off of the third industrial revolution, the fourth industrial revolution takes digitalization to a whole new level. Many of the technological advancements during this time have roots in communication and being able to access data faster and more widely. While the third revolution brought forth the internet, the fourth revolution focused on making it faster with things like broadband. This compounded with the need to make it more mobile brought forth 3G, 4G, and 5G technology as well as devices that can use them.

Industrial Automation and Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 isn’t just a phenomenon impacting the tech sector. Innovations regarding industrial automation can be found here as well. One of the main effects of Industry 4.0 on industrial automation is the emergence of smart factories. Smart factories utilize advanced technologies such as robotics, and machine learning, to make more efficient manufacturing processes. One Deloitte report found that smart factories can improve productivity by up to 20%, reduce maintenance costs by up to 30%, and reduce energy consumption by up to 20%. This is made possible by the integration of real-time data analytics, which allows for predictive maintenance, intelligent quality control, and optimized production planning.

Another impact of Industry 4.0 on industrial automation is the increased use of collaborative robots, also known as cobots. Unlike traditional industrial robots, which are typically isolated from human workers, cobots can work alongside humans in a shared workspace. They are designed to be safe, easy to program, and flexible, which makes them ideal for small-batch and custom manufacturing. Cobots can also be easily reconfigured to perform different tasks, which enables manufacturers to quickly adapt to changing market demands.


From its beginnings in simple textile manufacturing to its evolution to digital information, industrialization continues to move the gears of globalization while leaving a huge impact on culture and economics. Industry 4.0 continues to move the needle of automizing and producing goods that are not only more efficient to make, but cost-effetive too. As we progress with more advancements in digitalization we very well could be seeing Industry 5.0 centered around AI, but that has yet to be seen.

The Origins of Easter

A Brief History of Easter

Easter is the holiday that has come to epitomize the spring season. Much like the season of spring, Easter plays on the themes of life and things coming back. That may seem coincidental. However, if history has taught us anything about holidays and seasons, it’s that more often than not there is actually a historical context to the correlation between the two.


Like other word origins lost to time, the history of the word “Easter” remains unclear. Many experts think it derives from the Old English word “ēastre” or “ēastan,” which means “east” or “dawn.” The first use of the word “Easter” (in the modern context) traces back to the 8th century. It referred to the Christian holiday celebrating Christ’s resurrection.
In contrast, other scholars believe that the word “Easter” comes from Eostre, the pagan goddess of spring and fertility. This theory is supported by symbols associated with Easter, such as eggs and rabbits, being used in pagan celebrations of the spring equinox.

Easter and Paganism

An artistic representation of Eostre, goddess of fertility.

Easter’s roots in paganism celebrate the spring equinox. It was originally a fertility festival honoring the goddess Eostre. The timing of the festival coincided with the Vernal Equinox, a time of renewal and rebirth. Pagans celebrated the holiday by feasting, dancing, and exchanging brightly colored eggs.
The pagans also considered the spring equinox to be a time of balance between light and dark, as well as a time of great power and magic. The Easter festival honored the earth and its cycles and celebrated the return of spring. Today pagan customs attached to Easter, such as egg decorating and the Easter bunny.

Easter and Christianity

One of the most important days on the Christian calendar, Easter celebrates commemorating Christ’s resurrection. According to the Bible, Jesus was crucified on a Friday, now known as Good Friday. Three days later, on Sunday, he rose from the dead, marking the celebration of Easter Sunday. Christians see the resurrection of Jesus as a triumph over death and a confirmation of his divinity. It acts as a central tenet of the Christian faith.
Christians around the world celebrate Easter with a variety of customs and traditions. Many churches, mark Easter with special services and the singing of hymns. For Catholics, Lent marks the weeks leading up to Easter. It is a period of fasting, prayer, and reflection.

Easter and Non-Secular

Chocolate bunny

While Easter is a Christian holiday, many non-Christians celebrate it non-secularly. Decorating eggs, and indulging in chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps, are things enjoyed by both secular and non. In general, people used the holiday as an excuse for getting together and having a meal.

Easter Customs

Why the Eggs?

A modern example of painted eggs.

As mentioned above, pagans celebrated the spring equinox by painting brightly colored eggs. The Pagans used the eggs in fertility rituals symbolizing new life.
The Christian practice of decorating eggs for Easter likely originated in medieval Europe. People painted eggs with bright colors and designs. They then gave the eggs as gifts to friends and family members. Today, many people still decorate eggs for Easter, and the tradition now includes the use of plastic and chocolate eggs as well.

That Wascawy Wabbit!

Another popular symbol of Easter is the Easter bunny, whose origins date back to German folklore. The story goes that a goddess named Eostre transformed a bird into a hare, and the hare then laid eggs as a symbol of new life. Later, German immigrants brought the tradition of the Easter bunny to America in the 18th century.


In conclusion, the history of Easter is complex and multifaceted. While it has its roots in pagan celebrations of the spring equinox, it has evolved over time to become a significant religious holiday for Christians worldwide. However, the secular traditions of Easter, such as egg decorating and the Easter bunny, remain enjoyed by people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Low-Code and the Future of PLC Programming

Low-code programming is an emerging trend promising to revolutionize software applications’ development and deployment. Utilizing visual modeling tools and pre-built components, low-code programming helps developers create and customize applications quickly and easily, without the need for extensive coding skills. Not only is it shaking up the world of software development, but it is making big splashes in the world of industrial automation. This is especially so when we talk about PLCs.

The Current Language of PLC

In another blog, we covered ladder logic. This is the primary coding language that PLCs use to function and perform tasks. Ladder logic is based on an older coding language known as C. Traditionally, coding in languages like C requires a mix of prompts formatted in very specific ways. This requires a well-versed coder programming the PLCs. The other challenge is not only that a person has to know the coding language, but also just be able to visualize how it all works together. Lines of code don’t always get along with each other. This sometimes results in an unexpected outcome not seen in the initial programming. This generally gets referred to as a “bug”. A good programmer must be one that can recognize, isolate, and debug what is causing these issues.

What is Low-Code Programming?

Low code is defined as a software development approach that requires little to no coding to build applications and processes. Instead of complex programming languages, it utilizes visual interfaces with basic logic and drag-and-drop capabilities in a development platform. This quick and simple alternative to conventional software development continues to grow in popularity.

Video explaining Low-Code

Applying Low Code to PLC

While the trend of low code exists predominantly in the field of programming and development. It is also a concept being adapted to the field of industrial automation. More specifically, PLCs can adapt the low code model as traditionally they operate on a basic programming language.

The Advantages of Low-Code

There are several advantages to systems using a low-code environment. These advantages include faster times, better productivity, increased flexibility, and reduced costs.

With faster times, developers create applications much faster than traditional coding methods. They use pre-built components and visual modeling tools, to assemble and customize applications without the need for extensive coding.

Faster Times – Low coding allows PLC programmers to input programs much faster and not restricted by traditional coding methods.

Better Productivity – With less effort and time required than traditional programming, facilities can operate faster and more efficiently. An engineer can program a PLC much easier.

Increased flexibility – PLC programmers can quickly debug/modify the program of a PLC a lot easier than finding lines of code and rewriting them when the situation changes.

Low Cost – Low code programming will in the long run be less expensive, as unlike traditional programming, the PLC programmer does not need to have extensive knowledge of coding.

Future Outlook

Ultimately, the outlook for low code’s place in the world of industrial automation appears more prominent than ever. While there are concerns about how it will impact the future labor force. At its core low code serves as another example of automation making a specialized position obsolete. In the end, Low code’s multifaceted advantages of being flexible, quick, and cost-effective make it very appealing to companies across the industry, meaning that (for the time being at least) it’s here to stay.

Common PLC Issues

Common PLC Issues (and how they can be avoided)

PLCs have been crucial for the advancement of industrial automation. Their ability to increase functionality at decreased cost makes them widely used across automated systems. Not only do they have the ability. PLCs are able to give both simple and complex instructions to a variety of systems.

Like any other machine, PLCs are also prone to breaking and having their own issues. An entire PLC cabinet full of devices, blinking lights, and wires can seem intimidating. However, sometimes the issue might be one that can be resolved simply and easily. So before you call a technician to come service your system, here are a few simple troubleshooting you can do that could save your company some time (and money).

Input/Output(I/O) Failure

This is probably the most common failure that affects PLCs. This is usually due to the relationship between the internal and external situations not establishing a connection. This generally gets fixed by finding out what relationship is not being established and isolating the issue.

Signal Interference

This occurs when there is either electromagnetic interference (EMI) or radio frequency interference (RFI). EMI occurs when a PLC is very close to a large motor or any device that creates an electromagnetic field. Lightning striking a device can also cause an EMI issue. ERFI happens when a PLC is next to a transmitting device for a prolonged period of time. Both of these interference will over time degrade the functionality of a PLC. The best thing to do is to position your PLC somewhere far apart from anywhere that can cause either EMI or RFI. If that is not possible, there are also options for protective housings for your PLC.

Memory Corruption

Corrupt memory issues often occur from interference. They also commonly happen when power to the PLC suddenly gets cut off and not properly rebooted. A popular precautionary measure often taken is simpling backing up data to a storage device. A good preventative measure is to not only keep PLCs away from areas of interference but also places with high temperature and humidity.

Power Loss

In industrial automation, machines rely on consistent power to operate. In the event of a sudden power outage (power grid failure, rolling blackouts, etc) it’s generally a good idea to have an alternate or backup power source to rectify the situation should power failure occur.


A paramount function for PLCs is their ability to communicate with not only one another but also with other equipment like HMIs and drives. Usually, these devices all communicate via Ethernet cable because of their speed and reliability. Ensuring that wires rest properly connected and away from any obstruction or positioned anywhere that might cause them to crimp or get cut, can help prevent a communication error.


In a perfect world, machines run flawlessly 24/7 with no maintenance required. However, in reality, the inevitability of even the most well-kept facility system failing at some point is unavoidable. That being said, following the steps above can help mitigate the wear and tear of your PLC system and get the most life out of them.