In the previous post in this series on designing the perfect human-machine interface (HMI), we took a brief look at aesthetic and stylistic considerations when designing the HMI and discovered it’s more important than just “how it looks.” Today, we’re going to dive into the guts of the machine: its circuitry and electronic components. Here, we need to understand what options exist to ensure that the machine and its HMI can fulfill its intended function.

If the previous post was truly about design, today we’ll begin to see the marriage between design and engineering in practice. The electronic elements of the machine are critical, for example, to ensuring optimal performance and data exchange. But how do you do that? There are many, many options when it comes to the circuitry that powers operation of the machine – see our downloadable design guide for more on the available possibilities – and every decision has enormous implications for how the product will ultimately perform.

How do the operating conditions impact how the electrical functions work?

We’ll discuss the impact of the operating environment in more detail in the next post in this series, but it’s worth noting that the electronics can be affected by operating conditions. Aspects of the environment like temperature, humidity, or the presence of electromagnetic interference may require specialized design options (e.g., EMI shielding or IP-rated enclosures) to preserve optimal electronic function.

What kind of power delivery network is available, and what is the max power that can run through the circuitry?

Different functions may place different power demands on the machine; and different operating environments may limit or constrain power availability. That can have a determinative effect on which electronic options you choose and how (and even where) it’s incorporated into the equipment.

What is the larger electronic ecosystem into which the machine will operate?

This is an especially important question if the machine will be used in an Internet of Things (IoT) deployment, where it will connect to and communicate with other machines while relaying its own data to a central database. In this case, the machine must integrate the appropriate communication capabilities into the device.

What physical space is available for the machine?

Size and volume requirements can conflict with space allocation, and re-sizing a machine to fit into available space can impact component selection and placement. Some HMI formats are relatively thicker or bulkier (like traditional circuit boards), while others can be thinner and even bendable (like printed foils).

What are the service demands required of the machine?

Different electronic options can affect manufacturability; durability and operating lifespan; future serviceability, maintenance, and repair; and futureproofing (e.g., making it easier to replace or upgrade components so the machine can continue to fulfill its function for as long as possible).

What are the secondary implications of your choices?

Choosing the right electronic components can be like working with puzzle pieces where all the shapes keep moving. For instance, you might want the flexibility of a printed foil or membrane switch that allows for use with a curved surface, but if you also want backlighting using side-LEDs, you need a circuit board. Or you might prefer the stability and mounting options that come with the circuit board, but if you need ultra-thin circuitry due to space constraints, you might favor printed electronics.

How do you piece together this puzzle? For help figuring out the right electronic components for your machine and HMI, please download our “Design Guide To Your Perfect User-Interface.” To start this series of articles from the beginning, read the first entry, “What’s Needed to Design a Successful Human-Machine Interface.” 

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