Systems Integration / HMI

Human-Centered Design (HCD) in an FDT/DTM Environment

We Need a New Way to Interface With Field Devices That Increases Productivity, Reduces Training Needs, and Reduces Human Error

By Tom Wallace

The process industry faces a perfect storm of factors that will change how we interact with field devices. Plants are becoming larger, more complex and subject to more regulation. Plants will have more devices, more different device types, and the devices themselves will be more complex. Also, devices and communication protocols are becoming more complex and capable. In addition, we're facing the loss of experienced workers with their replacements being less experienced and fewer in number. We face doing more work and more complex work with fewer and less experienced people. We need a new way to interface with field devices that increases productivity, reduces training needs, and reduces human error.  This new way will use human-centered design (HCD). 

HCD addresses these challenges by making the user interface fit for purpose.  This will bring two major changes. First, the user interface is designed around how the human brain naturally works. Second, the user interface is designed around the specific tasks a field device person does, such as status checks, troubleshooting, configuration, calibration, and maintenance. Optimizing the user interface this way can increase productivity up to eight times, and reduce human error up to 40 times. These huge differences will separate future success from future failure.

Field Device Tool/Device Type Manager (FDT/DTM) is one of the ways Emerson is implementing HCD. Here's how. HCD starts by placing the most frequently needed information, device status, process variables, and operating mode on the device landing screen. It also uses information placement, color, and graphics to draw the eye naturally to the information. Finally, every device, regardless of type, has the same information in the same place, and shows that information the same way. With HCD, a user can look at any device and know in a glance if the device is functional, and where to click to learn more. Thanks to FDT technology, the device user interface will look and act exactly the same on every FDT based host, so every user can have the best and most productive experience.

FDT/DTM is administered by the FDT Group.

Next, HCD provides single-click navigation to troubleshooting, configuration, and calibration. Shortcuts and consistent navigation, regardless of device type and communication protocol, mean instrument personnel will always go to the right place to accomplish the task at hand. Again, the interoperability and identical look, feel, navigation and action that FDT technology brings to different hosts means these benefits are equally available to every user.

Figure 4
Figure 4. This figure shows shortcuts for three different devices. The shortcuts displayed
are those used most frequently for each device type.


Next, work is guided and feedback is provided, so the person always knows what to do next, and if the prior step was successful. 

Figure 5
Figure 5. The user clicks on the configuration shortcut, selects the sensor to be configured, selects the
sensor type, is prompted for advanced configuration options, given confirmation of success, and the
landing page is updated with the new sensor data.


All the information needed to perform a task is located on a single screen, so users don't need to navigate to a different screen, and remember information from the last one to complete a task. Where applicable, information is provided graphically, and at the level of detail useful by instrument personnel in the field. Finally, devices are placed back in service automatically by the user interface, even if this entails interacting with a number of different function blocks.

Figure 6

HCD isn't simply adding color, images, and graphs to a conventional device screen; it's a fundamentally different design methodology. Emerson's Human-Centered Design Institute has conducted years of fundamental research and trained hundreds of development engineers on HCD principles. In side by side testing, where novices worked on HCD user interfaces and experts worked on traditional device interfaces, the novices outperformed the experts 100% of the time. This included both higher productivity and higher quality of work performed.  Thanks to the wide adoption and proven interoperability of FDT/DTM, users can have higher human productivity and fewer human errors, regardless of Frame Application or host system. And, this leads to safer, more productive and more profitable plants.