Light Guide Design for Human Machine Interface Display Trends

Posted by on Apr 1, 2024

A person interacts with a human machine interface on a printer

OEMs Can Leverage Custom Light Guides to Illuminate HMIs 

Recent and significant advancements in human-machine interface (HMI) technology are poised to become even more mainstream. Innovative original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are at the forefront of this revolution, from more intuitive HMI software to how they’re illuminated. Likewise, shifting consumer expectations have driven up the demand for thinner, fully integrated HMI that enhance the user experience.   

Consider applications like automotive instrument panels, consumer electronic devices and point-of-service systems like self-ordering kiosks. Focused, experienced engineering support is required for these complex illumination applications. 

As technology continues to advance and trend thinner, OEMS should lean on proven light guide manufacturers who deliver ultra-thin light guides for HMI illumination. Thinner, more efficient illumination leaves more room for robust technology and allows OEMs the flexibility to innovate. 

Read on for an exploration into illumination for HMI, trends to watch and how to take advantage of them. 

What is a Human Machine Interface? 

HMIs enable the interaction between a user and a machine, device or computer. At their core, HMIs convert human actions into technological signals that machines understand. How users interact with HMIs can range from simple display screens and touch-sensitive panels to more complex setups like gesture recognition and voice control. Because users take action and expect a response, it’s crucial that HMIs confirm the input was received. Illumination is the most common, and often most impactful, user communication. 

Take a smart speaker or illuminated volume dial, for example. Both become illuminated when the software receives input from a user. At Global Lighting Technologies, HMI illumination includes the lighting of buttons, switches, touch screens and icons. 

It may be surprising to OEMs that there are dozens of opportunities to incorporate HMI into products. From medical devices to banking applications, HMIs elevate ordinary user experiences.  

HMI Trends: Now, New and Next 

Savvy OEMs have their finger of the pulse of shifting market trends and consumer demands. The Global Lighting Technologies team has seen these top trends among our customer base and the industry at large.  

Thin & Sleek 

As mentioned earlier, HMIs will continue to leverage thinner designs. This aligns with consumer demand for sleeker and more streamlined interfaces. The effects of this shift require OEMs to focus on maximizing space efficiency without compromising visual quality and functionality. Luckily, advancements in very thin light guide technology, pioneered by Global Lighting Technologies, allow for OEMs to easily include high-tech components and meet their goals without tradeoffs. 

Buttons vs. No Buttons 

There has been a recent push from manufacturers to consolidate button inputs into one screen. Like the automotive example from earlier, human machine interfaces have begun to take up more surface area in certain applications to account for reduced physical buttons. 

On the other hand, some consumers push back on the surge of consolidated panels. Demand is also rising for physical buttons that perform one function because consumers feel they have more control over the HMI actions. 

Fully Integrated 

They may feel like something out of Star Trek, but dead front panels are very real HMI applications. They’re HMIs that are fully integrated into the outer surface of a machine and provide illumination for capacitive touch when needed, but nothing is displayed when users don’t interact with it. 

Dead front panels have been in use for several decades, but they haven’t been popular due to being only visual feedback. However, advancements in technology have added touch-capable and haptic feedback to these devices. This increases the functionality and both are expected to be more prevalent in applications across the board.  

The Global Lighting Technologies research and development team has been at the forefront of this exciting advancement. The team’s ultra-thin light guide technology is piloted in several devices globally and is poised for further adoption. 

Aesthetic Design 

Modern HMIs are thin, sleek and fully integrated into machines, but elevated aesthetics take things a step further. The Global Lighting Technologies team has witnessed the rise of form in relation to function with an emphasis on ergonomic HMI design. From artful button or dial configurations to the size and location of displays, light guide technology opens the doors to nearly limitless illumination opportunities. 

Uniformity as a Priority 

Uniformity is crucial for HMIs because users must be able to easily and quickly interpret device feedback. Dark spots or unintentional changes in illumination could change what the perceived machine response is. This can result in user confusion or even cause the application to be used in an unintended way.  

Uniformity also contributes to accessibility. Companies of all sizes are now expected to have accessible applications wherever possible. Uniform, high-contrast illumination of an HMI allows for users with sight issues to successfully use the application. 

Selective Illumination 

Selective illumination technology allows user interfaces to illuminate separate portions of a device in different colors or intensity levels simultaneously. Learn more about selective illumination for HMIs here. 

Immediate User Feedback 

Feedback is the cornerstone of any effective HMI. It reassures the user that their actions have triggered the desired response, preventing confusion or repeated input attempts. This immediate communication between the device and its user is critical, especially in a world accustomed to the real-time response. It streamlines user experiences to ensure that devices are intuitive and user-friendly.  


Leverage Light Guide Expertise

No matter the trends, Global Lighting Technologies has a twenty-year history of adapting to industry shifts and innovations. Visionary companies that seek to take advantage of emerging trends (or to set their own) should connect with the Global Lighting Technology team.


Leverage Light Guide Technology to Take Advantage of HMI Trends 

The most straightforward approach to take advantage of HMI trends is to partner with an expert light guide manufacturer. Here are core capabilities that a seasoned light guide manufacturer should offer for an HMI illumination project. 

Reduce total device thickness 

  • More functionality and thinner parts are often an oxymoron, but not for expert light guide manufacturers. Thin, cutting-edge light guides (like those pioneered by Global Lighting Technologies) allow OEMs to reach overall application size goal while maintaining room for their technology. 
  • At Global Lighting Technologies, light guides are crafted so thinly that they can be implemented in a touch sensor stack-up without reducing the sensitivity of touch. Light guides can be so thin, in fact, that they act more like a film within the touch sensor stack up. 
  • Light guides that are too thick can interfere with sensitivity of motion. 

Increase device efficiency 

  • Light guides can illuminate large areas of a touch screen uniformly and efficiently to reduce total power consumption and improve the overall visual appearance of HMIs. 
  • High-efficiency LEDs are smaller than ever and last longer, so brightness isn’t compromised for the sake of efficiency. 

Facilitate innovation 

  • A proven light guide manufacturer offers the flexibility that lets OEMs push the envelope and act on their bright ideas. Light guide experts can also better tailor products to different user experiences. With greater tools and options, OEMs have more options to innovate. 
  • Look for a light guide manufacturer that has experience in working with a wide range of customers. The efficiencies they gain from past projects can help speed development time and offer the best technical solution for a customer’s HMI illumination requirements. 

How to Work with a Light Guide Manufacturer on an HMI Project 

When you begin to work with a light guide manufacturer, it’s important to have this information on hand: 

  • Components to be supplied as a part of the assembly 
  • Mechanical constraints for the solution (the area we have to work with in the final product) 
  • Location, size, and optical properties of the surface or object to be illuminated 
  • Specification for product illumination, including average intensity and uniformity 
  • Power constraints of the product, including voltage and current 
  • Color requirements for illumination 
  • Environmental condition requirements for the end product 
  • Any product testing requirements during automotive, environmental, or reliability testing 

OEMs who haven’t considered this information yet shouldn’t be deterred from starting a project. A trusted light guide manufacturer will know the right questions to ask and have a process in place to gather this information. Learn more about the proven, collaborative process leveraged by Global Lighting Technologies. 

It’s also important to validate that a light guide manufacturer can provide the desired solution. For example, Global Lighting Technologies crafts custom light guide assemblies that provide illumination for HMI screens, buttons, surfaces and switches; however, they don’t provide the HMI software. 

Expert Light Guide Design for Human Machine Interface Illumination 

The landscape of human-machine interfaces is one marked by constant change and innovation. As OEMs endeavor to create products that resonate with users, the integration of technological solutions like light guide technology becomes indispensable. Leverage popular HMI features in a new product or machine with the support of a proven light guide manufacturer that’s weathered many trend cycles. The future of HMIs is bright, with advancements like thin light guides and selective illumination to lead the charge. Connect with our team to begin a project. 

We bet you have a bright idea.

Let’s see how GLT can help make it a reality.

For even more information about GLT, view our company presentation at the link below.