omega design logoOmega Design is a leading designer and manufacturer of packaging machinery, equipment, and serialization solutions. Recently we translated HMI (Human-Machine Interface) strings for equipment sold to Omega’s foreign customers.

Translating human-machine interface (HMI) strings is not as straightforward as you might think. This type of project requires ongoing communication between the client, the project manager, and the translation team.

Challenge 1: Where’s the text?

When the client provides the source text, oftentimes the translatable text is buried within strings of CNC code. The project manager is tasked with identifying the translatable text for the team while protecting the integrity of the code. Methods for prepping the source text include writing regular expressions to extract translatable strings and creating job-specific instructions to help translators correctly interpret the text.

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Challenge 2: Where’s the context?

Once the project manager has prepped the source, the translation team faces a second issue. HMI strings can be very short, sometimes no longer than a single word.  For example, the following source (English) included an isolated term “Current.”  The term could refer to electrical current, air current, or relative timing (i.e., past or current?) Context in the form of manuals and schematics is critical for making sense of short HMI strings, but the client should also be available for answering queries.

English source:

Air Dryer Air Flow Failure Alarm Delay
Current=/*N:6 [plc]AaCfgActive.UnAD.flowAlmDelay NOFILL DP:0*/ Archive=/*N:6 [plc]AaCfgArchive.UnAD.flowAlmDelay NOFILL DP:0*/

French target:

Sécheuse à air – Défaut d’écoulement d’air – Retard de l’alarme
Courant=/*N:6 [plc]AaCfgActive.UnAD.flowAlmDelay NOFILL DP:0*/ Archive=/*N:6 [plc]AaCfgArchive.UnAD.flowAlmDelay NOFILL DP:0*/

Challenge 3: It’s expaaaanding!

A third challenge of translating HMI strings is text expansion. Certain languages “expand” when they are translated because they simply use more characters than English. Real estate for displaying strings is typically limited, and the available character-count on the screens may vary from string to string. When translating into a language which typically expands, like French or Spanish, the target translations sometimes overrun their allotted space.

Of course translators try to keep the target text short. If this is not feasible, we send the first round of translations back to the client to load them into the HMI and identify the overruns. The translation team can then shorten certain strings, either by choosing different words or, more commonly, by substituting abbreviations or even creating new ones.

Two kinds of memory

As with all new projects, translating into a new language for the first time is always the most labor intensive. As our relationship with Omega and other manufacturing clients has matured, we have assembled client-specific translation memories and style guides to reduce the amount of back-and-forth. Beyond the tangible “translation memory,” the project manager’s “institutional memory” grows as well; the mutual understanding and rapport between client and agency becomes more valuable with each new project.

For more information about translation services for manufacturing, view our portfolio of featured projects here.