It's interesting to watch the bring your own device (BYOD) movement leak into the manufacturing space, but we have concerns. Many larger customers or potential customers are doing it to some degree in their IT groups. We've been successful with the plug-in or wireless pendant for multi-station HMIs; we know it well, and it does the monitoring and control our customers need. It seems inevitable that any day now an RFQ will include tablet or smartphone wireless HMI requirements. We'd like to have a few legitimate, technical performance reasons that argue for keeping what we have. Or is it time look for a seat on the bandwagon?
—from February ‘13 Control Design
Hop on the Bandwagon
Yes, an RFQ with tablet or smartphone HMI is inevitable, and it's time to get on the mobile device bandwagon. The good news is that you can do this on your terms. In the manufacturing space, instead of supporting BYOD devices (which, by definition, are devices users already have and bring to work), consider supporting affordable commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) smartphones and tablets specifically issued to users. This approach gives you better control over both application security and performance because you specify the device and accessories, configure security and application software, and maintain the device with OS and application updates.
You can even lock down mobile devices in "guided access," "kiosk" or similar secured modes to restrict application use.
COTS mobile devices benefit from the sheer scale of deployed devices. They're inexpensive, readily available, familiar and offer useful features. A COTS smartphone, for example, will cost much less than a wireless handheld terminal, use modern, non-proprietary networking standards like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and require little training to use. Ongoing software and hardware development occurs for an installed base of millions of units, not hundreds or thousands. Cases for industrial environments—even Class I Div. 2—are available to protect popular smartphones and tablets. Several mobile device management (MDM) software suites can secure off-the-shelf devices used at work.
Finally, one of the key features of COTS mobile devices is their capable web browsers. Some automation companies, such as Opto 22, offer tools to develop web-based mobile operator interfaces for securely monitoring equipment and systems, without the need for additional software. In a nutshell, using COTS mobile devices lets you retain device control for security reasons, while using the advantages of off-the-shelf mobile platforms.
The main problem of BYOD is found in the meaning of the acronym. You own the device, so you decide what is on the device and what you do with your device. This raises security concerns due to possible lack of control, and it demands extra measures. In exchange, companies obtain money savings and alleged increased employee productivity. For non-critical activities such as mailing or sharing a company's calendar, security issues can be worked out, and the BYOD movement reaches its full potential. However, for critical operations such as controlling machines through HMIs, the risks could be higher than the benefits. Even if security concerns can be overcome, a device misconfiguration or a temporary glitch on a device might prevent a worker from properly dealing with a system requiring real-time operation. Attempting to support many disparate devices might not be the best idea in real-time scenarios. As developers of mobile apps for the manufacturing industry, we do not encourage BYOD. We require both user and device identification in order to run our native HMI apps. Unregistered combinations will not work. This approach still allows companies to adopt BYOD if desired. Otherwise they can ban unidentified devices, not just users, by simply not registering them. Ultimately, we encourage companies to supply employees with devices (such as iPads) only for the purpose of process control, using HMIs, as opposed to allowing users to bring their own devices.
Also Read: Next-Generation, Intelligent Networked Devices
A control system continually produces valuable system and production data. But that information—and that system—is less valuable if you can access machine information only from a dedicated terminal.
If operators can be more productive by accessing terminal data from a remote location, or if an operator needs to do a quick unit count from an HMI, but isn't near a computer or the production line, HMI mobility options should be tapped. While the majority of industrial production companies likely will continue to use traditional HMIs as their main control interface for machine operations, remote access can bring valuable gains in accessible, convenient information and production control.
As a web-enabled HMI application, it extends access to machine displays and dashboards to users anywhere for improved real-time decision-making. Operators also have the freedom to perform maintenance and troubleshoot remotely or walk along the conveyor line to check sensors in commissioning. With HMI mobility remote users can:
- Gain access to download programs via FTP
- Increase diagnostic information gathering
and remote troubleshooting capabilities;
- Gain administrator login access to view terminal