Versatile HMIs Combine Functions

Red Lion Controls' Graphite Series of Advanced Operator Interface Panels Are Sleek, Rugged, Flexible and Modular

By Jim Montague

"Sleek" and "rugged" aren't words that usually go together in the realm of human-machine interfaces (HMIs), and it's even rarer for them to be joined by "flexible" and "modular."

Red Lion Controls believes that, thanks to some technological matchmaking, all four terms are together permanently in its new Graphite series of advanced operator interface panels.

With all cast-aluminum construction, Graphite claims to be our industry's first rugged HMI solution that combines a wide range of versatile, plug-in modules with protocol conversion, data logging and web-based monitoring and control. It allows users to easily connect, monitor and control their processes.

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"The HMI has become the nexus of the machine, and our new Graphite series offers the highest level of protocol support to simplify even the most complex multi-vendor environments," says Jeff Thornton, product management director of Red Lion's indication and interface divisions. "By logging performance data and critical events, customers can implement process improvements or perform fault-finding activities."

Graphite HMIs are full-color touchscreens, in eight models and five width sizes, including 7, 9, 10, 12 and 15 inches. Sleek bezels provide a relatively large display given their overall dimension. Both the 7- and 10-in. sizes are available as sunlight-visible models. Combined with Graphite's rugged packaging, they're well-suited for harsh outdoor environments.

"We're seeking to take the appearance of mainstream consumer interfaces, such as the iPad, and apply that appearance to an industrial setting," says Thornton. "This will enable HMIs to become even more important focal points for people to gather data from their industrial applications."

Thornton adds that Red Lion's developers made several voice of the customer (VoC) trips into the process control and automation field, and users reported they wanted an HMI with wider temperature ranges, heavier shock and vibration specifications, and a die-cast aluminum housing, so they can install the HMI and not have to worry about it. "Graphite can now operate between -20 °C and 60 °C, and we hope it will be able to run between -20 °C and 70 °C," Thornton says.

Red Lion says Graphite's flexibility is probably its most useful capability. The family's range of plug-in modules enables customers to create solutions for today, and have the option to expand for changing business requirements in the future. Further, Thornton says, Graphite's users and their organizations can reduce development and commissioning times compared to traditional systems, which typically use an HMI paired with separate I/O, PLCs and other controllers, and require more programming and configuration time.

"Our first-round release of Graphite directly accepts I/O modules for eight flavors of PID control, dc voltage and current, thermocouples, RTUs and other components," Thornton explains. "More modules will be coming next year for communications with fieldbuses such as Profibus, DeviceNet and other protocols, and we'll add cellular capabilities later in 2014. Graphite also carries over all the capabilities of our G3 HMIs."

Graphite has a built-in web server so users can monitor and control applications via PCs, tablets or smart phones. SMS text-messaging and e-mail alerts provide early warning of process issues. Thornton says its built-in protocol converter allows programmers to select simultaneous protocols from a list of more than 250 to seamlessly integrate disparate devices such as PLCs, drives, barcode readers and panel meters.

All of Graphite's capabilities are supported by Red Lion's Crimson 3.0 software, which is included at no extra cost. "Crimson 3.0 makes it fast and easy to configure protocols, define data tags, set up sophisticated applications and create attractive user interfaces," Thornton says. "Designed for ease of use, it allows customers to cost-effectively standardize on one HMI for all of their machines, regardless of the PLC or drive manufacturer used."