The IoTPAC combines control and a virtual HMI

How SoftPLC eliminated a PAC control system's HMI hardware by going virtual.

By Dave Perkon, technical editor

SoftPLC's IoTPAC is a new standard for automation, providing both a full-feature PAC and SCADA on an embedded, low-cost hardware platform, allowing any Web browser, such as a smartphone, tablet or PC, to be used as the human-machine interface (HMI).

Combining control, data logging, alarms and HMI into a single rugged platform as a standard option is long overdue in the industrial market place. The IoTPAC also helps to save cost, panel space and maintenance compared to traditional PLC and HMI control systems or combined PLC-HMI products. It can control a wide variety of machines and is a great solution for remotely located equipment, portable machines or systems that can run stand-alone, without an HMI, after initial configuration.

"The IoTPAC provides a robust automation solution that is ideally suited for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0,” says Cindy Hollenbeck, vice president of marketing at SoftPLC. "SoftPLC's release of IoTPAC combines a programmable automation controller (PAC) with an embedded Linux version of the Web Studio SCADA software, IoTView."

Two technologies in one

The IoTPAC is not a single product, but the combination of two technologies. It's a PAC that, when connected to the IoT, provides a virtual HMI via a smartphone or tablet. Any of SoftPLC's controller hardware solutions can be turned into an IoTPAC.

IoTPAC merges SoftPLC programmable automation controllers and IoTView, a new embedded Linux runtime version of Web Studio SCADA software that has been available on Windows, Windows Embedded and Windows CE since 1997. "As smartphones and tablets become lower cost and more popular, the IoTPAC addresses a growing market need for Web-based HMI on systems where an onboard HMI can add unnecessary cost or complexity," says Hollenbeck.

This all-in-one controller includes I/O control for hundreds of industrial vendor products. The controller can be programmed using relay ladder, state logic and C++. The virtual HMI uses a Web browser to view and control machines and processes. It also enables alarms, trends, security and database functions. Data, events and alarms can be logged locally or remotely in multiple file formats.

Many communication options are available. The IoTPAC can act as a communication gateway or protocol converter. It can also communicate alarms via email, text message or the virtual HMI. And it enables remote access for maintenance and troubleshooting, along with communication to any popular SCADA, DCS or other controllers, highlighting the device’s connectivity, which is topped off with an embedded firewall/VPN.

Also read: Combine Control and Operator Interface

Unlike an embedded Web server, the IoTPAC's embedded SCADA runtime software allows use of a powerful application development environment with built-in tools for object-oriented graphics, trending, alarming and database interfaces.

"Over the years, adoption of embedded Web servers, in all vendors’ controllers, hasn't been overwhelming because of the lack of a development environment," says Hollenbeck. "The programmers could not easily create the graphic screens or data handling needed. The IoTPAC addressed this issue by providing extensive HMI development capabilities that control designers and programmers are used to. And the IoTPAC does it with minimal hardware resources reducing cost and ensuring reliability in harsh environments."

Useful applications

Many applications require a visual operator interface only during startup or troubleshooting. "When a machine is located in a remote, mobile or harsh environment, the cost of the screen to withstand the vibration or temperature or hazardous conditioning is high and often a waste of time," says Hollenbeck. "Additionally, for solar-powered systems, energy use is reduced."

An example of the reduced overall panel size and cost is the Micro SoftPLC hardware. "The hardware is about the size of a deck of cards, but with IoTPAC it includes the PAC, virtual HMI, wireless communication, Ethernet, data logging and more," says Hollenbeck. "Any PC, tablet or smart phone can be used as the operator interface, whether connected by hard wire, wirelessly or over the Internet. It's a great option for a combined PAC and virtual HMI."

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