Most machine builders no longer have to be sold on the benefits of remote access to PC-based and embedded HMI servers by remote thin clients such as tablets and smartphones, but for those who still need convincing, here are some reasons to go mobile.
“For machine builder OEMs, the key to success is simplified commissioning and support of the equipment after it is in production,” says Chirayu Shah, commercial program leader for HMI software at Rockwell Automation. “With remote-access capability, OEMs can check diagnostic messages or machine status, and they can receive notifications or alerts based on specific conditions during the operations. This flexibility means OEMs don’t have to be physically on-site to troubleshoot issues.”
Other good reasons for remote access are explained by Gimmi Filice, manager of HMI/SCADA at GE Digital. “OEMs benefit from remote access because they can monitor their machines at their customer sites to see how they are operating. This also benefits OEM customers by providing access to the experts who designed the machine, which can help them to optimize their assets. This can be turned into a competitive advantage as OEMs are able to provide more value to their customers.”
The HTML5 standard is simplifying remote access, and this standard has been widely adopted throughout both the industrial and commercial sectors. As recently as a couple of years ago, remote access to PC-based and embedded HMI servers via thin client browsers was limited to platforms running Windows-based operating systems, and in some cases Apple smartphones and tablets. But now, any piece of hardware supporting the HTML5 standard can be used for browser-based access. Since almost every operating system supports the standard, remote access is no longer device-dependent.
Back in the day, it was very hard for suppliers to provide browser-based access, as each operating system had its own requirements. “Software in the past was very operating-system-specific and limited which devices could be used to display HMI screens,” explains Filice. “Suppliers not only had to design remote access into their HMI software for each operating system/remote device, they also had to continually update their software to keep up with remote device operating system updates, patches and revisions.”
With the HTML5 standard, this customization is no longer required, as all that’s needed to make a device an HMI thin client is compliance with the HTML5 standard by the HMI software and the remote device OS. “HTML5 is widely available on a variety of devices including Windows, iOS, Android and Linux—providing platform independence. This allows us to focus on delivering solutions to provide timely information to the operator regardless of their location, without worrying about the underlying technology,” adds Filice.
Virtually every major HMI software vendor is onboard with HTML5, including Rockwell Automation. “HTML5 is a recognized, worldwide standard,” says Shah. “The majority of technology vendors like Apple, Microsoft and Google support HTML5 technology in their Web browsers for all devices, from standard PCs and laptops to tablets and smartphones. We built our Web-based solution using this standard to allow customers flexibility regarding which form factor to use. With one rendering engine in our product, we are able to bring plant-floor information to all of the most popular devices.”