The HMI software being used to connect edge devices to the plant

Aug. 21, 2017
Panel of nine industry experts share the HMI-software technologies connecting operators, supervisors and managers to machines on the edge

The human-machine interface (HMI) is the window to the equipment’s operations. As remote connectivity and data sharing continue to play larger roles, machine builders capitalize on the HMI’s digital capabilities. This select panel of experts discusses where HMI software is leading operator interface, as well as the equipment it puts a face on.

What HMI-software technologies are being used to connect edge devices and machines to the operators, supervisors and managers in the plant?

Chris Harris, Revere Control Systems: Web portals are being used for reports and KPIs. HTML5-compliant graphics are for standardized visualization across numerous portable devices.

Chris Harris, PE, is senior project engineer at Revere Control Systems and a Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) member.

Robert Zeigenfuse, Avanceon: All database-driven HMIs can easily be utilized to perform this function. However, when the number of large data packages increases to more than 20% of the HMI application, the polling method of communication can quickly be brought to its knees.

Once, one gets more sophisticated, a deterministic method of communication would be a wise choice, rather than trying to overpower the polling problem with computer horsepower. Today's databased HMIs can be augmented with such deterministic communication.

Robert Zeigenfuse is president of Avanceon and a CSIA member.

Vikram Kumar, EZAutomation: The concept of "edge-gateway" computing and monitoring of data is becoming more and more important for real-time access of data. HMI software is talking to edge devices over standard protocols, such as Modbus TCP/IP, Ethernet I/P or a widely accepted IIoT protocol known as MQTT. For example, the HMI connected to the PLC can securely, reliably and quickly take field I/O parameters and, using advanced math function blocks, compute complex and critical data, which is required by plant personnel.

Vikram Kumar is president/CEO of EZAutomation.

Alicia Millinger, GE Digital: HMI is the on ramp from edge devices and machines to the Industrial Internet and the closed loop from plant to cloud and back to operators, supervisors and managers. This digital thread involves capturing data across systems and through lifecycles and recording for IIoT analytics. It’s a seamless digital connection. That means implementation of the HMI must expand and go deeper. Companies must connect their industrial assets and operations, including people performing manual processes. The digital thread also has to cross legacy systems and outdated pieces of equipment. Also fairly common, information exists but is consumed in an isolated way. Companies need to close these typical data gaps, build the foundation with the HMI and get connected, enabling the digital thread and IIoT.

Alicia Millinger is marketing manager, automation software at GE Digital.

Lee Clore, Onyx Industries: Software advances have cast the HMI forward as the communication hub for machines on the plant floor. HMI Web servers allow access from anywhere. While this requires thought to Internet security and network management, the upside is considerable. The plant floor is immediately available and can be tailored to the audience. Pages can be served up that contain specific data for production, maintenance and management personnel. Recipes and order data can be pushed down to the machine.HMIs sending simple SMS text messages can immediately send a request to maintenance. The message can even embed machine data.HMIs with email capability offer another means of enhancing communications at the plant floor. Production data can be sent at the end of day or at the end of a shift. It can include embedded data such as counts, work order numbers and uptime or downtime.Many people in the plant have an interest in what's going on at the machine. The HMI can get information from PLCs, motion controllers and robots, all at once. So if the data is accessible at the HMI and the need is definable, there is more than one option to presenting and distributing the required information.

Lee Clore is owner/controls designer at Onyx Industries.

Chirayu Shah, Rockwell Automation: With a three-tiered data collection strategy, Rockwell Automation helps customers efficiently collect and store data and make it available to appropriate users on the shop floor to make informed decisions. The three-tiered strategy allows customers to collect data closest to its birth place—at the machine level, or rack-based module; site level, or disparate data sources; and enterprise level, or site aggregation and integration with ERP systems or big data repositories.

In disconnected or hard-to-service areas, customers can now collect data and analyze it locally from the in-rack module. With the right architecture, that data also can be stored longer term for future analysis. The ability to have real-time access to data at the edge-device level and consolidate it with other process data at the site or enterprise level allows users to perform their jobs efficiently, regardless of role and location.

Chirayu Shah is marketing manager, HMI software, at Rockwell Automation.

Allen Tubbs, Bosch Rexroth: OPC UA continues to become solidified as an industry standard, but now I see other non-industrial protocols being pushed down to industrial control, for the purpose of operator interface. MQTT is a good example.

Allen Tubbs is product manager, automation and electrification solutions at Bosch Rexroth and a CSIA member.

Asako Takayasu, Fuji Electric: Ethernet connection is supported as standard. This enables transfer of the HMI application to the HMI unit without worrying about the cable connection, both serial and Ethernet. Also you can monitor​ and/or operate​ the system with the tablet PC or smart phone wirelessly. ​ No need to gear up to enter the clean room to check the system. Just simply start up the VNC viewer app ​that you have on your device and type the IP address of the HMI and log in.

Asako Takayasu is international product specialist, HMI, at Fuji Electric.

Jeff Hayes, Beijer Electronics: Most are using wired connections to desktops; a growing number want to see this on their phones and tablets when they are away from their desks, for example, in conference rooms or walking the plant facilities. More data from the plant floor is being pushed to local servers or to a cloud storage repository, owned or through a service provider, and mined from home-grown or third-party software offerings.

Jeff Hayes is regional product manager at Beijer Electronics.

About the author

Mike Bacidore is the editor in chief for Control Design magazine. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. Email him at [email protected].

About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected]