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A new data-access model is brewing

Aug. 25, 2020
HMIs will communicate with IIoT devices directly

Well, it all started with Windows 3.0. A new company called Wonderware was working with Microsoft to develop Windows and a new application called, as luck would have it, Wonderware.

Wonderware started the trend of HMI software being resident on the new Microsoft platform. When Windows 3.0 dropped, Wonderware was armed and ready since the development was being done in parallel with Microsoft. This was an “aha moment” for the HMI business.

I was working with a PLC programming software company at the time, and the year was 1990—a mere 30 years ago. We had an HMI product, and it was DOS-based, as was most others at that time.

This milestone changed the user interface forever. IBM was trying to get a foothold in the market with its new user-interface operating system called OS/2, which was really slick but hard to manage. Windows 3.0 was easy to install and manage, and thus OS/2 died on the vine after a number of years in trying to gain a foothold.

They both were trying to leverage the advancements in the personal and industrial computer hardware space. There was no longer a need for expanded memory managers—Windows did all that for you.

I had a demo of Wonderware in the summer of 1990, and I really was blown away. The graphic capabilities and tag database were very slick, and the ability to place graphics on the screen and align them with a mouse click was a feature that had eluded DOS-based products as such. Align to Grid was prevalent.

Oh, how far we have come.

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In 2020 and beyond the HMI will take on a new life. It will no longer be relegated to simple icons, colors and alarm banners. Edge computing is making inroads in various applications especially HMI, which leads us to IIoT, the cloud and data pre-processing.

[pullquote]ADISRA (Aware, Diverse, Integrated, Self-Regulated, Adaptive) is the unique name and battle cry for Marcia Gadbois’ HMI company. She founded Indusoft, her first foray into the HMI world, which was bought by Invensys.

Based on her past experiences, Gadbois suggests that the new and improved HMI will be much smarter than previous product offerings. She also believes that the new HMI will provide so many more services than previously employed applications.
HMI software and applications typically started life on a machine and had no contact with the outside world. This is going to change, she submits, via advanced edge devices and accompanying HMIs. Here’s how.

Edge computing—Opto 22’s Groov hardware offering is a PLC, as well as an HMI, and is being marketed as an edge product—can provide data processing at the edge. IIoT and big data are the keys here.

There is a definite thirst for big data because everyone at every layer of the business needs and wants different information. Typically that information would be handled by a SCADA system so everything would come back to a single point. The communication pipe has to be big in order to access this data since most of the data is polled.

ADISRA suggests that a push model can change the conversation by controlling the communications by pushing data by priority to the SCADA systems, data collection systems and the cloud directly. Important real-time data would not be throttled, but historical data would be sent at a much lower transfer rate, so as to not use up the bandwidth of the communication pipe. Very smart.

Pre-data processing would allow users to pick and choose what data would be massaged before being allowed to be accessed. This frees up the SCADA system to do what it is supposed to do, and historians can do what they do best—store data.

Where the historian is in the future would be anywhere, including the cloud using Azure or Amazon Web Services and the like.

One of the other futurist parts of Gadbois’ new offerings would be the ability to use multiple protocols such as IIoT’s MQTT directly along with other protocol such as Ethernet/IP with edge-style computing.

This would allow HMIs to communicate with IIoT devices directly. Not that this new and improved HMI would replace the PLC/PAC, because it wouldn’t, but not all devices would need to be connected to the PLC as such. If you need to know the temperature at a location you would have to bring the signal into an RTU and then into a PLC and then into an HMI.

Cut the corner and go to the RTU directly with the HMI—that’s the new data access model.

PLCs have always been the source for HMIs. Seems we will have alternatives in our future.

ALSO READ: The HMI software being used to connect edge devices to the plant

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About the Author

Jeremy Pollard | CET

Jeremy Pollard, CET, has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Pollard has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 25 years.

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