A mobile HMI strategy can lead to digital transformation

Leveraging a mobile human-machine interface (HMI) strategy can help an organization’s digital transformation by improving operations and a company’s overall digital intelligence.

By Danny Strinden and Mariana Dionisio September 5, 2019

The prospect of a digital transformation journey for an organization can be daunting, but a shortcut might be close. A mobile-friendly environment with an intuitive human-machine interface (HMI) can help advance an organization’s digital transformation initiatives by expanding digital intelligence throughout the workforce and improving operations.

By using familiar mobile devices such as phones and tablets (Figure 1) to securely access important process information including displays, alarms, real-time values and historical trends, organizations can create new efficiencies and competencies. This brings positive cultural and behavioral changes. Organizations also can leverage a mobile HMI strategy to foster additional competencies related to digital transformation, such as decision support and continuous situational awareness.

Simple process information access

Simple, read-only mobile access to process information and displays from an HMI control system can quickly progress organizations on a digital transformation journey by helping to extend a secure architecture in a way that will continue to be useful. Since mobile connectivity is now nearly ubiquitous, extending mobility and enabling users to access plant process data is a natural progression. This access can be achieved by adding a digital layer to existing systems. This allows organizations to leverage current mobile devices and wireless or cellular networks to securely access and share critical process information.

Mobile software natively integrated with process control systems (PCSs) offer additional benefits including a cybersecurity architecture that supports network and information security. Adding native, read-only mobile access to a PCS within an organization’s existing secure mobile environment delivers the process information personnel need, wherever and whenever they need it. An enterprise also will continue leveraging its established architecture as it continues implementing further digital transformation initiatives.

Extend access and widen understanding

Since mobile access is implemented as a digital layer on top of the PCS, mobile HMI software needs to aggregate information from multiple sources, allowing personnel access to data across the enterprise.

Mobile HMI design tools need to distill a torrent of data from throughout the enterprise into a stream of actionable information relevant to each person’s role. These tools should be tailored to prevent personnel from failing to make the right decisions due to data overload. As an organization’s digital transformation evolves, the amount of available process and enterprise data will increase over time; so will the need to turn large amounts of data into information.

Mobile HMIs also may include tools that help limit which information personnel have permission to access. In this case, mobile software natively integrated with the PCS may take advantage of existing data access permissions, and additional limitations or security extensions can be designed for the mobile HMI software.

Foster competencies with digital transformation

A digitally transformed organization will be able to gather, filter, and analyze more data. The organization can turn it into actionable information specific to each role. By leveraging existing systems and architecture, and by adding secure, read-only mobile access, organizations can create new efficiencies and build competencies resulting in positive cultural and behavioral changes as well as operational improvements.

Situational awareness — Mobile access to critical process information provides enhanced situational awareness whether personnel are located next to the equipment, in the office or offsite. Increased awareness along with meaningful, intuitive visualization of data can assist in analysis and can drive accurate and more rapid decisions.

Notifications can be received natively on mobile devices so people in any location can maintain visibility into process conditions and monitor abnormal situations. Rather than viewing numbers and interpreting them to build knowledge, mobile HMIs can display operator graphics, trends and other charts such as those shown in Figure 2. These types of visualization provide more information than the raw data by giving personnel a more qualitative, intuitive and holistic picture of a company’s operations.

Decision support — Personnel can use decision-support tools and analytics with mobile devices for faster and higher-quality decisions. A mobile HMI can aggregate and present the data on screens that are easy to understand, enabling personnel to make informed decisions based on operational data from across the enterprise.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are measurements of enterprise performance that provide valuable decision support and are commonly calculated from data aggregated from multiple sources. A mobile platform capable of securely displaying KPIs can be especially valuable for delivering this knowledge to personnel outside of the control room.

Mobile users have, for example, found success in monitoring and addressing environmental KPIs that have exceeded targets. By having immediate mobile access to this information, operators can quickly deliver information to management. This lets operators handle decision-making processes involving multiple data sources to better manage the process and their environmental limits.

In addition, mobile devices provide analytics to personnel so they can frame plans and respond to an abnormal situation no matter where they are. Personnel also have the flexibility to access additional data and go deeper into analyses as needed.

Improved team, enterprise collaboration

Using a mobile HMI strategy to provide continuous situational awareness and improved decision support can enhance collaboration and act as a catalyst for digital transformation. Through a natively integrated mobile HMI, personnel will use the same operator displays, alarms, trends, and other charts to collaborate and troubleshoot issues. These HMI elements provide a common language among operators, engineers, managers and technicians.

For example, an international organization revealed one of its biggest operational challenges was clear communication among field operators and control room operators. By taking advantage of a natively integrated mobile HMI, the field operators and control room operators were able to collaborate by using a shared language. This improved efficiency and reduced the potential for safety incidents.

This common HMI language in a mobile environment will help foster a collaborative cultural change within an organization. Using a mobile HMI, the enterprise will marshal resources around the same information and act as a team to collaborate on problems and make decisions based on collective knowledge.

Moving quickly to action

Today, organizations can build their knowledge base and encourage faster and more informed decisions based on secure mobile access to up-to-the-minute conditions. This process intelligence is empowered by mobile and intuitive HMIs. Organizations can take advantage of existing networks to extend knowledge to roles in any location, with instant information access that may have once been limited to control systems. Implementing mobile access to process information with intuitive HMIs provides an organization with an easy win that helps set the stage technically and culturally for future digital transformation efforts.

Mariana Dionisio and Danny Strinden are DeltaV product managers, Emerson. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Keywords: human-machine interface, HMI, process control system, PCS

Mobile human-machine interface (HMI) technology can help companies improve their digital transformation.

Giving operations secure information on their mobile devices can improve their response to abnormal situations.

Mobile HMI technology also can improve collaboration by letting users share real-time information with one another.

Consider this

What immediate benefits could a mobile HMI strategy provide to your company?

Author Bio: Danny Strinden and Mariana Dionisio are DeltaV product managers at Emerson.