Cloud-connected HMIs support smarter decisions
As highly connected enterprises continue to seek ways to retrieve plant data faster and more efficiently, many have turned to cloud-based solutions to provide this level of functionality where and when they need it. Many experts regard this as a key consideration in the development of Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT) concepts. [See related articles below.] While these are much buzzed-about topics for "technology futurists," more applications are applying the core concepts in the field today.
The open connectivity provided through use of cloud services allows data from the shop floor to be supplied to any human machine interface (HMI), enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, or other connected interface via any number of standard access methods.
In addition, cloud connectivity supports multiple communications platforms, including but not limited to TCP/IP, Direct SQL, and OPC UA, among others, giving it the flexibility to painlessly integrate into just about any existing control system. The OPC UA standard is particularly important to ensure security of more connected systems through built-in encryption technology, protecting sensitive plant data without requiring expert handling. Security being designed into the open OPC UA specification has pushed it into the lead for Industry 4.0 communications standards and will play an important role in the industrial market as the realization of the IoT develops.
Advanced HMIs help
Regardless of how effectively companies can transmit plant data to the cloud, access via the cloud could be for naught without a robust system to capture data and monitor/transmit all relevant information, coupled with a modern HMI for users on the plant floor. Effective on-site HMI solutions play an important role, providing reliable remote access and superior plant floor functionality. HMI systems implemented into a PC-based control system offer an easy route into further cloud use, and a feature-rich, on-site option for viewing and interacting with plant floor data.
While "hyper-connected" systems more easily enable integration of cloud connectivity, users need not make sacrifices regarding day-to-day in-house functionality. PC-based systems offer a wealth of features to fortify and streamline existing systems. Multi-touch technology, for example, enables the creation of far more dynamic HMI concepts for plant-spanning views and the ability to zoom in on areas of concern with pinch-to-zoom functionality. It is possible to develop interface designs that use up to five individual simultaneous points of touch. With more information to manage than ever before, the ability to more flexibly interact with the operator interface is a key consideration to prevent the machine operator from getting left behind in the march toward enterprise-level connectivity and big data.
Another way to modernize HMI at the plant floor level can be found in networking advances for integrating power, display data, and touch functionality into one CAT6 cable to streamline control systems and reduce the number of components, lowering overall costs as well as decreasing assembly time. In addition, the cable has the ability to transmit over distances of up to 100 m, freeing the operator from the constraints of having to be directly next to the data collection point. This functionality also can be used to transmit data to additional HMI access points within the facility, allowing those not directly on the plant floor to receive the required information and act accordingly, whether to make changes to the production parameters or to improve overall plant efficiency.
Collaborative global capabilities
The Industry 4.0 end goal of "smart factories" necessitates real-time access to plant floor information in many cases. This applies not only to the local HMI, but also remotely, to enable management, engineers, and technicians to gather information and make decisions based on this collected data. Collaboration with teams globally is possible, as team members can access the data, day or night and on their timelines. Trends in data analytics indicate the need to bridge the gap between access on the fly and access in the cloud. PC-based control solutions represent an elegant option to provide answers for this dilemma, as the openness and flexibility of the system enables simple, painless access to any number of platforms, programming languages, and communication standards. This is done without requiring complex hardware add-ons or numerous software platforms. One PC-based software environment can combine traditional automation technology (AT) and programming with IT/computer science programming.
Selecting a modern PC-based control solution offers the best of both worlds: a powerful front line solution, and a scalable platform that flexibly adapts to implement any cloud-based access method chosen by the user. Whether the technology exists today or is invented tomorrow, PC-based control already has the tools in place to bridge the divide, cost-effectively and efficiently.
– Daymon Thompson and Reid Beilke are product specialists, Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org.
www.controleng.com/archives November links to additional related information.
- Cloud-based solutions can help highly connected enterprises retrieve plant data faster and more efficiently, where and when they need it, through human-machine interfaces (HMIs).
- With Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things concepts, smart factories have real-time access to plant floor information, enabling management, engineers, and technicians to gather information and make decisions based on collected data.
- Greater integration helps the end goal of "smart factories" with real-time access to plant floor information.
Do you have a plan for increasing information flow in your processes, ensuring smarter, real-time decisions?