Data historians and HMI: The foundation of big data analytics

Cover story: Integration guidelines for human-machine interface and historian software should help organizations determine the best combination of data historian and HMI software components to turn big data into a big return on investment. See 9 best practice strategies in combined use of human-machine interface and historian software. Link to a video demonstrating an HMI’s historical data replay technology used with a robot in a smart, connected manufacturing environment.

By Melissa Topp May 7, 2015

Integrating human-machine interface/supervisory control and data acquisition (HMI/SCADA) software and historian software helps aggregate, merge, and analyze big data collected and create a big return on investment (ROI). HMI/SCADA technology provides the ability to connect to an array of data sources and to visualize that data for monitoring and control. Such data sources can range from a programmable logic controller (PLC) in a manufacturing environment to an OPC server in a data center to an IT device communicating via simple network manage protocol (SNMP) to a building control device making contact via BACnet (an Ethernet protocol). It’s all part of the Internet of Things (IoT), connecting people and services, and leading HMIs are evolving to embrace this trend.

Data is visualized by the HMI/SCADA software in real time to help with immediate decision making, tie in to fault-state alarming, or provide points for trending. To remain competitive in today’s markets, that same data must also be recorded and then analyzed using a scalable, robust plant data historian.

The high-capacity storage and fast retrieval capability of the latest historians complement the rich 2D and 3D graphical data visualization of cutting-edge HMI/SCADA software, providing a foundation for full use of an organization’s big data.

Following are nine best practice strategies in the combined use of data historian and HMI/SCADA software.

1. Cloud-integrated storage

Today’s premium data historians are integrated with the latest in cloud-based technology. A high-speed, reliable industrial plant historian becomes even more scalable by integrating with a cloud application platform, such as Microsoft Azure, allowing access to big data from any desktop, Web browser, or mobile device. IT costs are reduced due to simple setup and minimal maintenance requirements, allowing organizations to infinitely grow applications based on the changing needs of their business. Customers experience increased collaboration while maintaining the security expected from trusted vendors. 

2. Enhanced data synchronization via logger-to-logger communications

A premium data historian should also provide data logger to data logger communications, to aggregate and merge data from any plant historian server. This feature allows historian servers to exchange data hierarchically with other servers of similar type or brand, as well as with third-party historians. These data exchanges can be triggered on a schedule or manually on demand, regardless of whether the server is located on premise or in the cloud. This enables remote access to the most critical information with maximum flexibility and control.

3. High speed

When comparing data historians, look for the use of a "swinging door" data compression algorithm to provide high-speed data collection of over 100,000 data events per second. Also check for automatic archiving, which allows for routine or triggered scheduling of data archives, freeing up disk space and backing up files for long-term storage and retrieval. 

4. Maximum compatibility with open standards connectivity

A data historian should take full advantage of the latest 64-bit Microsoft .NET-based computing technologies and numerous performance features, including full use of multi-core hardware. It should be certified for the latest operating systems such as Microsoft Windows 8, Microsoft Windows Server 2012, and soon, Microsoft Windows 10, as well as with the Microsoft SQL Server Business Intelligence platform and Microsoft Office 365. It should also fully use OPC UA communication standards, as well as a wide variety of other protocols for connecting to existing infrastructure. Third-party OPC HDA compliance ensures interoperability with hundreds of applications to minimize the impact on existing plant infrastructure.

5. Extensive redundancy

Leading data historians support redundancy at all levels, including the use of remote distributed data collectors, multiple distributed loggers, and multiple OPC classic and OPC UA interfaces. By integrating automatic failover to active loggers, organizations can be certain that their operations have the highest possible level of availability and performance.

6. Intelligent asset technology

A growing need for data historians is integration with asset management tools. Users should look for data historians that can integrate with an ISA-95-compliant asset modeling tool (most likely within the linked HMI/SCADA component). Once connected, any analysis derived by the data historian can then be included as a property of any asset, and subsequently, as a real-time value within the HMI itself.

7. Powerful performance calculations

Top data historians provide extensive performance calculation capabilities, allowing users to configure complex calculations that can be triggered periodically or on any data change event, using a flexible set of date/time, mathematical, string, and historical data retrieval functions for advanced analysis.

8. Data insertion

A tool should be provided for automatic or manual insertion of data into the data historian, to import historical data or to log data from databases, other historians, field devices, and other equipment, such as PLCs.

9. HMI/SCADA visualization, integrated historical data replay

Historical data should be just as easily accessible within the HMI as its real-time counterparts, using desired conventions, such as gauges, trends, grids, charts, or animated objects. Fully customizable 2D or 3D trends and charts can bring applications to life. A rich library of 2D and 3D charts (such as X vs. Y, logarithmic, bar graph, strip chart recorder, circular, and more) provides clear and accurate representations of the data.

Intuitive ribbons and galleries can be used to customize trends by adding color, gradients, smooth animation, translucency, size effects, anti-aliasing and more, making data analysis clear and straightforward. Users should be able to drag and drop data sources during run-time operations to view multiple trends simultaneously. Data can also be viewed in tabular formats with the ability to enter operator comments, as well as manage lab data and audit trails, a useful feature for companies following 21 CFR Part 11 policies. Historical data replay is an innovative new feature that allows users to interact with on-screen playback controls to pause, rewind, fast-forward, and replay the data movements of their plant assets and equipment, corresponding to the logged data from the historian.

This level of integration is a significant development in the HMI/SCADA market, available within leading HMI software platforms.

These guidelines should help organizations determine the best combination of data historian and HMI/SCADA software components to turn big data into a big return on investment.

– Melissa Topp is director of global marketing for Iconics Inc.; edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

Key concepts

  • Big data analytics is rooted in data historians and human-machine interface software.
  • Integrated HMI and historian software should help organizations turn big data into a big return on investment.
  • Best-practice strategies advise on integrated use of human-machine interface and historian software. 

ONLINE extra

The online version of the May 2015 print and digital edition article includes additional information including a link to a video demonstrating an HMI’s historical data replay technology.

Recently, at Hannover Messe 2015, Iconics worked with Microsoft and Kuka Robotics to demonstrate the benefits of using natural user interfaces and historical data replay within a smart, connected manufacturing environment. See an online video of this historical data replay technology in action on YouTube

About Iconics

Founded in 1986, Iconics is an independent software developer offering real-time visualization, HMI/SCADA, energy, fault detection, manufacturing intelligence, MES, and a suite of analytics solutions for operational excellence. Iconics solutions are installed in 70% of Fortune 500 companies, helping customers to be more profitable, agile, and efficient, to improve quality and be more sustainable.

Iconics products are used in manufacturing, building automation, oil and gas, renewable energy, utilities, water/wastewater, pharmaceuticals, automotive, and other industries. Iconics’ advanced visualization, productivity, and sustainability solutions are built on its products: Genesis64 HMI/SCADA, Hyper Historian plant historian, AnalytiX solution suite, and MobileHMI mobile apps. Delivering information anytime, anywhere, the solutions scale from the smallest stand-alone embedded projects to the largest enterprise applications. Iconics promotes an international culture of innovation, creativity and excellence in product design, development, technical support, training, and sales and consulting services for end users, systems integrators, OEMs, and Channel Partners. Iconics has over 300,000 applications installed in multiple industries worldwide. 

Author Bio: Melissa Topp is senior director of global marketing at ICONICS, developer of the GENESIS64 HMI/SCADA automation suite.