Four reasons to upgrade an HMI platform

Human-machine interface (HMI) platforms are evolving as data and connectivity become more critical for end users. HMIs with newer features can go a long way to help engineers connect to machines.

By Scott Oakley July 25, 2015

In the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), data and connectivity reign supreme, and updating a human-machine interface (HMI) platform can augment information flow. This is especially true in the manufacturing and industrial sectors, where the rise of the connected enterprise is leading to converged networks and more Internet-connected devices that collect valuable machine data.

Plant managers and machine operators are increasingly reliant on machine data. They are gaining new insights into operations and making better decisions such as quickly pinpointing the source of blockages and machine failures and better understanding equipment utilization and response times. They also are using mobile devices, cloud computing, and other technologies to improve connectivity throughout their operations to become more efficient.

This greater dependence on machine data and connectivity is putting new demands on HMI platforms to provide data in a context and format that best supports the end user. Machine builders are tasked to meet these demands while still designing and commissioning machines as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

With this in mind, the following are four reasons for machine builders to upgrade an HMI platform for today’s more connected and data-driven industrial customers. 

1. Advanced diagnostics

Diagnostics are essential for tracking a machine’s real-time performance and identifying maintenance needs. Most HMIs provide on-screen diagnostics, but few HMIs deliver comprehensive archived diagnostics.

For example, the archived diagnostics can be stored locally on the HMI or on a remote computer. Archived diagnostics enable operators and technicians to review a machine’s history of messages, alarms, and warnings. The ability to correlate the archived data against a machine’s performance can help plant personnel easily and quickly diagnose or troubleshoot downtime issues. The ability to analyze historical data also can help improve operator feedback about conditions over time, which can lead to downtime key performance indicators (KPIs) and better overall predictive maintenance.

The benefits of archived diagnostics extend beyond machine repairs and maintenance. Diagnostic logs can be used for audit logging to track and reduce operator errors or to identify potential training improvements. Actions such as personnel logins, value changes, and screen transitions can be tracked and analyzed to help identify operator trends or errors.

2. Mobile capabilities

Machine data is growing in quantity and becoming portable, because tablets and smartphones are emerging as a next-generation HMI platform as plant connectivity becomes more pervasive.

An HMI platform that can connect to mobile devices is an attractive option for plant operators who spend much of their time moving between machine-level HMIs and their work stations to access and enter data. Mobile-enabled HMIs literally put the data at the operators’ fingertips, giving them immediate access to KPI data, alarming, maintenance schedules, and other information.

Mobile-enabled HMIs also offer direct benefits to the machine designer. When commissioning, setting up, or making repairs to a machine, engineers typically need to walk around the machine to inspect or adjust components. The engineer often can’t view the machine’s HMI while working, and as a result he or she may need to make several adjustments before he or she meets the right speed, temperature, or other specification.

With a mobile device, engineers can view the machine data in real time from wherever they’re working. They can also use the device to help guide them through their steps or to review the alarms while they work. 

3. Faster commissioning

Commissioning a machine can be extremely difficult, especially in the beginning. A team of engineers may have set up a machine, but they likely will still be inundated with changes, such as updated controller files, new tags and alarms, and additional connections.

The HMI platform can simplify these changes and save time. Specifically, online- and remote-editing capabilities, which are available in a development environment, allow engineers to make configurations and changes from anywhere on the network. As a result, updates made by one engineer are incorporated automatically for colleagues, eliminating the need to share updated files via e-mail or a network. 

4. Optimized hardware

The physical HMI display is more crucial than ever as manufacturers and industrial operators become increasingly reliant on extensive data coming from multiple sources. Widescreen options, higher resolutions, and larger screens help ensure plant-floor operators can more quickly and easily understand machine status information. These modernized displays also benefit machine builders. Because most engineers’ desktops or laptops are also widescreen, the development environment matches the run time environment to help streamline the design process.

The core capability for the end user remains: ruggedness for the industrial environment. The hardware still meets ratings for high shock, vibration, and temperature and is built to match the span of today’s machine life cycles. 

The bigger picture

The emergence of the connected enterprise in industrial automation has elevated the importance of HMI platforms. If end users want to make better decisions using their machine data, they need a more advanced HMI platform that provides greater connectivity and more functionality.

– Scott Oakley is global EOI product manager at Rockwell Automation; edited by Eric R. Eissler, editor-in-chief, Oil & Gas Engineering,

Key concepts

  • Mobile connectivity allows for easier maintenance of machines.
  • Online and remote editing can lead to faster commissioning times.
  • More data can help engineers to figure out when preventative maintenance is due.

Consider this

Using a mobile device, engineers can easily work on a machine and make adjustments. Will HMIs become just mobile apps in the near future?

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