Getting ready for industrial IoT

HMI designers and engineers should understand the characteristics, requirements, and design methodologies that ensure successful IIoT HMI deployments.

By Maria Hansson, Kontron February 15, 2016

Industrial system architects, integrators, and machine builders have for some time leveraged connected computing advances to help manufacturing facilities run more efficiently. The implementation of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which connects industrial systems to make automation smarter, promises to expand automation even further. In turn, smarter systems bring the potential for remarkable advantages, such as predictive productivity, lower operating and maintenance costs, and the universal sharing of real-time data to streamline processes and decision making.

As previously fragmented and disparate systems become increasingly integrated and interconnected by standardizing networking protocols on more functional and interoperable platforms, manufacturing facilities that are IIoT-ready are able to have a more universal view of factory control processes and activities. With this expanded visualization, users are able to share a useful variety of data with on-site or cloud-based enterprise IT systems using analytics that enable companies to anticipate failures and respond faster to critical situations. Downtime avoidance and better controlling manufacturing production can help companies realize higher profits.

An important IIoT enabler is a powerful human-machine interface (HMI) solution that puts the full potential of IIoT at an operator’s fingertips. State-of-the-art HMIs designed to deliver a broader view of smart automation processes give operators and management a unified solution for enhanced control and greater access to the diverse range of complex systems now used in the industrial environment. However, it is this complexity coupled with additional industrial reliability concerns that make selecting the optimum HMI even more critical. 

Characteristics of IIoT-ready HMI solutions

Industrial system designers strive to maximum uptime, and, in many cases, enable 24/7 operation, frequently in harsh manufacturing environments. A requirement of any embedded platform implemented for IIoT must provide robust system reliability. Optimal HMI designs must be rugged and require little to no maintenance, which can go a long way in helping companies meet their total cost of ownership (TCO) and profitability goals on their equipment investments.

HMIs that are void of moving parts include no rotating components, such as fans or disk drives that have a tendency to wear out more easily, greatly reduce maintenance requirements. Moving parts are vulnerable to shock and vibration, which can increase the risk of failure. Energy efficiency is also important. HMIs that use the latest processors offer performance-per-watt ratios that help minimize heat and eliminate the need for active fan cooling. New HMI designs also employ super capacitors for real-time clock backup instead of batteries.

In addition, HMI designers are faced with the challenge of keeping pace with the speed of innovation in computer technology. Despite faster, more powerful computer processors, graphics, and communications, there has remained a crucial missing link in optimizing industrial HMI design and functionality. Key to implementing broad automation visualization and control of the new IIoT ecosystem is that effective HMI systems must seamlessly deliver more holistic real-time views of the entire production process. At the same time, today’s HMIs must meet users’ demands for easy, precise control and operation of machinery and applications—from a single point of access.

Design flexibility is also a mandate as systems become more integrated and deployment needs evolve. Making HMIs in the network flexible enough to adapt requires that they be designed using a modular building-block approach that employs a computer-on-module hardware architecture. This allows industrial system designers to eliminate a great deal of hardware complexity and avoids the necessity of changing out the complete system when migrating to new processors or next-generation storage as application needs change.

HMI design flexibility also assists in customization. Off-the-shelf products don’t always match specific system requirements, and companies may not have the engineering resources to develop a tailored solution or would simply prefer their design teams to concentrate on core competencies to stay innovative in their markets. Here, HMI solutions based on modular computing platforms offer ideal solutions to streamline customization. Using this approach, development costs are reduced, and flexibility is enhanced from upgradable modular concepts that also act as building blocks in facilitating customized applications that match specific installation needs.

Meeting IIoT requirements

The efforts to make IIoT a reality is already in motion globally as companies see how it can truly transform factory automation leading to a future of enhanced economic growth and competitiveness. Key to its success is that it defines how individual devices can be more intelligent, manageable, and connected to support increased productivity.

Interoperability is vital to ensuring more predictable productivity in a connected environment. Not only must individual devices or systems securely connect and communicate with each other, they also must be able to access data in real time and, in some cases, operate autonomously.

Compatibility relies on open systems to standardize connectivity and necessary features. In HMIs, this means that all major user interfaces must follow a common concept that also supports multi-touchscreen technologies. Modular advanced-technology-based HMI touchpanel solutions give operators the comprehensive command center they need acting as gateways to the factory floor and data center connecting facilities worldwide. HMIs that provide extensive input/output (I/O) capabilities or expansion boards to facilitate customization of I/O are the features that allow today’s solutions to be the glue that controls sensors and machines, connections to the cloud, or to analytical software so factory production can be managed easily and more seamlessly.

For future-proof interoperability, next-generation HMIs must provide a large choice of connectivity options to suit all automation and IIoT requirements including the ability to support wireless connectivity, dual-channel, low-voltage data signal displays, faster gigabit Ethernet, USB, and RS-232 interfaces. For example, Wi-Fi-enabled HMIs can permit unencumbered connectivity with plant machinery and other connected devices on a frequently crowded factory floor.

Making industrial systems ready for IIoT requires the ability to efficiently handle data in a unified method that turns individual devices into connected, intelligent systems. To make the entire process more intelligent requires that even devices at the edge (remote or field devices that provide operational technology) must be connected to the larger network. Effective connectivity, therefore, must support a variety of edge devices that typically require high processing power and expandable storage to manage computationally intense data processing applications and big data analytics. 

Advantages of a holistic approach

Satisfying the demand for more unified viewing of all aspects of the factory floor is the integration of touchscreen technologies, which is now a mainstay in HMI-panel PC design. The most universally adopted touchscreen interaction technologies are resistive touch and projected capacitive (PCAP) touch, which enables multi-touch gesture flexibility (for pinching, sliding, and rotating) combined with pinpoint accuracy, even with work gloves. Users will also have easier and more precise operation of machinery and applications-with and without gloves-because of PCAP technology. Even deployed in harsher industrial environments, PCAP offers greater screen durability due to the use of metallic coated panels, which also provide enhanced light transmission for clearer, brighter displays. In addition, there are also touchscreen technologies that support gesture recognition, which enables direct communication without touching. This capability is highly suitable for sterile working environments and makes erroneous system operations much less likely (see Figure 1).

Stand-alone HMIs individually attached to machines or simple switch, lever, or push-button devices will not give companies the extended information required to make huge leaps in productivity. Adapting their usage, today’s advanced HMI solutions deliver a whole system, single pane of glass view based on standard 16:9-wide format displays of the entire production process across one or multiple production facilities. Adding to their value are international protection standards, such as IP65, which ensures protection against dust and water. The latest HMIs offer larger displays in up to 21.5-in. sizes for landscape and portrait viewing while providing options that track and continually monitor machine issues and their severity and provide extremely secure user access (see Figure 2).

For example, HMIs that deliver a more comprehensive view of the production process can be used to bring in vital information from supervisory control and data acquisition and manufacturing execution system monitoring and control applications. These advanced HMIs prepare the industrial sector for the IIoT age by placing the full power and productivity of the latest smart automation applications at the user’s fingertips.

HMIs as smart automation enablers

The future of intelligent automation productivity is made possible with IIoT-ready HMIs capable of monitoring and managing highly efficient manufacturing where production processes can be changed on short notice and downtime minimized. Available HMIs offer a holistic solution that meets expanded users’ expectations for enhanced comprehensive visualization of equipment, processes, and data. Opening the door to full- and whole-system observation of the manufacturing operation and entire IIoT ecosystem helps companies accelerate growth.

Based on modular, high reliability technologies, such as flexible computer-on-module technology, the latest HMIs ensure reduced maintenance and enable companies to maximize TCO without sacrificing their innovative potential. Employing proven, powerful HMIs will ensure more intelligent manufacturing by overcoming interoperability concerns. HMIs that offer a full range of connectivity options across the manufacturing process usher in a new era of maximum efficiencies making more profitable industrial automation possible. Implementing IIoT marshals in a new era of opportunity where companies can introduce new business models. It also offers an innovative platform for system integrators and machine builders to differentiate their products and services adding even greater value to the automation process and helping to propel and ensure this important market’s future growth potential.

Maria Hansson is the product manager for the Industrial Business Unit at Kontron. She holds an MS in engineering from Lund University, Sweden.

This article appears in the Applied Automation supplement for Control Engineering 
and Plant Engineering

– See other articles from the supplement below.