Graphics options: Near, far, multi-display

Technological advances in graphics hardware and software in recent years have introduced many new possibilities for process control and automation systems, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), human-machine interface (HMI) and distributed control systems (DCS). Graphics options for operator consoles have grown considerably, providing a range of options to consider for con...

By Samuel A. Recine and Liv Stewart, Matrox Graphics February 1, 2008

Technological advances in graphics hardware and software in recent years have introduced many new possibilities for process control and automation systems, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), human-machine interface (HMI) and distributed control systems (DCS). Graphics options for operator consoles have grown considerably, providing a range of options to consider for control room implementations.

When evaluating graphics hardware for a DCS, for instance, features often looked at include resolution support, image quality, form-factor, power consumption, as well as product availability and life cycle. Another key consideration for DCS consoles and other control systems is the number of displays the graphics device can support. Often called “multi-display,” “multi-monitor,” or “multi-screen,” this capability allows a single computer to power multiple monitors, and lets onscreen information be moved easily from one monitor to another as if all the displays were one large unit.

In such a configuration, the display content can be arranged in the most conducive manner possible, enabling an operator to obtain the best view of the information at hand. The ability to more efficiently monitor vital information contributes to improved response time, increased user comfort, and an overall reduction in errors.

Multi-display systems aren’t new to process industries, where large amounts of crucial information need to be viewed at any given moment. The productivity gains associated with configuring a PC-based operator station to support more than one display are unquestionable. Given lower costs for space-saving flat panels, the availability of more powerful computers, and broader software compatibility, multi-display setups more recently have become prevalent in monitoring and control systems. Where two monitors were once used, many operator stations now use three or four. And where three or four monitors had been used, some operator consoles now power six or more displays.

Advanced configurations

Graphics solutions are often equipped with desktop management software that supports advanced monitor configurations. One example is the ability to choose between a “stretched” or “independent” multi-monitor display mode. When in stretched mode, the computer’s operating system identifies all the monitors physically attached to the system as being a single large display. The desktop management software then assumes the responsibility of evenly distributing the programs being used across all the monitors. In independent mode, the operating system recognizes each display independently, so it is possible to support different resolutions on each monitor and to maximize diverse applications on individual displays. Often, up to four monitors can be powered by a single graphics controller. Using more than one graphics controller device, an even larger desktop can be configured in either of these display modes.

Side by side multi-monitor displays powered by a graphics card in a single operator station are not the only option. Today, a larger digital workspace is achievable from a host of systems from ultra-small form factor PCs to remotely housed computers—even systems not equipped with graphics expansion slots, including laptops and some industrial PCs. Recent technological developments have brought external graphics devices that can provide support for multiple monitors from closed, pre-validated systems that do not allow the possibility of inserting a graphics card into them. They do so by simply connecting to the existing graphics output connector of the graphics controller already installed in the system.

For instance, an industrial PC equipped with a compatible graphics controller can be upgraded to support two or three analog or digital displays via such an external graphics device. The total possible extended resolution of the displays would be limited to what is supported by the graphics controller inside the system.

Separate interface components

In some high-reliability environments a key objective is to separate the user-interface components of the computer—such as the monitors, keyboard, mouse, and audio devices—from the host system. Primary reasons for this include the need for: increased security, reduced noise in the control room, and better temperature control in both the operator control room and in the room in which all the systems are housed.

There are many approaches to extending multi-monitor graphics and user-interface components over hundreds of feet, but until recently the downfall of many remote computing technologies was that the performance was considerably hampered. Screen refresh rates and even the speed of USB-connected devices such as a keyboard or mouse were affected. New solutions supporting remote graphics now include products that integrate graphics, USB, audio and FireWire controllers into a unit that resides at the operator console. The unit is then connected to an interface card inserted in the corresponding graphics slot of the host PC via fiber-optic cable. Since the monitors and peripherals are powered locally, performance is workstation-class—as though the PC were right at the console and not several hundred feet away.

Another important consideration when selecting a graphics controller is power consumption. Some graphics cards are designed to consume very little power. Available in ultra-small form factors and fanless designs (to ensure silent operation), they are ideal for very small systems equipped with graphics expansion slots.

When contemplating control system upgrades or brand new installations, it is beneficial to consider the numerous ways by which productivity can be increased. From the use of a local workstation powering two displays, to a remotely powered quad-output DCS, remote and multi-display graphics options can increase productivity without breaking the bank.


PACs offer enhanced configuration, performance tools

Programmable automation controllers (PACs) represent an evolution of controller technology in terms of flexibility, networking and scalability. They also come with many new and better selection, configuration and performance tools so users can find just the right controller for the job. Rockwell Automation’s Integrated Architecture website, for example, has a range of tools related to the Logix Control Platform. Visit the Resources Section of the site for links to the following.

EtherNet/IP Performance Prediction Tool

The EtherNet/IP Performance Prediction Tool is intended to help you in the initial layout of your EtherNet/IP network by calculating resources (Connections, Packets Per Second) used by a proposed network. You choose icons to indicate the type and number of nodes on the network, along with associated parameters such as Update Rate desired. The tool then calculates the resources used and what’s still available. This format makes it easy to try different configurations/parameters and see how the outcome is affected.

CompactLogix System Quick Start — updated

These Quick Starts include configuring systems comprised of CompactLogix programmable automation controllers, PanelView Plus, POINT I/O, Kinetix motion and PowerFlex drives on EtherNet/IP, ControlNet and DeviceNet networks. Updated for Logix 5000 version 16 and a new Quick Start that covers the L4x controller.

Integrated Architecture Bookshelf

The Integrated Architecture Bookshelf contains links to many of the most useful documents including QuickStarts, user and reference manuals, and design guidelines.

Kinetix Accelerator Toolkit

With these easy-to-use tools and templates, you spend your time developing the unique features of your machine — not on the routine tasks that add to overhead costs. Order the complete CD (IASIMP-SP004D-EN-C), which contains all files, from a local Rockwell Automation distributor or use the links to download individual pieces.

Sample Code Library Website

This site allows you to retrieve samples of code that have been developed by other users and post code that you think others might find helpful. The Sample Code Library site is a place to share best Integrated Architecture applications, including logic, HMI and drive.

Performance and Capacity Resources — Updated

Reference the most common configuration, performance and capacity information regarding small Integrated Architecture systems.

Performance and Capacity Guidelines

The new Logix5000 Controller Design and Considerations manual provides guidelines for all Logix-based systems. The CompactLogix System Performance and Capacity Guidelines [PDF] include design considerations that can be used to achieve optimum performance from a CompactLogix system.

Faceplate/Add-On Instruction Sets

Adding a device, like a PowerFlex drive, into a Logix controller project has always provided ready-to-use tags. Now Faceplate/AOI sets make use of these tags with pre-written code for your controller and graphics for your HMI. Simply pick and download a Faceplate/AOI set from the library and install and configure it for your application using the straightforward instructions included in the download. By implementing these pre-programmed, pre-tested Faceplate/AOI sets for devices such as drives, networks, and I/O cards, they can be used to configure, commission, operate and maintain these devices without the need to write a single line of code. This dramatically reduces development and debugging time. Faceplate/AOI sets bring the power of the Integrated Architecture to your controller and HMI quickly and easily. Here are just some of the Faceplate/AOI sets available: PowerFlex drives, E3 overloads, analog and digital I/O cards, and Kinetix servo drives.

Integrated Architecture Videos

A collection of Integrated Architecture videos quickly demonstrates important differentiators. A video on Programming Languages in RSLogix 5000 explains the four programming languages available in RSLogix 5000. The Descriptive Logix Tags with DeviceNet video clearly shows the five easy steps to generating descriptive Logix tags using DeviceNet, eliminating the need to count bits or search through manuals. The User Defined Structures video shows a side-by-side comparison between the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture and a conventional approach to memory allocation, and how much faster and easier it is to design and allocate memory when using the Integrated Architecture.

RSLogix 5000 Start Page Videos for New Users

These media files are designed to help both first-time customers get started and more experienced customers learn how to use the software to accomplish specific tasks. Media clips and tutorials include: Get Started, Get Connected, and My First Project that show a user how to use the software to complete common tasks.

Integrated Motion for OEMs Video

This video demonstrates how Rockwell Automation can reduce an OEMs’ engineering costs and time to market. It covers such topics as RSLogix 5000 simple motion configuration, scalable architecture and installation savings with Kinetix motion products.

Multidisciplined Control Video

This video demonstrates the benefits of integrating the end user’s enterprise with a single architecture. Rockwell Automation’s Integrated Architecture provides users with the ability to make faster, better business decisions and reduce total cost of ownership.

Life of a Tag Video

This side-by-side comparison between Rockwell Automation’s Integrated Architecture and a conventional approach demonstrates how data moves seamlessly from device to control to HMI to the business system.

Integrated Architecture Value of One Video

The Integrated Architecture Value of One illustrates the benefits of Integrated Architecture: Scalable controllers, networks and HMI, using one control programming software package, one networking protocol, one HMI configuration software package and the information enabled attributes of the system across process, drive, motion and discrete control disciplines.

FactoryTalk View Machine Edition Quick Start Videos

These media files are designed to help both first-time software users get started and more experienced users learn how to use the software to accomplish specific tasks.

Related reading from Control Engineering includes:

Research on Programmable Logic Controllers

Analysis: PLCs vs. PACs

Author Information

Samuel A. Recine is a business development manager for Critical Decision Systems at Matrox headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He has been with Matrox for over 10 years and has extensive experience in mining, oil & gas, transportation and pharmaceuticals. He can be reached at: . Liv Stewart is a representative of Matrox graphics solutions for use in process automation and other mission-critical systems. She can be reached at: .

Graphics hardware considerations

When assessing the features of graphics hardware, consider these factors:

The multi-display capabilities of the hardware—i.e., does it support the number of displays that need to be run at the appropriate resolutions and in the ideal configuration?

Has the product been validated for use with the applications that will be run on the target systems?

Does the product support the operating system that will be run on the target PC?

The scalability of the solution for possible future upgrades—i.e., does the system bus form factor of the graphics card, such as PCI, PCI-X or PCI Express, allow for several to be used together in the same system so that the desired number of displays can be configured?

The life cycle of the product—i.e., does the manufacturer typically maintain product life cycles that are long enough to meet system refresh cycles so that minimal re-validation of graphics hardware is required?

If you need help, what is the accessibility and responsiveness of the manufacturer’s sales and support teams?