HMI investment reflects a growing market

If one area of automation and control has experienced change and growth of late, it is the human-machine interface (HMI). Advancements in hardware and software technology have brought sophistication and precision to the display and the systems it controls. Elaborate graphics and animation and the ability to perform more complex functions, coupled with enhanced wireless and connectivity capabili...

By Jeanine Katzel September 1, 2005

If one area of automation and control has experienced change and growth of late, it is the human-machine interface (HMI). Advancements in hardware and software technology have brought sophistication and precision to the display and the systems it controls. Elaborate graphics and animation and the ability to perform more complex functions, coupled with enhanced wireless and connectivity capabilities are stimulating application and growth in this field.

In a recent online survey, Control Engineering magazine and the Reed Research Group, both part of Reed Business Information ( ), sought to examine and better understand HMI software use in manufacturing by querying subscribers about their application of and preferences in these products. The answers given by nearly 260 control engineers who specify, recommend, and/or buy HMI software uncovered some interesting insights.

More than half (52%) of those responding apply HMI software for in-plant requirements . Continuous and batch manufacturing accounts for 42% of all primary applications. Discrete manufacturing applications make up 11% of the total. A significant 22% fall in the other category, indicating diverse use.

On average, each survey respondent purchased 59 HMI software packages in the past 12 months, and spent nearly $175,000, primarily on upgrades and to accommodate new capabilities.

Observes Roy Kok, senior manager of Proficy Software, GE Fanuc Automation, ‘HMI/SCADA solutions are increasingly becoming a component in a much broader automation strategy. The pervasive use of HMI/SCADA technology is enabling a focus on the natural progression of automation—the ability to take HMI/SCADA information and put it to greater use. This is accomplished through the use of a data repository, providing archiving of data over long periods of time, and analytic tools enabling additional dimensions of process analysis, over time, by batch, across production lines or the enterprise. As such, the values of HMI/SCADA products are defined by both their ability to deliver out-of-the-box integration along with the wider range of ‘plant intelligence’ products.’

A study in contrasts

Among survey findings were diverse patterns and, in some cases, a lack of consensus. For example, close to two-thirds of those responding say they do not use a Web interface to view/monitor HMI information. But a majority has open network (56%) and/or OPC (53%) connectivity in current systems. A fifth use wireless capabilities. However, that figure is expected to rise to 66% over the next 2 years.

‘I’m not surprised that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed do not currently use Web-based monitoring,’ said Tonya R. York, marketing communications specialist for BizWareDirect Inc., ( ), a software-development firm that specializes in industrial data collection and data management. ‘Many aren’t yet realizing the inter-plant convenience that Web-based applications can bring. Customers that have taken the leap over to Web-based monitoring are amazed with the difference it has made…to hop onto any computer on the floor and access records quickly and easily. Eventually users will become more aware of the functional possibilities of this technology as an industrial tool. Then, we will see a jump in the percentage of plants that not only use it, but rely on it.’

Forty percent of respondents indicate their HMI systems help support regulatory requirements, such as 21 CFR Part 11. In light of the large portion of respondents (42%) applying HMI software to both continuous and batch manufacturing, it might seem that this number should be higher. However, Renee Brandt, visualization product marketing manager for Wonderware and ArchestrA business units, states that the role of the HMI for this task is changing. ‘HMIs are required for capturing user interactions, specifically for electronic signatures,’ she says, ‘but the second component of compliance is data storage. For that, we are seeing a trend towards the use of a process historian or database-centric products. This provides the ability to quickly comply with requirements for electronic records and automated reports like an electronic batch record and the ability to have this information retrievable for long periods of time while making sure the electronic records cannot be altered or modified.’

Featuring HMIs

Survey respondents were queried in depth about their current HMI systems and the features they consider important. Specifically, they were asked to identify factors in four areas: input devices, graphics capabilities, connectivity, and operation systems. The typical system, according to respondents, is an open network with color graphics, touchscreen, and keypad operating under Microsoft Windows XP.

The large number of respondents already using flat panel displays is worth noting. The immeasurable benefits of their thin depth, ease of installation, and ability to place in hard-to- access locations have enabled them to take hold in a relatively short time.

At least half of all respondents have open and/or OPC connectivity, about 20% are wireless, 11% connect to MES and 9% to ERP systems. Virtually all respondents have color (95%) and/or alarm capabilities (93%), but trending (83%) and animation (74%) are also common.

Commenting on the high percentages of alarming and trending functions, Roy Tanner, System 800xA marketing manager, ABB Inc. observes that alarm management has been more prevalent in recent discussions with customers as a result of more risk mitigation efforts. ‘Nuisance alarms or lack of alarm management strategies can increase the risk of poor process optimization, damage to plant equipment, even safety related incidents,’ he notes, adding that system alarm features and tools help users execute and maintain proper alarm management strategies, alarm benchmarking, and reporting applications.

Most commonly used operating systems are Microsoft Windows XP and 2000, each identified by about half the respondents (55% and 50%). Also cited were Microsoft Windows NT (30%), CE (25%), and Server 2003 (16%). Only about a quarter of all respondents have systems that are Web-enabled. Of note was the large number of multiple responses, indicating that many operations use more than one operating system.

‘At many larger installations,’ explains Wonderware’s Brandt, ‘users might have a manufacturing line running with an older operating system. They haven’t had any problems with it, so they haven’t made any changes. However, as they expand their production capabilities or begin to replace failing hardware, the original operating system may no longer be available. Users are also proactively changing out hardware to leverage new software application functionality and improved hardware reliability. The newer operating system comes with the new hardware, so it’s fairly common to update the software at the same time, resulting in multiple versions of software applications as well as multiple operating systems.’

Eye on the future

Upgrading existing HMI software is driven primarily (42% of all respondents) by the need for the features in the new version. However, two distinct philosophies are indicated. On one hand, almost a quarter (23%) of all respondents upgrade with every new release. On the other hand, 20% never upgrade once a package is installed and operational, believing that once a system is working and there is no strong reason to change, it should stay in place.

In 13% of the cases, upgrades were made only for patches. When asked about the types of services they required from an HMI software vendor, most (87%) said they wanted upgrades and patches. Not surprisingly, more than two-thirds (69%) turned to their software vendors for training, and a sizable number (43%) worked with their vendors for program customization and modification.

With an eye on the future, 43% of those responding to the survey said they expect to increase their purchases of HMI software in the next year (see pie chart). More than half will continue to spend at their current purchasing level. Only 6% foresaw a decrease in expenditures. Those anticipating growth agreed that new capacity and software upgrades are primary reasons for the additional purchases. Reasons for decreased spending were mixed. They included no major expansions planned, lack of budget, general business downturn, and recent completion of an upgrade.

Overall, users continue to invest in HMI software, seeking ways to minimize costs and simplify use. Enhancements continue to make it easier for them to create applications, promote standardization, and fuel an already dynamic field for continued growth.

HMI software products

For more manufacturers, visit . For more information on the products described here, visit the Web sites listed.

HMIs across the enterprise

RSView Enterprise Series HMI software bridges the gap between machine-level and supervisory-level systems to provide an efficient, productive, cost-effective interface at all levels of the enterprise. Designed for scalability and integration between machine and supervisory levels, the products have a common look, feel, and navigation to speed development and training time. Series uses FactoryTalk, a common automation services platform to share information, features, and behaviors across a range of Rockwell Automation products. It includes Supervisory Edition for supervisory-level HMI for monitoring and control applications, and Machine Edition, a machine-level HMI that supports open and embedded operator interface solutions for monitoring and controlling individual machines or small processes. Studio supports editing and reuse of projects for portability between HMI systems. Rockwell Automation

Reduce engineering, deployment time

InTouch HMI software version 9.0 features SmartSymbol technology to reduce application engineering, testing, and deployment time. SmartSymbols integrates object-oriented technology with InTouch graphics and transforms them into reusable templates. Changes made to the templates automatically propagate throughout an application, even across multiple networked PC nodes. New script function called IOSetRemoteReferences modifies the datasource for ArchestrA Objects or InTouch tag references at runtime, enabling developers to switch object instances for graphic symbols based on particular conditions or directly via user interaction. Other new features include scripts to make viewing, creating, and analyzing data easier and to let users create displays that be viewed from workstations, PDAs, browsers, and Wonderware Industrial Tablets and Touch Panel computers. Wonderware

HMI software has clustered computer support

Proficy HMI/SCADA—Cimplicity Version 6.2, a special release for the automotive industry, now supports operation with Microsoft Clustered Servers. This release enhances Cimplicity as the foundation for Tracker, a product for advanced scheduling and control widely deployed for automotive manufacturing and assembly. Clustered Server support is said to enhance the availability of an automation solution through an ability to automatically restart functionality on another member of the cluster, resuming operation with a current snapshot of plant floor status. Clustered Server support combined with other developer and operator productivity enhancements will be integrated with the next general Cimplicity release, version 7.0, early in 2006. GE Fanuc Automation

Small, medium HMI applications

Lookout Direct version 4.5 is a low-cost PC-based HMI package based on National Instruments’ Lookout automation software. Powered by Microsoft Windows 95/98/ME or NT/2000, the 32-bit application with 500 I/O-point capacity is suitable for small-to-medium HMIs. Upgraded software includes PC-LKD-Devupg development package and PC-LKD-Treupg runtime package, and features distributed alarming and data logging, and browse-and-select networking. Package presents itself as an OPC server on the network, allowing data access from any compatible OPC client. Among newer objects are loader, monitor, radio buttons, sequencer, wave form, sample, and sample text. Software also features historical and real-time trending, event logging, reporting, and recipes. All processes are event driven, including monitoring, data logging, and alarming. AutomationDirect

Easy to configure

Simatic WinCC flexible 2005 emphasizes configuration efficiency. Latest version lets users configure faster, import existing tag lists in a user-friendly way, and, with Unicode support, easily translate projects into Asian languages with external tools. WinCC flexible/Audit option allows mechanical and plant engineering equipment manufacturers, for the first time, to easily validate products for pharmaceutical industry applications. Features include importing tag lists and performing text import/export in .xls format, simple handling of graphics in different formats, and transferring configuration data on a Profibus routing. System also provides validation support at the engineering and runtime stages and tracks manufacturing processes using audit trails. Siemens Energy & Automation

HMI data-mining capability

Latest version of Genesis32 incorporates HMI data-mining capability and supports current OPC Foundation specifications including OPC Data Access (DA) and OPC XML 1.0. Version 8 includes VCRWorX32 and DataWorX32 for replaying archived alarm and trend history into Iconics HMI/SCADA visualization systems. Open data-mining technology permits integration of real-time manufacturing and business information into a common, Web-enabled visualization dashboard. Features include connection to most databases and OPC Data Access 3.0 and OPC XML 1.0 compliance. Modular software is designed for Microsoft operating systems, including Windows NT, 2000, XP, and Server 2003. Iconics

Personalizing plant views


System 800xA Operations accesses enterprise-wide data and interacts with multiple applications from any connected workstation in the plant. It harnesses OperateITProcess Portal system interface to deliver information needed to make sound business decisions and optimize the associated response. System gathers information from multiple sources and transforms it into relevant data for diverse users. Aspect Object Framework technology relates all plant data to specific plant assets. Navigation presents the entire production facility in a consistent, easy-to-view fashion, allowing a single window environment to smart field devices, asset optimization functions, information management, batch management, safety systems, and MES applications. ABB

Four graphics, one station

DeltaV four-monitor workstation provides a flexible, easy-to-configure operator space using four flat-screen monitors. Ready to use out of the box, the package lets the operator view four graphics from one place. Any process graphic can be opened on any screen. Workstation uses DeltaV display configuration method and tools. Users can start up with a predefined set of displays. Dynamos and enhanced functionality help in the development of the operator interface, allowing the user to take advantage of additional screens. Emerson Process Management

Designing operator interfaces

ioDisplay 7.0 HMI development software is used for designing operator interfaces for Microsoft Window-based clients communicating with Opto 22 Snap Ethernet controllers. Part of the ioProject software suite, software allows creation of a graphical user interface using original or pre-existing commands, symbols, and bitmaps. Latest version includes the ability to import and use HMI interfaces created with OptoDisplay, an included HMI development application. Integration gives users the ability to consolidate on one HMI platform. It also lets Optomux users upgrade to Ethernet using Opto 22 E1 and E2 brain boards and use the software as their HMI package. Opto 22

Intuitive HMI uses Web-based architecture

Experion Station, part of Honeywell’s Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS), is a powerful, robust HMI that provides an intuitive, safe operating environment. The company’s HMIWeb technology, a Web-based architecture, provides a common infrastructure across the enterprise to ensure seamless, third-party integration using open Web standards. Alarm and event presentation design adheres to Abnormal Situation Management (ASM) Consortium and British Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association (EEMUA) Publication 191 guidelines. Configurable pull-down menus and toolbars allow easy navigation and fast access to process data. Features include live video integration, ActiveX support, scripting, and launching applications. Use of industry standards provides a consistently familiar operating environment. A second module, Mobile Station, provides a control environment for operators in the field. Honeywell

Managing HMI changes

AutoSave provides a plant-wide solution for managing changes in HMI workstations as well as PLCs, robot, PC-based control stations, documents, project files, CNCs, welders, and drives. Package includes program archival, change detection, change documentation, historical tracking, secured user and workstation access, disaster recovery, controlled editor operations, and automatic change notification. Client modules work with common programming editors to offer an interactive environment and background monitoring. Other features include historical tracking and audit trails, automatic change discovery and real-time notification, rapid disaster recovery, and secured program access. MDT Software