HMI Software: Steady Growth Ahead

The role of human-machine interfaces in automation and control grows more prominent day by day. HMIs are key elements to the success of industrial manufacturing and production, which depends on these systems to do more and more to monitor and control processes, do it faster, and do it more accurately and precisely.

By Jeanine Katzel, Control Engineering September 1, 2007

The role of human-machine interfaces in automation and control grows more prominent day by day. HMIs are key elements to the success of industrial manufacturing and production, which depends on these systems to do more and more to monitor and control processes, do it faster, and do it more accurately and precisely.

Two years ago, Control Engineering and the Reed Research Group, both part of Reed Business Information, asked subscribers about their application of and preference in HMI software in manufacturing. Responses to that study reflected a growing and changing market. This year’s survey reveals a healthy market and continued steady investment in HMI software and systems. Users are embracing such new technologies as flat panels, connectivity capabilities, and Web browsers, and continuing to be wary of anything wireless.

Some 44% of survey respondents said they use a Web interface to view and monitor HMI information; only a third were doing so two years ago.

The online survey of 380 control engineers who specify, recommend, and/or buy HMI software, conducted in spring 2007, reveals that use patterns are holding steady. About half of respondents said they use HMI software for in-plant requirements; the remainder, for OEM requirements or both in-plant and OEM requirements. Both continuous and batch manufacturing accounted for 43% of all primary applications, with continuous manufacturing applications garnering 26% of the total, discrete manufacturing applications making up 14%, and batch manufacturing accounting for 6%.

HMI Web investments

Investment in HMI software has risen, with U.S. dollars spent over the past 12 months reaching a mean of more than $221,000 annually, up from just under $175,000 in 2005. Nearly all respondents (89%) said they expect the amount they will spend on HMI software in the next 12 months to increase or stay about the same. Only 11% anticipate a decrease.

Most users appear to pay attention to the HMI software they’re using, even after it is installed. A substantial number of respondents (43%) said they upgrade their HMI software whenever an upgrade includes needed features. An additional 16% said they applied upgrades with every new product release. Still, nearly a fifth said they never upgraded the software once it was installed and operational.

More respondents are using a Web interface to view and monitor HMI information than were doing so two years ago. Close to half (44%) said they use Web capabilities: 22% to view databases and real-time reports, 18% to view charts and trending, and 4% for other uses (see chart). Only a third were using Web features in 2005.

Microsoft Windows XP continues to dominate the choice of operating systems for HMI software, extending its lead to 67% in the current survey from its previous high of 555 in 2005. Linux and Microsoft Windows Vista appear on the list for the first time this year.

Although investment in and upgrade of HMI software continues, one feature continues to lag—wireless. Surprisingly, even as wireless products flood the market in many areas, the addition of wireless capability to HMI systems remains stagnant. The expected increase (to 66%) indicated in the 2005 survey did not materialize. Among 2007 respondents, only 19% of respondents said they currently use wireless capabilities, almost identical to the 2005 level. Nearly half (47%) said they did not currently use and do not plan to add wireless capabilities to HMI systems. Only about a third (34%) said they planned to add wireless HMI within 6 to 24 months.

The survey probed respondents for the features they considered most important in their current HMI systems, concentrating on: graphics, input devices, operating systems, and connectivity features. Nearly all respondents indicated they use graphics for alarm summaries (93%) and that they use color (91%). Trending (75%), animation (68%), and library or template-based configuration options (66%) are also common. For the first time video capabilities made the list at 15%.

Flat panel, touchscreen, and keypad remained the most popular input devices. Not surprisingly, flat panel moved into the top spot (at 79%) from third place in 2005. Emphasizing the importance of the display, one respondent recommended, “Use as large a display as possible or affordable. You will recover the cost by the labor savings in screen development.”

Touchscreens (77%) dropped from first to second place, and keypad from second to third. Most other features, including dedicated terminal and bright ambient light readability, changed little from two years earlier. Most notably dropping in use were “separate from controller” (from 57% in 2005 to 40% in 2007) and CRTs (from 56% to 29%). In operating systems (see graphic), Microsoft Windows Vista and Linux joined the list.

Emphasis on connectivity continues to grow. The number of respondents indicating they use OPC has moved from about half in 2005 to almost two-thirds (63%) in 2007. More than 40% say they use a historian, a third (33%) say they use open networks, and a fifth (21%) say they connect to onscreen training and maintenance procedures.

About half the survey respondents said they’d made changes to HMI system security measures and procedures. More password protection procedures topped the list.

Services and security

Respondents rely on their HMI software vendors primarily for upgrades and patches (62%). Only about a fifth use vendors for other purposes, such as customization and modifications (23%) or training (20%).

When asked about changes in security measures and procedures for their HMI systems over the past year or two, about half of all respondents said they’d done so (49%). Most (80%) said those changes included better password protection procedures. Other measures respondents took included restricting access to HMIs (61%), reviewing network access points for vulnerabilities (54%), restricting physical access to areas (45%), and conducting a security assessment (42%). More than a third (35%) said they hadn’t thought about security. Nearly half (45%) said they planned to take future security precautions.

If their comments are any indication, security remains a concern. Said one, “The demand for competent IT skills and understanding is as much a part of a successful installation as engineering / process skills. There are no ‘insert CD and click the wizard until done’ installations.” Demand will grow with more security requirements Cautioned another, “Make sure [the HMI system] provides security with minimum system interference.” Another advised that HMI systems require stations to have certain rights to operate properly, sometime colliding site security; plan ahead to configuration.

Some respondents concur in application details, advising users to understand the system and plan for risks and future needs. One says: “Have a good, clear understanding of the project, ensure your HMI is capable of doing the job, keep all communications drivers current, provide clear and simple-to-use screens, present data in easy-to-understand trends and reports, use as many built in features and functions as possible, and avoid over-complicating the HMI process.”

Before looking at HMIs, “Keep the controls programming as simple and user-friendly as possible. Don’t over complicate the system. Standardize on a well-known and widely supported HMI software supplier. Good luck!”

HMI software products

Control Engineering subscribers, using a list provided, identified the following as leading suppliers of HMI software: Rockwell Software, Wonderware, Siemens Energy & Automation, GE Fanuc Automation, AutomationDirect, Honeywell, ABB, National Instruments, Emerson Process Management, Maple Systems, Opto 22, and Iconics. Examples of the latest products are provided below, with additional details online. Complete study results are available in the Control Engineering Resource Center at . To find other suppliers, search . To find system integrators with related expertise, go to .

Opens windows to enterprise

FactoryTalk View suite of HMI software solutions from Rockwell Software is supported by the company’s Integrated Architecture for tight integration into its Logix Control Platform, third-party, and legacy systems and easy access to critical production data. FactoryTalk View features a common development platform and application- and system-wide tag reuse to help engineers, programmers, and support personnel speed HMI application development, configuration, and training time. Software comes in two editions: FactoryTalk View Machine Edition and FactoryTalk View Site Edition. Machine Edition supports open and embedded operation interface solutions for monitoring and controlling individual machines and small processes. Platforms include Microsoft Windows CE, 2000, and XP.

Rockwell Software

Engineering, migration

InTouch HMI software version 9.5 from Wonderware, a unit of Invensys Inc., includes new features. New operational capabilities support intelligent alarm techniques, dynamic operator guidance, runtime language switching, and virtually unlimited scalability. New engineering productivity capabilities significantly decrease the cost and time associated with application creation, modification, deployment, and maintenance. Included are enhancements to SmartSymbol change propagation, pan-and-zoom capabilities in development, and one-click I/O backup configuration. Applications using prior versions of InTouch software can be easily migrated. InTouch 9.5 uses industry standards-based ArchestrA technology.

Wonderware, a unit of Invensys Systems Inc.

Easy setup, wizards

Simatic WinCC flexible 2007 software from Siemens Energy & Automation continues to emphasize ease of configuration and use as its primary benefit to users. Reducing configuration time saves money and ease of configuration reduces issues associated with start-ups and engineering modifications. Tools and wizards simplify such HMI tasks as importing and exporting configuration data. Templates are easily applicable throughout a project; multiple recipe options provide maximum flexibility. It has been expanded by incorporating soft control based on the new MP277 hardware platform. The system also provides validation support at the engineering and runtime stages and tracks manufacturing processes using audit trails.

Siemens Energy & Automation

Tough monitoring, controls

Proficy HMI/SCADA—Cimplicity 7.0, the latest edition of GE Fanuc Automation’s supervisory monitoring and control software, is designed to handle complex, multi-user applications on multi-tasking operating systems for processes in many industries. System helps companies improve business performance through integration with other products in the Proficy family. It provides seamless management and tracking of software changes at the component and application levels and tracks specific change histories within the development environment. Enhancements include improved OPC connectivity and configuration, security with password rules, and flexibility through right-mouse-button menu actions.

GE Fanuc Automation

Open connectivity HMI

LookoutDirect PC-based HMI software from AutomationDirect has 500 I/O point capacity and is based on National Instruments’ Lookout object-based automation software to make it suitable for small to medium HMI applications. LookoutDirect has drivers for top 10 PLC/RTU products and AutomationDirect’s DirectLogic driver. Easy-to-use configuration package requires no programming or scripting. Object-oriented, event-driven architecture provides a graphical interface to the process. Graphical representations of devices are easy to create and link to PLCs for real-time data acquisition, graphical animation, alarm generation, report printing, and network connection to a business system. Prices start at $995.


Intuitive HMI uses Web

Experion Station, part of Honeywell’s Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS), is said to be a powerful, robust HMI that provides an intuitive, safe operating environment. HMIWeb technology, a Web-based architecture, offers one infrastructure across the enterprise to ensure seamless, third-party Web-based integration. Alarm and event design follows 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 data access. Features include live video integration, ActiveX support, scripting, and launching applications. Mobile Station provides a control environment for field operators.


Connect workstations

System 800xA Operations from ABB accesses enterprise-wide data and interacts with multiple applications from any connected workstation in the plant or office. It harnesses the company’s Process Portal, an intuitive system interface, to provide a single window for navigating, accessing, and viewing plant information in real time to facilitate business decisions and actions to maximize productivity. System 800xA gathers information from multiple plant sources and transforms it into relevant information for a diverse set of users. Contextual navigation presents the production facility in one window and cuts data overload.


HMI for graphical LabView

NI TPC-2012 12-in. touch panel computer from National Instruments works with its LabView 8.20 Touch Panel Module to provide another option for deploying the LabView graphical development environment on Microsoft Windows CE HMI devices for machine control, embedded control, and distributed data acquisition systems. LabView offers a single graphical development environment in which to create touch panel applications in the same environment used for logic programming. Users can develop control algorithms, embed logic on FPGAs, build the accompanying HMI, and then deploy to the TPC-2012, all using LabView 8.20.

National Instruments

Machinery health software

AMS Suite: Machinery Health Manager, version 5.0, from Emerson Process Management offers users of CSI vibration data collectors continuous online monitoring and infrared (IR) thermography technology with a new asset-centric interface for easy navigation. New time-saving features allow users to analyze more equipment in less time. Users can quickly identify a machine for evaluation, and then decide what database tools to use for analysis, plotting, and reporting. New version reportedly makes it easier than ever to analyze and communicate data from the field. Software lets users customize each module to fit their preferences within the Microsoft Windows environment. ;

Emerson Process Management

Author Information
Jeanine Katzel is a consulting editor for Control Engineering. Contact her at .