Interfacing with databases key to machine HMI upgrade

A company with test machines built in the 1990s needed an upgrade its structured query language (SQL) program to allow them to better operate their machines for better accuracy and operation.

By Paul Carter, Cross Co. October 14, 2018

A company with test machines built in the 1990s recently sought help to upgrade them. These machines had a single-axis motion control requirement to accurately adjust some positions within the machine as material moved through the machine. The machine also was developed originally with a user interface that had been created using Microsoft Visual Basic Version 6, which was one of the few software environments that allowed interfacing with a database at the time. In this situation, the database that was used was Microsoft Access, a popular database application used in the 1990s.

Requirements included upgrading the current motion controller and the user interface. The requirements for the database were to move to a structured query language (SQL) software platform and to migrate the old database information to the new database application.

The motion control requirements were easy to meet as the system basically needed one axis controller with multiple position location capability. The user interface presented more of a challenge. Examining the capability of several manufacturers’ human-machine interface (HMI) products, some products had the capability to push data into a SQL database, but they did not have a good way to get the data back out for display and review as needed by the machine operators.

An HMI product with a specific functionality for interfacing with databases allows for two-way interaction, allowing for data to be written to and read from the database.

A database server and viewer function supports the data interface with the SQL database. The customer also asked for a turnkey system development with the motion control, the user interface, and electrical sub-panels retrofitted into the existing machines. Affordability was a concern along with development of the user interface; much effort and expense was invested in developing the original version. New viewer function included many other features that supported the development of a functional and robust user interface.

It also allowed for connection to almost any type of database, and provided a traditional row and column style display for presentation of the database information, similar to the manner in which a spreadsheet presents information. The interface provides capabilities to read/write/delete information from the database, and allows for real-time sorting, filtering, and grouping of data based on the operator’s needs.

An additional challenging requirement for these machine upgrades was that the owner of the machines provide the computer for handling the user interface and hosting the database. This was done to allow the local on-site information technology (IT) department to take responsibility for the long-term management of the computer and for performing any owner-required database backup and management.

The software vendor was encouraged to maintain an active testing program with new versions of Microsoft Windows to assure compatibility as machine upgrades are completed.

Upgrade results have been very positive. Several machines have been upgraded so far, and the customer indicated that more upgrades seem likely.

Paul Carter, product manager, Cross Co. Motion Solutions. This article originally appeared on Cross Co. Robotics and Machine Automation blog. Cross Co. is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


Keywords: Software, human-machine interface, HMI

  • A customer wanted to upgrade single-axis motion control test machines built in the 1990s.
  • An SQL database with a viewer function was used to help the machines function better.
  • Several machines were upgraded and the customer has responded positively to the change.

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