Is Turnkey HMI Right For You?

The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone." The phrase may have made sense in a childhood nursery rhyme, but when it comes to human-machine interfaces and visualization systems, the concept just doesn't apply. Once simple, self-contained entities of switches and push buttons, HMIs no longer stand alone in the manufacturing environment.

By Jeanine Katzel March 1, 2005
  • HMIs as systems

  • Plan, design carefully

  • Component interoperability

  • Integrate with business systems

Integrators add needed perspective to turnkey HMIs

This article contains online extra material.

The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone.’ The phrase may have made sense in a childhood nursery rhyme, but when it comes to human-machine interfaces and visualization systems, the concept just doesn’t apply. Once simple, self-contained entities of switches and push buttons, HMIs no longer stand alone in the manufacturing environment. They are part of larger systems and must therefore be integrated with business and information systems, as well as with the devices they monitor and control.
HMIs have grown into this larger role because they now do much more than present a visual rendition of an operation or provide a mechanism for process monitoring and control. Modern HMIs are complex components in complete solutions. They are used extensively for analysis and perform elaborate system activities. These characteristics are prompting users to give increasing consideration to a systems or turnkey approach when specifying and installing HMIs.

Why turnkey?

A turnkey solution generally means using a single-source vendor or working with an integrator—or both. Such a systems approach has advantages and disadvantages. ‘One-stop shopping may not always get you the latest technology,’ says Rami Al-Ashqar, product manager, Bosch Rexroth Electric Drives and Controls, adding that a specific vendor may have the latest technology in one area but not in another.

Renee Brandt, Wonderware product marketing manager for visualization products, agrees. ‘Hardware vendors often want you to use their software, but it might not be the best software available for the job. It might not be the easiest to use or upgrade or integrate with other systems. When looking at a turnkey system, the end-user needs to be sure that whoever is chosen for the job will select the best possible product for all the components.’

In spite of the caveats, the advantages still probably outweigh the disadvantages. ‘By selling our own complete system—HMI, PLC, motors, drives—we are in a better position to know if there’s a problem, where it is, and how to solve it,’ says Al-Ashqar. In addition, he adds, having a single source for service and repair means the end-user doesn’t have to call several people to get one thing done.

Mark Hobbs, product marketing manager, RS View, Rockwell Automation, summarizes the turnkey approach with an historical perspective: ‘Ten or 15 years ago, it was not uncommon to run into a customer who wrote his own custom HMI code. There weren’t a lot of options, and if he couldn’t find what he wanted, he created it. This is one level of turnkey system. Now times have changed. Most companies don’t have the staff to do that. And they need systems that are global, not local. So they look for off-the-shelf solutions they can configure to their needs. This is another level. If that’s still more than the company wants or is able to do, a system integrator (SI) or the services group of a major vendor can create the entire HMI project.’

It is an interesting time to talk about whole systems as a solution, says Roy Kok, director of HMI/SCADA product marketing, GE Fanuc Automation, ‘Systems, not products, are what’s important today. GE Fanuc’s Proficy is one example of an integrated technology solution. It is a modular product. If you create something once, it is reusable elsewhere in the system. That kind of integration is hard to achieve if you buy an HMI from one vendor, a PLC from another, and a data historian from another. We recognize this challenge and Proficy is designed with an open and layered concept to facilitate layering on and integration with third-party offerings.’

Importance of planning

A turnkey approach requires a lot of upfront planning. Stresses Wonderware’s Brandt, ‘When you’re choosing someone to do a turnkey system, it’s beneficial to find a supplier who has experience in the plant’s own area and a good track record of successful installations. Discuss what you hope to achieve with the new system. Are you looking to upgrade old equipment? Do you need better quality? Do you have to comply with government regulations? Whoever you work with needs to know what to do and what’s he’s in charge of.’

Add Bosch Rexroth’s Al-Ashqar, ‘If you’re going to take this kind of approach, you need to know your purpose. You need to have a design and a plan. Who is going to use the system? What will the operators be required to do? In what kind of environment will the system operate? What kind of display is needed? And these are only some of the questions that need to be answered before you start.’

The end-user understands his application best, says Graham Harris, president of Beckhoff Automation. ‘A solutions provider or system integrator can provide expertise, but those who use the system need to embrace it as their own. We can give our experience, but only the customer can look at it all. He has to think it through from the physical configuration to the control loops to the actual displays, and make sure he has optimized every element. He needs to look at both hardware and software sides.’

Integration, interoperability

Turnkey systems must interface at the device level and with business and information systems. In fact, connectivity and open architecture are probably among the most significant areas of activity affecting an HMI system today. Applications of Ethernet, Web browsers for remote system monitoring and control, OPC servers for communication between disparate systems, and wireless capabilities, present expanded opportunities, but also significant challenges.

‘Each individual component can be wonderful, but it’s the system that solves the problem,’ says Russ Agrusa, president of Iconics. ‘The biggest problem with PC-based HMI systems is communications. An open-system solution needs to have the ability to work with data historians, pocket PCs, mobile phones, etc. It needs to integrate with the enterprise, the IT infrastructure, and an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. If the products you’re using to build your system are Microsoft certified and OPC Foundation compliant, you’ve got a pretty good shot at having your system work well together.’

Achieving that seamless integration is the primary reason for using a single-source system, according to James Davis, systems engineer at Opto 22. ‘A thorough understanding of the project by the supplier and of open system concepts should be two primary considerations of anyone embarking on a turnkey system,’ says Davis. ‘Systems need to integrate with databases using open protocols. Discuss these aspects, discuss the entire project, before it starts. Make sure whoever you work with knows what is important to you.’

Turnkey systems have to work with existing systems, even if new hardware is being installed. ‘Most times, plants aren’t replacing all of their business systems or all their controls,’ points out Wonderware’s Brandt. ‘They may be upgrading only a part of their operation. A key factor is the ability to integrate with the products you don’t want to change.’

Visualization of the future

Working with a turnkey supplier or integrator lets an end-user focus on business issues, observes Brandt, not on becoming an HMI or software expert. ‘The company can concentrate on improving productivity and quality, instead of worrying about new technologies,’ she says.

Observes Maria Piazza, commercial director, automation solutions, GE Fanuc Automation, ‘Applications are becoming more complex, and customers are making performance/price tradeoffs. A flexible system solution lets them pick and choose the functionality they want and need, to build into the system a migration path that makes upgrades easy and economical.’

HMI today is an integral system within a system amidst rapidly changing technology. Advances let today’s HMIs provide data, graphics, and animation capabilities that, says Rockwell’s Hobbs ‘are truly amazing. And it will only get easier and better.’ An HMI solution affects the whole manufacturing process and must be considered as such. With proper design, planning, and execution, the turnkey approach can reap many benefits.

Online Extras

HMI panels play key role in auto plant modernization

During a recent two-year planning and construction phase, automaker BMW built a new paint shop at its Regensburg, Germany, operation with two production lines that meet the latest global standards. The project included use of 55 custom control panels from Beckhoff Automation to handle the visualization of the application systems.

BMW had been looking for new operation and visualization terminals for various robot and vision systems. Existing touch displays and systems with keyboards and mouse took up a large amount of space and had an old-fashioned appearance that didn’t match BMW’s progressive image. The new panels solved both the aesthetic challenge and, more importantly, delivered the needed functionality.

In the robotic systems—designed and installed by Eisenmann, a system supplier for surface technology and material flow automation—control panels are part of seam sealing and undersealing applications. They visualize the cell control, handled by Kuka robots. Final paintwork is applied in the filler and top coat application lines. Dürr Systems AG, had responsibility for this part of the plant and also developed the painting robot. The control panels are used here primarily for system visualization and for the vision system, which is responsible for 2-D and 3-D car body position detection during the application processes.
“The control panels were produced according to our requirements and with ergonomics in mind,” said Norbert Schottenheim and Harald Sandner, engineers responsible for surface technology control at the plant. “Simple handling, compact design, and the option of operating the panels remotely via CP Link from a PC at a distance of up to 100 meters were the crucial deciding factors in selecting the system.”

Combining CP Link technology with special graphics cards for 3-D visualization was not a problem. The PC is safely located in a central control cabinet. All third-party components, such as the electronic key system or mode selector switches were integrated into the control panel case. Housings milled from solid aluminum blocks made them suitable for demanding production environments.

The panels feature a 15-in. TFT display and touchscreen. Left and right keyboard extensions each have 32 fully backlit pushbuttons in three possible colors and are controlled by a higher-level controller communicating over Profibus. Installing a support arm/lift system gave the system flexibility. The control panel can be swiveled in all directions. A swiveling keyboard extension adds to operator ease-of-use. Finally, the exterior of the control panels features a robust yet modern industrial design.

“The primary aim of modernization was to increase our capacity,” said Sandner, “but visual and aesthetic issues—the overall impression of the plant—were also an important decision factor for us.” Schottenheim was also satisfied with the results. “A comparison between the free-hand sketches we used to formulate our requirements during the initial project meeting and the finished control panels shows that our specifications were realized exactly.”

About 30 of the same control panels are to be used for visualization and operation of the paint shop at a new company plant being built in Leipzig, Germany.

HMI system integral part of sophisticated automation project

Production figures at TXI Chapparral Steel are impressive. But processing prowess wasn’t enough for the structural steel products supplier to keep a competitive edge. It needed to maintain reliable, automated manufacturing processes so that it could ship its products on time.

To accomplish that goal, the company and partner AMI designed, specified, and implemented an integrated automation system for the steel supplier’s 650,000-sq-ft Virginia plant. The effort included installation of Series 90-70 and Series 90-30 PLCs, Genius I/O modules, and Cimplicity HMI software from GE Fanuc Automation .

All manufacturing processes are interconnected. Steel must move seamlessly through the operation, which begins with the shredding of recyclable scrap into fist-size pieces. A continuous caster shapes and cools the molten steel into usable billet, which is formed in a rolling process into marketable I- and H-beams, rounds, and sheets. Finishing includes straightening, cutting to length, and banding.

All the plant’s processes and equipment are controlled by intelligent I/O modules communicating with PLCs and drives over a Genius LAN. Information is sent from the control system over Ethernet to the HMI software running on terminals throughout the facility. The automation system’s operator interface is reportedly easy to use and offers expanded functionality, including higher-quality screens with more colors and gradients and faster communications that enables rapid refresh rates.

“We built such a close visual representation of our process,” says David Quesenberry, automation manager for TXI Chapparal, “that any new operator could come in not knowing what we do and quickly have a good idea of what goes on in this plant and where every piece of equipment is located—which has been a great savings on training and improved operator response.”
Plant data are routinely captured and transferred to the company’s business information systems using GE Fanuc’s Proficy Historian, which collects, archives, and distributes plant-floor process information at high speed in real time. Benefits of the total automation solution include higher reliability, timely shipments, and greatly reduced operator learning curves and training costs.

DAQ + HMI = total solution to pumping problem

A new control and data acquisition system that includes detailed custom control screens provides a total solution for a water bottling operation.

Coca-Cola’s Dasani brand of drinking water is bottled in southern Missouri at a plant near to the Roubidoux Formation, the source of some of the purest water in North America. When Coca-Cola bought the facility, it didn’t know the plant was not equipped to meet the 1,000 gpm pumping demand of its process. With its new control and DAQ system, however, the company is pumping more than 1,500 gpm. The installation has saved floor space, reduced energy use, and helps ensure water purity.
The complete system (hardware and software) were supplied by Opto 22 and designed and installed by a system integrator, The Automate Co. LLC. The SI built the control-system panels from scratch using Opto 22 tools, which let graphical representations of a system be created before any actual programming is done, and permitted points and variables to be easily added or modified at any time.

An OptoTerminal-G70, an Ethernet network-enabled touchscreen, serves as the primary interface for the operators who monitor the control system. It is linked to a SNAP Ultimate I/O controller, which is the central control device for the entire system. Communications are accomplished using a wireless Ethernet network.

The equipment controls three wells that pump water from the Roubidoux Formation to the plant. A pump and variable- frequency drive at each well ensure that only the exact amount of water to meet current demand—— no more and no less—is pumped. The control system monitors pumping activities precisely, adjusting flow in milliseconds thanks to the Ethernet-based wireless configuration.

Fast response time has enabled the plant to always operate at maximum efficiency. The precision allowed the company to eliminate a 30,000 gal tank that was used to store water awaiting bottling.

Integrators add needed perspective to turnkey HMIs

A turnkey HMI installation often means the end-user will turn to a system integrator to pull together the many aspects of a multifaceted effort. Working effectively with an integrator requires an understanding of expectations on both sides. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when integrator and end-user come together.

First and foremost, the end-user must know what he wants the system to do. ‘No single source delivers a solution without the involvement of the customer,’ points out Jeff Baxter, senior systems engineer, Progressive Software Solutions. ‘The word ‘turnkey’ does not absolve the customer of responsibility.’

Baxter recommends following an established process that provides checkpoints to help shape and control expectations. Without them, he warns, expectations too easily grow beyond the intent of the original project and lead to more cost.

Any effort can be helped by taking a few well-defined steps:

Define the function/conceptual requirements.

A well-done conceptual process is a good mechanism at the start and for shaping the final outcome, says Baxter. ‘You need a blueprint for an HMI installation just like you do when you build a house.’

Prepare the implementation plan. Know what the system is to do and how the installation is going to achieve it.

Test and commission the system. Make sure the final product is what was specified and that it works as planned.

Each step has unique elements that vary with the project. All are important to the process. Customers today, observes Baxter, don’t care as much about the brand of a product as much as about achieving a solution. ‘They buy our expertise, and typically are willing to follow our direction,’ he says. An integrator also brings objectivity to the fore, stresses Baxter. ‘We can provide an unbiased look at and objective review of the project because we have no agenda.’

Baxter also observes that today the HMI is seldom the only component an integrator provides. ‘Most of our solutions go beyond the HMI. They involve other elements such as the data historian, connectivity to other business systems, and links to maintenance packages. The standalone HMI we saw a few years ago is rare. HMIs are being integrated tightly into the plant-wide information structure.’