Next-generation Industrial HMIs Webcast: Questions answered

More answers about next-generation industrial HMIs, the topic of a Apr. 14 Webcast, are provided by two speakers. Topics include programming and software compatibility.

By Dennis Brandl, John Boyd May 2, 2016

The evolving sophistication of human-machine interface (HMI) software requires maintaining compatibility with applications created in previous software versions. System integrators and end users are faced with choices such as upgrading the operating system and HMI software versus selecting a new HMI software vendor.

Those answering questions below are:

Dennis Brandl, founder of BR&L Consulting

John Boyd, technology leader, Maverick Technologies

Additional answers from Brandl and Boyd follow below, related to next-generation industrial HMIs.

Question: How do you programmatically create the HMI from engineering information?

John Boyd: The best method I have seen used, is when the engineering information is organized in a control hierarchy. control modules –> equipment modules –> work units –> work cells. Then this hierarchy is used to build the tabular lists. I have not seen any usable systems where the P&ID diagrams are used for high-performance graphics. The layouts are different because of different use, so you can’t automatically go from a P&ID view into a correct HMI view.

Q: How capable is current control software to interface with phone/tablet software (apps)? Can apps be written to interface with current control software? Must control software be upgraded for app interface?

Boyd: Many vendors are now providing some form of HTML5 interface, or have it in their roadmaps. If you are using an existing system that doesn’t support HTML5, then you will need to have custom apps that convert the information into an HTML5 format.

Q: With only limited software update control on Microsoft Windows 10 and other smart devices, how do we manage software compatibility?

Dennis Brandl: We have to rely on the vendors. The ISA 99 committee has a Technical Report ISA/IEC 64223-2-3 on patch management that recommends (as a best practice) that the vendors establish a patch management system to test their software when the underlying software (O/S, database, etc) is changed. End users need to require this best practice from their vendors.

Q: What programming languages and technologies will dominate this new HMI generation?

Brandl: It seems to me that Java (Android) and .NET will become the two primary choices for HMI development. This seems to be the general direction of the entire software industry, and I think that industrial systems will follow the same direction.

Q: How will the content of critical information will be safe from unwanted cyber violations and breaches?

Brandl: The HMI is a point of vulnerability for industrial automation cyber security. Protecting access through passwords, physical security (keys), and biometrics are the current best practices. The worst thing to do is to leave an unlocked HMI that doesn’t need passwords to perform actions, available in an unsecured location.

Q: I haven’t read the HMI standards you referred to but are you saying the high-performance graphics would not use colors to identify problems or status of operating equipment?

Brandl: High-performance graphics should not only use color to identify problems or show status. Color, highlighting, (inverting), flashing, and text, should all be used to draw attention to the areas that need attention. Color alone is not enough.

Q: Is Linux going to be a game-changer with all the changes happening?

Brandl: In my opinion, I don’t think that there will be a mjor shift to Linux. The OT world follows the trends in the IT world, with about a 4- to 5-year delay, and there does not appear to be a major change to Linux, yet.

Q: Not all browsers support HTML5 the same. Do you have any specific recommendations?

Boyd: The following have HTML5 support: Microsoft Zedge, Internet Explorer 10. Opera 11.60, Google Chrome 10, Safari 5.1, Firefox 4.0. See http:/ for details.

Q: What are your thoughts about using trending in display?

Boyd: I think they can be used in the HMI screen when they provide value to the operators in the process.

Q: Is alarm rationalization required in order to implement high-performance graphics?

Brandl: Alarm rationalization is a good practice, independent of any high-performance graphics. It prevents operator overload during incidents, and makes the process much safer. You don’t need to perform alarm rationalization with high-performance graphics, but it’s a good practice to do so.

Q: If using mobile smart devices as HMIs on life safety alert systems, would there be any listing requirements for the devices and for the entire system?

Boyd: I would not use mobile smart devices (tablets, smartphones) as an HMI on a life safety system.

Q: How will HTML5 affect high-performance HMI philosophies and style guides?

Boyd: It won’t have an affect because HTML5 is the format used in the final display device.

Q: How sensitive to transients will the next-gen devices be?

Boyd: As generations of HMI’s have progressed over time they have become more resilient and less sensitive to transients.

Q: Can we find any development in these days with email/text feature directly from the remote HMI by operator?

Boyd: Yes, with adding third-party products such as Microsoft WIN 911.

Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

ONLINE extras

Watch the related Webcast, "Next-generation Industrial HMIs" to see more on this topic.

Control Engineering has an HMI and operator interface page.

See related Control Engineering articles on high-performance HMIs below.