Opening the Process Window: Intel®’s multi-core technologies power Human Machine Interface innovation

Process Control Visualization: Evolved Before the computer and controls revolution of the 1960s and '70s, a control manager’s window into their industrial process was quite literally a glass window from their office onto the site’s pipes, valves and reactors. (And that window was often obscured by years of dirt and grime.

By Control Engineering Staff November 1, 2007

Sidebars: Intel in Action: The B&R APC810

Process Control Visualization: Evolved

Before the computer and controls revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, a control manager’s window into their industrial process was quite literally a glass window from their office onto the site’s pipes, valves and reactors. (And that window was often obscured by years of dirt and grime.) With the advent of more powerful technologies, engineers were able to view a virtual representation of the process on their computer screens. This freed them from walking into an operations room full of dials, slide bars, charts, and graphs tied to pneumatics.

The world moved on, taking full advantage of electronic controls.

Intel has been driving many of the processor-based innovations which have altered the controls landscape. With over 35 years of expertise in embedded computing and communications, Intel has assumed a leadership role in developing tools and technologies to improve the engineer’s view into his industrial processes.

One of the most significant advances driving the evolution of HMI technology is Intel’s ability to develop and deliver increasingly powerful multi-core processors while simultaneously reducing power consumption needs. Such processors provide manufacturers with unprecedented flexibility in HMI design, deployment and functionality. The end result for the engineer: reduced costs, robust security and the freedom to push the envelope of what can be done using HMI technologies

Evolving Technologies, Developing Trends

An HMI typically communicates with specialized control systems (e.g. DCS or PLC) on the site and is tied to that equipment and vendor. HMI classifications include: text displays (simple text displays that do not possess programming or configuration capabilities); text operator panels (integrated alphanumeric keypad or board without graphic capabilities); graphic operator/touch screen panels (graphical screens with integrated keypads/boards/touch screens; embedded products); PLC/DCS interfaces (text or graphic displays that are integrated and tied to an specific PLC/DCS vendor); among others.

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have historically begun with a proprietary HMI architecture– a closed system which consists of various PLCs or a DCS which dictates the applications that are available. As with most hardware- and software-based solutions, however, there is a general trend of HMI systems moving away from proprietary technologies in favor of open environments which supportstandard operating systems (OS) and common protocols. The open architecture using Intel’s chip sets make such multi-vendor solutions possible.

Running in parallel with the evolution of HMI technologies is the evolution of HMI standards. On the forefront of developing these standards is the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation society (ISA), which began with the creation of SP5.5 Graphic Symbols for Process Displays in the mid-1980s. Although this standard is now considered insufficient to adequately address today’s HMI capabilities, it can be considered the precursor to SP101– ISA’s contemporary set of HMI standards.

Transcending simple graphic and symbol definitions, SP101 has a broader-based charter and will include details on everything from menu hierarchies and navigation conventions to help screens and security methods. SP101 will also leverage the work of other ISA standards committees where applicable, such as SP18 (Instrument Signals and Alarms) and SP99 (Manufacturing & Control Systems Security.)

The development and adoption of such standards yield benefits which directly affect the safety of an organization and deliver bottom-line results. For example, as operators move from one system to another– within the same plant or across multiple facilities – having a consistent way of being prompted for data entry or for graphically representing an alarm condition will reduce errors and facilitate rapid and accurate response to emergency conditions. Such consistency also eliminates the need forextensive operator retraining, as well as accelerates the entire development process.

Such an approach enables engineers to graphically depict industrial processes in a way which is familiar to the operator, but will not limit design creativity. On the contrary, enforcing standards for tasks such as those listed above empowers developers to focus their efforts in other elements of design… elements which fully leverage the power and flexibility afforded by today’s more robust HMI technologies.

An example of this is the ability to graphically render industrial processes in fully-explorable three-dimensional space. No longer tied to two-dimensional graphics and rudimentary animation, today’s multi-core processor technologies bring enhanced graphical capabilities as well as improved overall performance. The emergence of 64-bit processors– such as those featuring Intel’s Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) – and increasingly sophisticated applications which take advantage of this architecture enable operators to fully explore equipment and processes in the “virtual” world in a manner which approximates the physical environment with unprecedented clarity and data granularity.

As enhancements continue to be made in the areas of microprocessor architecture and production, chips delivering both increased computational capabilities and lower power consumption will continue to open-up new venues for process visualization, data access and machine control. The effects of which can already be seen by the rapid growth and proliferation of new HMI technologies.

Open for Business

“Open HMI,” for example, occupies the space between “traditional” HMI screens and industrial PCs, providing functionality greater than that of pure HMI solutions but at a lower price point than industrial computers. Simply stated, Open HMI technologies provide automation professionals with unprecedented flexibility in system design and deployment. These solutions typically support both open operating systems– such as Windows CE – as well as other open technologies such as Java. As a result, Open HMI is a somewhat malleable technology and can be configured and scaled to meet the unique operating parameters of any given application.

Although Open HMI implementations are not as straightforward as their “plug-and-play” traditional HMI brethren, what they lack in simplicity they gain in the ability to deliver custom-tailored functionality for virtually any application and any environment… and they’re becoming increasingly popular. In fact, according to IMS Research, “Open HMI” represents one of the most rapidly growing operator interface technologies.

No Strings Attached

Another deployment option made possible by the emergence of more powerful and more compact processing technologies is wireless or “un-tethered” HMI. Wireless HMI represents what is perhaps the ultimate in field deployment flexibility and, thanks to the introduction of powerful new multiple execution core processors pared with integrated wireless-ready chipsets, HMI applications are limited only by the imagination of the developer.

Wireless HMI enables the operator to become more efficient in his day-to-day activities by having the freedom to go directly to the location where a task needs to be performed– from adjusting settings to alarm response. Depending upon how an organization chooses to deploy wireless technologies within the production environment, these HMI solutions can even present different types of information based upon where the operator is physically located. This “contextual” approach will undoubtedly be embraced in even greater numbers as wireless installations become more prevalent in the market.

The concept of doing more with less– of maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of your capital equipment and the people who use it – is a common theme in the industrial sector today. As a result, Intel has responded with a roadmap which not only makes this possible but drives innovation as well. A prime example of one such innovation is Intel’s Ultra Low Voltage Pentium M processor – a CPU which is powerful enough to handle demanding Windows-based HMI applications, yet available in a fanless design which is ideal for factory floor and other “harsh condition” environments.

Intel for HMI: Power & Progress

Intel’s dedication to delivering ever-increasing computing power in more compact and efficient form factors is well known. In fact, it was Intel co-founder Gordon Moore who gave birth to the eponymous “Moore’s Law,” stating that the number of transistors available on a single chip will double every two years. This exponential growth in computing power and speed has similarly sparked exponential growth in the global economy, fueling innovation and development in everything from consumer electronics to industrial applications.

Today Intel continues to deliver on its roadmap for increasingly sophisticated processors by including more execution cores on a single chip. Intelled clock speed, clock gating, reduced clock jitter, even the ability to reprogram core voltage and frequency. Furthermore, some Intel processors now feature the 45-nanometer Next Generation Intel® Core™2 Processor Family which delivers speed and processing power capabilities which are unmatchedin today’s market.

Following Best Practices

When developing an HMI system, there are several factors to consider. HMI design should simultaneously provide a visual interface while controlling the field systems in real-time… and one should not adversely affect the other. HMIs typically use high-bandwidth interfaces for real-time sampling (trending, alarms, etc.) and must optimize the balance between integration and modularity for multiple deployment designs. As process topology becomes more complex and mobile, graphical displays influence visual interface specifications.

Regardless of the physical location in which the HMI will be placed, low power models deliver high performance in both fanless designs and rugged mobile solutions for wireless use in harsh environments. Furthermore, the introduction of virtualization technologies– such as those supported by Intel’s VT-d architecture – enable real-time operating systems and standard operating systems to run simultaneously for integrated HMI functionality, as well as ensures isolation of I/O resources for enhanced security and reliability. Such advances enable industrial designers to move controls closer to the process.

“Inteloptimization without sacrificing power.”

Intelly on local software agents, helping to avoid accidental data loss. Intel AMT also provides out-of-band management capabilities to allow remote healing of systems after OS failures. When combined with alerting and event logging to quickly detect problems, engineers can reduce downtime and lower system operational costs by reducing or eliminating the need to diagnose and fix issues on-site.

Figure X shows the movement from single socket, single core CPUs to a consolidated multi-core CPU. The single chip demands less space and less power consumption while delivering superior power and performance.

Intel Capabilities Fit HMI Needs

Competition demands that process control be more economical and efficient. By “seeing” into their processes on a more open environment and moving towards mobile control, the engineer is achieving these goals.

Intel’s multi-core architecture provides expanded options for manufacturers of HMI solutions as well as end-users. Its scalable product range, accelerated development, and long-term availability provide both the stability and reliability end-users require.

In addition to advances in multi-core processor development, Intel Software Development Products offer a host of functionality designed to help developers migrate their current software from a single core to a multi-core system. These applications include “Professional Editions” of Intel Compilers, Intel VTune Performance Analyzer and Intel Threading Analysis Tools.

Future Advances

“In 2008, we will be introducing lower power platforms that provide sub-5 Watt solutions (CPU+Chipset) for ultra-low power small form factor embedded applications,” said Gilvarry. “This CPU architecture will deliver the break-through improvements in performance-per-watt necessary for even lower performance platform needs.”

These developments will lead to even more robust solutions and will yield benefits on many levels: greater system design flexibility for the controls engineer, enhanced usability for the operator and an accelerated return on investment for the company.

Intel in Action: The B&R APC810

B&R is concentrating on using Intel microarchitecture and its low power consumption creating a fanless environment. B&R’s APC810 leverages Core Duo processors to increase data throughput.

For over 25 years, B&R has been developing and producing complete industrial automation solutions and industrial PCs from their global headquarters in Eggelsberg, Austria. Today they extend the capabilities of their industrial solutions by leveraging the latest Intel technologies to create a powerful, multi-use, fanless HMI dubbed the APC810.

“The roadmap of Intel

The mechanical design is based on the results of shock and vibration tests that place a considerable demand on the components. The elimination of internal component cable connections, stable circuit board fittings, and mass memory without rotating parts (namely CompactFlash)– combine with B&R’s mechanical construction to create protection against breakdowns.

Using Intelombines the digital display interface and touch transfer for the display unit into one interface. Matrix keys, service data (temperature, operation hours), and USB signals are transferred using the same cable.

The APC810’s bus topology leverages the Intel multi-core CPUs to deliver rapid data throughput and is used for graphic-intensive applications and image processing. A gigabit Ethernet interface ensures a high transfer rate from external sources.

The next step for B&R, stated Mr. Ruf, is to use the software tools that Intel provides to port proprietary I/O and PLC applications to a multi-thread environment and use the multi-core processors for both real-time and operator (HMI) operations.

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