Operator Interface Terminals

If "eyes are windows to the soul," as the French poet, Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas rhapsodized back in 1578, then operator interface terminals (OITs) are surely windows to the process—continuous, batch, or discrete. And although it may seem a stretch to equate the soul with a manufacturing process, the fact that manufacturing is still the heart of the world economy it might as well in...

By Dick Johnson April 1, 2006

If ‘eyes are windows to the soul,’ as the French poet, Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas rhapsodized back in 1578, then operator interface terminals (OITs) are surely windows to the process—continuous, batch, or discrete. And although it may seem a stretch to equate the soul with a manufacturing process, the fact that manufacturing is still the heart of the world economy it might as well include the soul.

Keeping the operator’s (as well as the process control computer’s) eye on things is universally necessary if shifting production schedules, cost control, and product quality are to be maintained. Small wonder, OITs are have found their way into a wide variety of industries in roles varying all out large flat-panel-based color schematics/control system interface terminal to simple, monochromatic alphanumeric CRTs that have been designed to replace or augment simple pushbutton/warning light-based operator interface panels.

In the recent online survey of Control Engineering readers by Reed Corporate Research, more than 180 respondents attested to the universal use of the OIT. According to those involved in specifying, recommending, and/or buying OITs, 61% purchased them for in-plant requirements and 20% used them for OEM (resale) application. The remainder (19%) was specified by systems integrators. Primary applications included 50% for both batch and continuous manufacturing, 14% for continuous processing only, 14% for discrete manufacturing, and 9% for batch manufacturing only. As in the previous survey, a surprising number (14%) indicated that their OITs were used in the other category, which includes testing and other non-manufacturing processes.

According to Bill Southard, P.E., president of DST Controls, a San Francisco Bay-area system integrator, OIT use has become much more widespread in areas not normally thought of as product related. ‘For instance, they are showing up in a variety of applications, including temperature, time, and pressure displays on ovens, autoclaves, and clean-in-place systems. Also, while robotics are used in discrete manufacturing, their OIT’s are more involved with operation of the robot itself rather than being directly associated with the manufacture of a product. I’ve also seen OITs on forklifts in automated warehouses,’ Southard adds.

Assault on serial networks

There were changes in preferred OIT network usage from 2003 to 2006. Ethernet TCP/IP moved from second to the top spot, overtaking RS-232. Movement among the rest of the ‘usual suspects’—Modbus, Modbus TCP/IP, Profibus, 4-20 mA, and such was simple place swapping or none at all. The biggest jump over the three-year span between surveys was that of the proprietary network, which rose three places to the number six spot for 2006. DeviceNet declined the most, falling from fifth to take the ninth spot vacated by proprietary networks.

Changes in desired communication options also mirrored the trend away from the use of serial communications. See the ‘communication options’ section in the accompanying diagram. The survey showed significant gains in the use of OPC (from 26% in 2003 to 40% in 2006), wireless (10% to 19%), and proprietary networks (48% to 53%) as communication features used for OITs. Serial communications, 72% in 2003, fell to 64% in 2006.

When queried, Per Lundmark, product manager for the System 800xA Extended Operator Workplace, ABB Automation Technologies AB felt these results should be expected. ‘OPC is a standard for communication…it can be used with or without wireless, depending on the application and customer preference. We are using OPC 100% for connectivity in System 800xA. OPC communication to our OITs is done over Ethernet but it can be wireless if the customer wants it.’

As in almost all other areas of control technology, ability to handle more data faster is driving the market. Add to this the ability to adapt wireless technology and older standards—though familiar—begin to be abandoned.

Upping the feature ante

Survey respondents left no doubt what OIT features were desirable. Comparison of features that users saw as most important (and actually purchased as part of their OIT packages) is also illustrated in the accompanying diagram. Percentage point increases (or decreases) give a clear indication of what’s hot and what’s not.

With display features the big winner was the flat-panel display, which went from 67% in 2003, to 79% in 2006. The biggest loser was the CRT—from 51% in 2003 to 42% in 2006. The evolution of flat-panel technology has had a terrific impact on its desirability. Its progress in the industrial marketplace has mirrored its acceptance in consumer electronics. OIT manufacturers have seen this coming for some time now. Kerry Sparks, product manager for Eaton Corp.’s operator interface business heartily concurs. According to Sparks, there are lots of reasons for this trend.

‘Costs are down due to increasing volumes. Panel depth and weight are much less than CRT-based devices, allowing use of smaller enclosures or pendant-mounted enclosures where CRTs would be impractical. Pendant mounting allows the OIT to be used at varying heights, allowing operators of any stature use the screens effectively. Flat panels do not suffer from image burn-in like CRTs and are immune to color distortion in high magnetic fields in applications near robot welder, arc furnaces and smelters,’ Sparks says.

The biggest downside to flat-panel OIT use has been the limited life of fluorescent backlights, which required frequent maintenance due to their under 10,000-hr of use rating—a figure based on the number of hours before the backlight is at 50% of initial brightness. ‘Today’s backlights have a nominal 50,000-hr rating, and many flat-panel OITs now have backlight/inverter dimming circuits that are triggered by the screen-saver program assuring newer back lights may never need to be replaced,’ Sparks adds. Other big winners in this category included readability at a glance (24% in 2003 to 36% in 2006), gloved-hand operation (15% to 24%), and personal computer (51% to 60%). Keypad operation dropped from 67% to 61%, and text-only capability fell from 54% to 49%.

Software strategies

For OIT-enabling software, there were dramatic changes in what users wanted with their hardware. Since the 2003 survey, Web browsers jumped from 18% to 24% in 2006. Java-enabled software and Microsoft Windows CE software also gained favor among users. As plant-floor updates continue, Microsoft Windows NT use went from 64% to 51%. Control systems continue to evolve and applications gain complexity, advantages that control engineers can glean in assembling components and software into usable systems is helpful.

Clark Kromenaker, product manager, operator interface products for Rockwell Automation, agrees. ‘The common theme in your reader’s responses is ‘open’ and ‘portable.’ Users want to use tools that are seen as portable, easy to use, and open. Rapid growth of Web services for networks, such as EtherNet/IP reinforces the growing trend of applying the best of the open computing world to a secure and safe controls environment. And let’s not forget familiarity in the world of computing—Web clients are probably one of the most used and best understood applications running on a PC. If you have a chance to work with something you are familiar with versus another method, I think you would opt for the familiar. Rockwell Automation has seen a trend toward increased interest in Web services, which has led us to add Web servers to a number of our products,’ Kromenaker adds.

Dropping popularity of Microsoft Windows NT is due largely to availability of other operating systems (OS). Over the past several years that Windows CE has been available for OIT applications, it has had the opportunity to prove itself as a successful and robust OS. According to Rockwell Automation’s Kromenaker, there is a good reason for this. ‘Most dedicated CE-based OIT operating systems are hardware constrained, which increases reliability and reduces vulnerability to malicious software. Control system designers are beginning to see advantages here beyond control-level features and benefits.’

Enclosures for OITs also are an option to bring an unrated electronics up to environmental requirements. Just like the eyes, ‘the windows to the soul,’ may need protection so does the OIT, the window to the process.

OIT-related products

For more manufacturers, visit www.controleng.com/buyersguide . For systems integrators www.controleng.integrators . Also visit company Websites listed.

Firmware upgrade added

Allen-Bradley InView P22R panel-mounted message displays from Rockwell Automation feature a new firmware upgrade. Now available online for current P22R users and shipping with all new P22R orders, the upgrade includes independent line control that allows different information to appear on the display’s two message lines at the same time. Messages can be programmed for each line allowing multiple employee groups to view pertinent data at the same time, improving the communication efficiency on the plant-floor. Visible from up to 25 ft, the InView panel-mount display is said to help improve responsiveness by quickly communicating critical plant-floor operating and maintenance data, including process status and alarms. The upgrade also supports alphanumeric variables to make barcode reading easier and more efficient. Users will now be able to scan barcode items with alphanumeric variables and view them on the message display. www.rockwellautomation.com Rockwell Automation

More muscle for desktops

Dell is doubling the memory and hard drive space of its XPS 200 and 400 desktop computers at no additional cost for U.S. customers. The move brings the minimum configurations for XPS desktop computers to 1 GB of memory and 160 GB of hard drive capacity, up from the 512 MB of memory and 80 GB hard drive, when they debuted September 2005. XPS desktop systems have Intel Dual Core processors, Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, and a 15-month security subscription for virus and spyware protection. Shipping and one-year of XPS limited warranty support are standard. Pricing for the XPS desktop lineup starts at $999. Financing is available. www.dell.com/xps Dell Inc.

Colorful versatility

C-more touch panel line is available in grayscale (15 shades of gray) and full color models (256 to 64,536 colors). STN grayscale and color displays are available in a 6-in. touchscreen. Color TFT touchscreens come in 6, 8, 10, 12 and 15-in. models. Hardware features include an analog touchscreen, 10 MB or 40 MB project memory, two USB ports, serial RS-232, RS-422/485 and Ethernet 10/100BaseT ports. Optional Compact Flash cards or USB memory devices for most models accommodate alarm, event, and message logging. C-more OIT’s easy-to-use software includes 4,000 symbols and 14 typefaces. Advanced graphic features include animation, overlapping and custom object creation. High-level communication capabilities include built-in e-mail client, Web, and FTP servers. A project simulator allows viewing and testing projects on the PC screen as they appear on the panel. www.automationdirect.com AutomationDirect

Adaptability is important

QuickPanel touchscreens are said to be the most complete family of operator interface products available. These compact, slim profile OI panels connect easily to major PLCs and PLC networks. They replace a variety of discrete components, from pushbuttons and pilot lights to message displays, significantly reducing installation and maintenance costs. Features include a full range of display sizes from 5- to 12-in., in color or monochrome, and ability to communication with more than 70 PLCs. Contact can take place over serial, open device, and Ethernet networks. Integration with Cimplicity Machine Edition is part of a development environment that increases functionality for more complex applications. QuickDesigner (a Microsoft Windows-based graphical editor with intuitive drag-and-drop functionality) and Dynamic graphics (including trend, alarm and operator message display) are also included. www.gefanuc.com GE Fanuc Automation

Wide range, PC functionality

With more than 55 panels ranging from 6- to 15-in. screens, Simatic HMI solutions are said to provide innovative human-machine interface concepts using their developer’s WinCC Flexible software. These HMIs boast PC functionality, allowing for greater flexibility in customers’ applications. Client-server architectures, audit trails, and secure logins (for compliance with regulations, such as 21 CFR Part 11), and Web-based functionality can be realized in the HMIs. All stations use WinCC Flexible’s Sm@rtAccess software to allow them access to each others’ tags and screens. Other features include TCP/IP communication, remote control of on-site stations across the Web, event-driven e-mail and text messages, and ready-made html diagnostic functions and screens that allow remote servicing and maintenance functions. www.siemens.com Siemens Energy & Automation

Single view, point of change management for enterprise-wide control

System 800xA Process Portal provides a consistent method for accessing enterprise-wide data and for interacting with multiple applications from any connected workstation in the plant or office. It provides a single window for navigating, accessing, and viewing plant information in real time to facilitate the right 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, such as maintenance technicians, process engineers, production managers, or plant operators. Contextual navigation presents the production facility in one window for these users. www.abb.com ABB

Flat-panel touch monitor

The 5015T/R2 flat panel touch monitor is a low cost, high-performance, panel mount, 15-in. LCD touch monitor, suitable for demanding plant floor applications. It also can be used in Class I & II, Division 2 hazardous location installations. It displays images with resolutions up to 1,024 x 768 pixels with refresh rates up to 75Hz and a typical brightness of 350 nits, 400:1 contrast ratio, and 150-degree horizontal viewing angle, www.xycom.com Xycom Automation Inc., a subsidiary of Pro-face America Inc.

Tough panel with tempered glass

IPPC-9151 is an industrial-grade panel PC with an Intel Pentium 4 processor that provides two, half-size PCI expansion-slots—usable for motion, I/O devices, or industrial communication for digital, analog, or special requirements—and has front USB and OSD access. It features hard anodic coating, a tempered glass, a 15-in., TFT LCD screen, and a stainless steel chassis. It is said to be rugged enough to handle challenging industrial environments. IPPC-9151 provides a Socket 478 CPU structure to support Intel Pentium 4 processors up to 2.8 GHz. Intel’s hyper-threading technology increases speed and performance. It has a 3.5 HDD, a built-in slim size CD-ROM and FDD, and offers panel- or rack-mounting. www.eautomationpro.com/us Advantech Corp. Industrial Automation Group

Touchscreen HMI does graphics

PowerView line of touchscreen HMIs are said to be ideal for applications that need to display machine or process data graphically. Line supports a broad range of PLCs and motion controllers with a comprehensive library of drivers. HMIs are programmed with ViewBuilder, its developer’s configuration software that can be downloaded free of charge from the Nematron Website. Software provides a set of tools suitable for many applications. Tools include a graphical screen generator with Symbol Factory 2.0 library subset, alarms, trends, bar graphs, multi-state indicators, security, event logging, recipes, animation, popup windows, and, math and macro capability. www.nematron.com Nematron

OIT features easy, comprehensive data access

Omron’s architecture for HMI, the NS advanced operator interface, can access information from PLCs up to three networks away from a one screen. Information can be accessed from an Ethernet network, its developer’s proprietary ControllerLink network, and up to two serial ports simultaneously. The HMI also features a four-channel video input module to display camera images from the increasingly popular vision inspection sensors. NS’ connectivity provides network-wide access to data, aiding the user’s data strategy. Its ladder-monitor tool allows a PLC’s ladder program to be checked from a system menu so the user doesn’t have to use a laptop or PC to troubleshoot. Its 7- (STN), 10- and 12-in. (TFT) NS-series screens have 256 color displays, incorporating familiar Microsoft Windows features. Screen program capabilities include recipes, multi-state lamps and switches, macro programming, and trend graphs. www.omron.com/oei Omron Electronics

OIT family expanded

Two new models of the PanelMate ePro PS operator interface, the Outdoor Series (OD) and Enterprise Edition (EE), have been introduced. Both feature high performance, cost-effective operator interfaces based on the PanelMate ePro PS platform. OD Series is suitable for direct sunlight readability and extends environmental ratings for harsh outdoor applications by featuring built-in anti-glare, anti-reflective, and anti-UV coatings that provide superb visibility in direct sunlight as well as passive display enhancement technology to achieve temperature and shock ratings. EE models provide a more comprehensive set of Microsoft Windows XP components and services. ePro PS EE models also have increased processor performance and CompactFlash capacity. www.eatonelectrical.com Eaton Electrical

Size, capability flexibility matches most applications

GOT1000 Series human machine interfaces are said to fit nearly any packaging, manufacturing, or assembly application and integrate its developer’s graphics accelerator and an ultra-high-speed RISC processor offering one of the most advanced touch-screen display platforms available. Featuring high clarity and display refresh speed, the GOT1000 terminals provide a range of capabilities that include advance alarm management, flexible recipe management, data logging, multi-language support (Unicode 2.0), Microsoft Windows fonts, and a wide range of drivers support connection to most standard automation vendors. www.meau.com Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc.

Big capabilities, small package

The affordable, open-platform EPX PowerStation is an industrial PC with an 8-in. TFT display and analog resistive touchscreen. Pre-installed and licensed with InteractX Microsoft Windows, HMI unlimited-runtime software, the HMIs combine the power of standard MS XP Pro operating systems with a hardened x86 hardware platform. With standard 4 GB Compact Flash storage, the EPX runs a fully functional Windows XP Pro OS and InteractX HMI software using nonrotating storage media for higher system reliability. www.ctusa.com Parker Automation-CTC

Additional online products

Power, functionality in a small package New Telemecanique Magelis XBT-GT 1000 Series terminal is now smaller and more compact, yet powerful enough to support high-end HMI applications. Just 3.8-in. wide, the monochrome graphic terminal is programmed with Vijeo Designer software, said to be one of the most user-friendly programming software products. It features six function keys to reduce implementation time and costs and an embedded FTP server for easier diagnostics. It also supports multiple languages and font sizes. The XBT-GT terminal is open—it integrates Ethernet and can be simultaneously connected on Modbus, Modbus TCP/IP, and Uni-Telway for communication flexibility. Other features include trends and procedures for high-level integration and an audible buzzer that acknowledges operator commands. High visibility screen features 320-by-240 pixel resolution and eight grayscale levels. www.us.telemecanique.com Schneider Electric

Improving the system Dynics Inc. announces product improvements to its popular paneLink industrial panel computer systems. They have been upgraded for Intel Pentium M and Celeron M CPU options. In addition, they have undergone thermal redesigns to better facilitate airflow and system heat dissipation. Traditionally, the paneLink system was a thin-chassis industrial computer used for embedded applications running Microsoft Windows CE.Net and XP Embedded. The paneLink has new CPU options, an internal 80-mm fan to dissipate heat in the small chassis, and a 15-in. XGA TFT LCD or a 17.1-in. SXGA TFT LCD touchscreen interface. www.dynics.com Dynics Inc .

Easy to use, enhanced models EZTouch Enhanced is said to be an easy to use, simple operator interface that saves engineering hours and design time. No prior programming knowledge is needed to design a screen. No classes are necessary. Touchscreen computers are available in 6, 8, 10, 15-in. sizes. A free EZTouch Enhanced Editor is available at the Website, said to backward compatible with existing EZTouch panels. EZAutomation.net EZAutomation

256 colors in 6-in. HMI New 6-in. touchscreen human-machine interface, the HMI520T, has a bright 500 cd/m2, 256-color display, it is sasaid to be reliable. It has features including powerful graphics and animation capability, 4-wire analog resistive technology for design freedom, high-speed processor, pop-up windows, recipes, macros, multiple languages, real-time clock and support for over 85 controller families from more than 35 major manufacturers. www.maplesystems.com . Maple Systems

Economical graphic OIT

QTerm-Z60 is an economical and rugged HMI terminal using touchscreen graphics to interface with the user. Two models are available to suit any environment and budget. Z60/H is NEMA-4 rated and has a user-selectable (EIA-232/-422/-485) serial port while the Z60/L is NEMA-12 rated, has one EIA-232 serial port, and a slightly different display. The unit has a 320 x 240 pixel, lighted, STN color graphic LCD display measuring 5.7-in. diagonal and is viewable in most lighting conditions. Other industrial-grade features include 2 Mbytes flash/16 Mbytes SDRAM; programmable speaker; 5 V dc/200 mA output from the interface connector to power external devices like a Z-World single board computer. QTerm-Z60 is ruggedized for use in harsh industrial environments and is CE certified. www.qsicorp.com QSI Corp.

Go to www.controleng.com/archive to read the November 2003 OIT article, “ Product Focus: More Capabilities Meet More Demands .” See the full research report at resource.controleng.com.