Users Seek Color, Flat Panels, High-Light Readability

Color, touchscreens, visibility in high-light conditions, and environmental protection are features a majority of users find important for operator-interface terminals, according to a recent Control Engineering survey. Use of flat-panel screens for operator interface terminals is growing, from 40% in the present purchase to 50% for the next purchase.

By Staff December 1, 1998


Flat panels reign; CRTs wane

More color screens

Higher-light readability

Open networks prevail

Color, touchscreens, visibility in high-light conditions, and environmental protection are features a majority of users find important for operator-interface terminals, according to a recent Control Engineering survey. Use of flat-panel screens for operator interface terminals is growing, from 40% in the present purchase to 50% for the next purchase. Use of “open networks” for operator interface terminals, present versus next purchase, jumps from 39% to 60%.

Control Engineering mailed a survey on operator interface terminals to 1,500 readers on July 20 and concluded the tally on Sept. 24, 1998, with 424 (28.3%) responses.

Results that follow are based on the 97% of respondents involved in specifying, recommending, and buying operator interface terminals. Most, 55.9%, buy, specify, or recommend operator interface terminals for in-plant requirements. Additionally, 34.7% of respondents are involved with OEM requirements; 6% are involved with both.

Primary applications are 37.6% continuous processing, 19% discrete products-manufacturing, 15% supervisory control and data acquisition, 11% batch processing, 5% both continuous and batch, and the remaining other or no answer.

Respondents reflect the wide mix of more than 60 industries that comprise Control Engineering readers. Forty-two percent of respondents are connected to a network, and 39% use a stand-alone operator interface terminal. Twenty percent of the respondents indicate they use both a stand-alone operator interface terminal and are connected to a network.

This vs. next terminal

Among respondents, 51% have OI terminals with NEMA 12 rating, but fewer, 39%, find a high level of protection important for the next purchase. About the same have and will seek a NEMA 4 or 4X rating at 46%.

Regarding communications, 57% of respondents have operator interface terminals with serial communications, dropping 40% for next purchase. Use of “open networks” grows from 39% to 60%; proprietary networks drop from 41% to 25%, present versus next OI terminal.

In the quickly changing world of software, 26% indicate desire to use Microsoft’s (Redmond, Wa.) Windows CE operating system for the next OI terminal purchase; 24% want a web browser; and 16% want the next purchase to be enabled with Java from Sun Microsystems (Palo Alto, Calif.).

A total of 166 respondents purchased $12,635,000 in operator interface terminals in the past 12 months, an average of $76,114 per respondent, and $3,375 per unit (3,744 units). Top three vendors in dollar amount and number of units sold are Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley, Milwaukee, Wis.), ABB (Rochester, N.Y.), and Eaton/Cutler Hammer Automation (Milwaukee, Wis.). (See table.)

Thirty-seven percent of respondents say the number of purchases for operator interface terminals will be about the same in the next 12 months; 33% anticipate purchases will increase; 25% are uncertain.

Customers demand ease of use

Mark Hobbs, a Rockwell Automation product manager for Allen-Bradley, Operator Interface, Rockwell Automation, says the survey results confirms trends he sees. As flat-panel displays become more cost effective, users plan to their thinner profiles to reduce panel size and display higher-end graphics with more animation, Mr. Hobbs says. Touchscreens also have been gaining ground over keypad configurations, he says. Incorporating Microsoft Windows CE and same configuration software from low-end message displays to high-end graphic terminals will make future offerings more attractive, Mr. Hobbs suggests.

Jim Thorp, OI line product manager, Cutler-Hammer (Westerville, O.), agrees that users are seeking the same software configuration environment across all OI hardware levels. Standard Microsoft operating systems ease communication difficulties; Windows CE allows cost-effective diskless terminals because of smaller memory requirements. To help users keep an increasing number of touchscreens clean, plastic overlays can be peeled off and discarded when dirty.

Marty Richards, product manager, ABB Industrial Systems Inc. (Rochester, N.Y.), says, “As control systems become more heterogeneous, with multiple components from different vendors, customers need their control system hardware to be versatile enough to work with a number of components and systems. This reflects how these products are actually used in real life. Therefore, the need for open systems and components is more important to customers now than it has ever been.”

Ralph Damato, Xycom (Saline, Mich.) product manager for industrial PC products and HMI, sees OI terminals diverging along two paths—Windows CE and Windows NT operating systems, for HMI and PC-based control. Mr. Damato first announced to Control Engineering on Nov. 3 that Xycom and Wonderware agreed to package Wonderware’s InTouch HMI with Xycom hardware, see below.

Operator Interface Terminal SalesTop 10 totals among 166 Responses

By dollars ($1,000s)
By number of units

Source: Control Engineering Operator Interface Terminals Study, October 1998

Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley)
Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley)


Eaton/Cutler Hammer Automation
Eaton/Cutler-Hammer Automation

Automated Concept Controls


Two Technologies


Total Control Products
Total Control Products


Automated Control Concepts

OI Terminal TrendsInstalled Base vs. Next Purchase


Source: Control Engineering Operator Interface Terminals Study, October 1998

Flat panel

“Open” network

Proprietary network

Serial communications

NEMA 12 rating

OI terminal products

For more information about operator interface terminals, visit

High function, high resolution

Vernon Hills, Ill. —E900, the “flagship” of the E Series family of operator interfaces from Mitsubishi Electric Automation, has 10.4-in., active-matrix, backlit, 256-color TFT LCD, with 640 × 480 pixel VGA resolution. The NEMA 4 unit has 2 MB application memory, expandable to 10 MB, and 1 MB flash memory. It has 10 function keys with customer-tailored indicators, 12 soft keys, a full ASCII/numeric keypad, expansion slots, and modem. Mitsubishi Electric Automation

More features, connectivity

Rochester, N.Y. —Improved ease of use and maintainability through enhanced system performance, engineering and documentation tools, information management capabilities, controller connectivity, and expanded remote I/O range are recent ABB software improvements that make Advant OCS hardware more effective. Hardware improvements expand application memory and increase field device connectivity. New software products—AdvaCommand 1.6, AdvaInform 2.0, and AdvaBuild 2.7—and other system improvements are available separately or as part of ABB’s StepUp, TradeUp or upgrade programs to improve manufacturing productivity and maintain initial Advant OCS investments. ABB Industrial Systems

New operator interface line

Schaumburg, Ill. —A new line of color and monochrome display operator interfaces, NT631/NT31 from Omron Electronics, has multi-vendor capabilities and direct high-speed communications with Allen-Bradley SLC 500 and GE Fanuc 90-20/90-30 PLCs via software that downloads these vendors’ protocols. The 54-mm deep units have large viewable areas, use a 32-bit RISC chip for high-speed data processing, and feature a mobile “flash memory module” that eliminates need for a PLC when updating a remote site or downloading data to multiple units. Prices range from $1,450 to $5,495. Omron Electronics Inc.

Widely used workstation

Phoenix, Ariz. —Global User Station, the TotalPlant System human interface, is the most widely used Windows NT station in the process industries, says Honeywell Industrial Automation and Control. The hardware/software solution includes vivid displays, simple navigation, OPC and HCI support, and 32-bit Microsoft Windows platform for interoperability with other applications. Honeywell IAC

Compact, low-cost micro units

Columbus, O. —Four models of the new low-end Micro PanelMate from Cutler-Hammer offer large bright displays, tactile membrane keypads, and a single Microsoft Windows-based configuration package, with a tag-name database that easily accepts information from Cutler-Hammer, Allen-Bradley, and GE Fanuc PLCs, and Microsoft Excel and Word files, to reduce configuration time. Model-specific features include definable function keys, recipe management, compatibility with Siemens and Modicon PLCs, graphics, variable-sized text/graphics display with layering and a touchscreen. Price is $1,000 or less. Cutler-Hammer

Warns of failures

Atlanta, Ga. —Expanding human-machine interface functionality on the plant floor, Siemens melded Intel-based Pentium processors with industrially hardened, flat-panel displays in its Simatic PC FI25 computer. It includes the SafeCard monitoring module to alert users to potential system failures—such as unsafe temperatures or program lock-up—even if the monitor isn’t functioning. The unit integrates a membrane keyboard and offers varied display and memory choices. Siemens Energy & Automation

18-in. flat panel

Ann Arbor, Mich. —An 18-in. flat-panel industrial computer with depth of 8-in. and 35-lb weight can replace a 20-in. CRT with depth of 30-in. and weight exceeding 100 lb, says Ann Arbor Technologies. The AAT2000 has “the first 18-in. TFT active matrix LCD in a complete industrial computer system.” Super XGA, 1,280 × 1,024 pixel resolution display has NEMA 4 front panel and analog resistive touch screen starting at $9,995 for a unit with 266 MHz Intel Celeron Pentium II processor, 32 MB RAM, 1.0 GB hard drive, floppy, and Microsoft Windows 95. Ann Arbor Technology

Win CE, 6-in. color touchscreen

Melrose Park, Ill. —Compact, diskless, Microsoft computer takes shape with the Total Control Products FactoryClient 2000 device, using the Windows CE operating system, 6-in. color touchscreen display, Ethernet port, and industrial I/O interfaces. A file manager simplifies developing and loading client applications such as CNC, HMI, soft control, and ERP/MES clients. The unit “collapses the traditional factory pyramid,” removing barriers to information flow, the company says. Total Control Products

Lightens load on PLCs

Milwaukee, Wis. —Allen-Bradley PanelView operator interface devices from Rockwell Automation serve a variety of applications, from monitoring to control. PanelViews, with flat-panel displays, can run Microsoft Windows NT applications from Rockwell Software, such as the PanelView 550 Touch-Only Display shown, to lighten the load on Allen-Bradley PLCs, in wide use. Rockwell Automation

OI flat-panel, NT-based computer

Charlottesville, Va. —Cimplicity Display Station 2000 series computers run Microsoft Windows 95 or NT applications and Cimplicity human-machine interface software. Active matrix TFT color touchscreens have 12.1- or 13.8-in. SVGA or XGA displays. Features include Intel-Pentium processor, 64 MB RAM, 2.0 GB hard drive, ISA and PCI slots, Ethernet adaptor port, and GE Fanuc PC Control and Cimplicity HMI for CNCs software. GE Fanuc

Scalable architecture

New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada —Emphasizing scalable architecture, Dynapro offers the CE Terminal for machine and supervisory level human-machine interface applications, enabling interoperability, portability, and a common look and feel. Also available are small, self-contained, boom-mounted Dynapro ET 3000 Windows CE diskless, flat-panel industrial computers (shown). Dynapro Systems

OI controls machines

Milford, O. —Machine builders get a Microsoft NT-based hardware workstation bundled with control and human-machine interface software starting at $2,200 with CTC’s Machine Logic. Hardware ranges from a 6-in. unit to a 14-in., 200 MHz Intel-Pentium workstation—each replaces need for PLCs; software supports all five IEC 61131-3 languages. Computer Technology Corp.

Microsoft compliance

Ann Arbor, Mich. —Nematron says it was first among its major competitors to achieve Microsoft PC 97 compatibility with Microsoft Windows NT, 95, 98, and other stringent requirements for Nematron Industrial Control Computer industrial PCs. Certification aims to protects customers’ investments, ensuring present and future Microsoft compatibility. Nematron

Win CE for critical missions

Wilsonville, Ore. —Thin200CE from Tektronix offers a thin-client solution uses the Microsoft Windows CE 2.1 operating system. It comes in modular logic and desktop configurations with 15- or 17-in. monitors and targets low-risk replacement for “green-screen” terminals and aging PCs, in mission-critical applications across the enterprise. Tektronix

PLC communication

Van Nuys, Calif. —VIP-Plus series of smart terminals include software drivers that communicate with many PLCs and will allow I/O configuration for PLC ladder-logic pass through without disconnecting from the terminal. VIP-Plus model 4904 has vacuum fluorescent display with four lines of 20 characters, alphanumeric keypad and six user-definable function keys with six more in the shift mode. Operates in–20 to 70 °C; extended temperatures available. IEE

Win CE terminal

Salt Lake City, Ut. —Qterm-CE graphical operator interface terminal runs Microsoft Windows CE with a 640 × 480 pixel, supertwist, lighted active-matrix color LCD with graphics accelerator. Resistive touchscreen and soft keys are provided, with 32 MB flash and 32 MB DRAM memory, a Type II and Type III PCMCIA slots, NEMA 4 protection, and speaker. Provided are two EIA-232 ports, a parallel port, and connectors for PC104 and CAN, USB, or TCP/IP devices. QSI Corp.

Unit is submersible

Billerica, Mass. —Extreme applications call for the ProPanel S (for submersible), a self-contained industrial computer for supervisory control and data display applications. The 10.4-in. color, flat-panel, VGA LCD, is visible in full sunlight. It includes an Intel 166 MHz Pentium processor, 80 MB flash memory (expandable), and function keys. Azonix

Bundled package

Saline, Mich. —Xycom and Wonderware agreed to package Wonderware’s InTouch HMI with Xycom hardware, allowing Ethernet connectivity, human-machine interface, or PC-based operations, connecting the plant floor to the office in a “complete package at a competitive price.” Xycom’s ASAP PC-based control software, PLC drivers, and cards, Windows CE will be bundled-in as users require. Xycom

Hand-held, panel mount

Horsham, Pa. —Two Technologies offers more than a dozen rugged hand-held and panel-mount terminals. Many designs are “drop-in replacements” for other manufacturers’ units; a custom terminal can be delivered in 10 or fewer days. Two Technologies

Compact, full-featured PC

Boca Raton, Fla. —The 7592 Man Machine Interface is a full function AT-bus PC system. It has a 12.1-in. SVGA TFT, integrated touch screen, and choice of 100 or 133 MHz Intel Pentium processors. It’s 11.9×8.5×2.2 and 7.25 lb. IBM

Multimedia, touchscreen, Ethernet, other ports

Sunnyvale, Calif. —Ethernet (10/100 Base-T), Intel Pentium MMX processor, and touchscreen combine in the PPC-120 and PPC-140, with 12.1 or 13.8 TFT/STN LCDs. Audio card, front-panel IrDA port for wireless data transmission, four serial ports, two USB ports, parallel port, and four COM ports are included. Pricing starts at $3,250. Advantech

Pentium, 14.2-in. touchscreen

Milpitas, Calif. —The Panecon-RT 600 Series has a Intel Pentium-based IBM PC/AT compatible PC, 10.4-, 12.1-, or 14.2-in., flat-panel, SVGA display, ELO Touch System (Fremont, Calif.), and a NEMA 4/12 (IP65) protected front panel. It has five function and five control keys; some models have up to 84 alphanumeric keys. Depth is 8.5-in. Contec Microelectronics USA

Industrial PLC workstation

Wellington, Fla. —BKDR-16T UniPlus Industrial PLC Workstation is in the UniOP Universal Operator Panel Family. The electroluminescent display has graphic abilities with 320 × 240 pixels. It links to PLCs, can display up to 1,024 alarms, and has 10 programmable function keys with LED indicator lamps and slide-in legends. Security password and battery-backed real-time clock are also featured. Exor Electronic R&D

Tough workstation, 10-in. TFT

Neptune, N.J. —Available with purge kits to allow Class I, Div. 1 and Div. 2 use, the new Micro OP-2000 flat-panel workstation has 10-in. TFT display. Customers select desired processor, memory, hard drive, and peripheral devices. Automated Control Systems

OI line broadens

Huntsville, Ala. —Optimation now has fifteen operator interface terminals in the OptiMate Series. All terminals are compatible with major PLC brands and have a range of input and display capabilities. Pricing ranges from $99 to $300. Optimation

Class 1, Div. 2 systems

Fremont, Calif. —Diablo series flat-panel computer systems fit Class 1, Div. 2 applications, explosion hazard zones, with NEMA 4 and IP66 protection. They have daylight-readable displays, Intel Pentium CPUs to 233 MHz, and 15.1-in., 1,024 × 768 pixel, XGA, screen. Electric heating for cold-booting to–40 °C is available. Dolch Computer Systems

4-line LCD $395

Bothell, Wa. —The OIT3175 operator interface terminal has a four-line by 20-character LCD display with up to 16 user-definable keys and slide-in legend in a 4 × 6-in. package for $395. Memory allows storage of 500 user-definable screens. Maple Systems