Modular HMI for hazardous areas
January 2018, IS & Ex
Even where ambient conditions place the highest demands on material and technology, direct access to process information is essential. To function here, HMI systems must be precisely tailored to the requirements of the process plant. This especially applies where potentially explosive production areas pose an additional challenge. And in all this, the HMI solutions must also be compact and light, in order to save space in installation. With the VisuNet GXP range, Pepperl+Fuchs has developed a modular component system with ATEX and IECEx Zone 1/21 approval to meet these requirements.
PC solution extends modular system
At the beginning of the year, the VisuNet GXP product family was grown to include a PC solution. The new computing unit is optimally suited for mechanical engineers, for example, who wish to use their machines in Zone 1/21 or Zone 2/22. Not only do the HMI systems have all the approvals necessary for use directly in hazardous areas, but they impress with their low weight, compact design and flexible installation options. This is unique on the market in this combination. The new PC unit features an Intel quad-core processor and an open Microsoft Windows operating system. The user therefore has the option of installing their own software packages such as scada applications in order to visualise and control applications in hazardous areas. A large number of serial interface options such as RS-232, RS-485 and Ethernet enable direct access from the hazardous area to the PLC or other peripheral devices.
In addition to the PC unit, each VisuNet GXP also has a powerful AC or DC power supply and a display unit. A new, even more compact, 19 inch version is available, as well as the 21,5 inch system. The multitouch display is located behind hardened protection glass and is not only extremely durable and scratch-resistant, but also optimised for use while wearing gloves. The 10-point multitouch sensor enables modern, touch-optimised user interfaces to be used, similar to those on smartphones and tablets. This sensor also incorporates important safety features for critical processes. For instance, it is possible to specify that an application can be started only by touching two contact points simultaneously, making inadvertent activation virtually impossible. Energy consumption is also extremely low thanks to LED backlighting.
Optimised for life science applications
The GXP series also offers maximum mounting flexibility for efficient operation. The extremely compact screen, power supply and computing units are optimally suited for space-saving panel-mount installation in machines with a minimal installation depth. Installation is made significantly easier by the low weight of just 19 kilograms, enabling installation on a practical mounting arm. Particularly interesting for mechanical engineers who produce for the life sciences area is the rear panel. Mounted flush with the machine housing, this is very easy to clean and meets GMP guidelines. A particular advantage is the compatibility with previous devices from the VisuNet EX1 series. Specifically, the identical hole pattern means the new VisuNet GXP devices with 19” displays even fit into existing VisuNet EX1 installations.
The devices are resistant to the chemicals and detergents common in industry, as stainless steel is used for all mountings and housings. All the surfaces are designed without gaps or horizontal surfaces to prevent an accumulation of liquid, dirt, or bacteria and to ensure fast and easy cleaning. A variety of use applications are provided for by the dustproof, IP66-rated design, lack of moving parts like fans and the extended temperature range (-20 to 50°C).
Like the rest of the GXP product family, the new panel PC also offers enormous maintenance advantages thanks to its modular construction. Costs can be reduced substantially here, since components can be replaced on-site by the user in the event of a fault without affecting hazardous area approval. Downtime is therefore reduced to a minimum. The modular system is rounded off by a multitude of further approved components such as keyboards, barcode reading devices and a wide range of standard housing and mounting options. If something still is not suitable despite this wide selection, it can be made suitable: in worldwide solution engineering centres (SECs), experts provide custom solutions made to suit specific applications on site. Even the communication technology is tailored here to meet customer and specific application requirements.
Convenient remote management option
Depending on the sector, customer requirements and application, a new generation of smart, thin client-based HMIs is available in addition to PC-based devices: the VisuNet remote monitors with RM Shell 4.1 firmware. In large automated plants with a distributed control system, it often makes sense to deploy multiple HMIs to control processes directly at the relevant location. For this purpose, the GXP modular system offers thin client technology with identical mechanical benefits. Each of these devices is equipped with the latest version of RM Shell 4.1. Security, reliability, and user-friendliness were the focus in the development of this firmware. A very well-designed tool has been created which concentrates on essential equipment aspects and requires no specialist IT knowledge. Its ease of use and convenient user interface make it incredibly easy to integrate the device into the process control system. The Windows desktop has been completely replaced by RM Shell 4.1, so that only those aspects of setup are displayed which are necessary for configuration.
For mechanical engineers with operations worldwide, the additional VisuNet Control Center software is a particular highlight. Through this, users can centrally administer thin client solutions with RM Shell 4.1. Remote monitors, supplied in plants around the world, can be set up, configured and monitored from a central, local workspace through IP-based communication. If necessary, the remote monitors can be accessed easily from a remote location, minimising the time- and cost-intensive need to deploy service staff to site. Overall, this highly-flexible modular system represents an excellent solution for every application scenario in hazardous areas.
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