Operator Interfaces, Switches & Relays


HMI platforms evolve to take on new roles

December 2011 Operator Interfaces, Switches & Relays

The worldwide human machine interface (HMI) platform market continues to evolve to meet the needs of both discrete and process manufacturers and the OEMs that serve these markets. Rather than being just a standalone component, the HMI device is evolving into a platform that helps solve manufacturing problems to improve business performance. Furthermore, users are turning to open systems and commercial off-the-shelf technologies to meet their increasing demands for high performance, ease-of-use, and lower total cost of ownership.

Although technological advancement will continue to be an important factor, the focus of manufacturers, processors, and OEMs has moved toward seeking solutions that help them manage their manufacturing operations, while dealing with the reality of having to pare back their in-house engineering and automation system support capabilities. In addition, global competitive pressures require users to increase integration of automation with other enterprise applications. Suppliers have responded to these requirements by providing HMI platforms that use object-based technologies and provide Internet access to move their solutions from standalone, application-specific platforms to become a key component of an automation solutions portfolio.

Market drivers

Increasingly, HMI platforms help users visualise key metrics and KPIs, such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and energy savings, to help them quantify the benefits of their automation investments. These users are all too aware of global competition and escalating energy costs, as well as the need for automation equipment that can help them achieve more flexible production, while reducing environmental impacts. However, users must go through a business justification process before they can replace their existing, less efficient equipment. This business justification requires clear metrics regarding the return on investment (ROI) and return on assets (ROA) of each purchase. Increasingly, they use their new HMI platforms as the digital dashboard to visualise and quantify these metrics.

The emerging demand for HMI platforms

Today, HMI platforms – in conjunction with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or more highly functional programmable automation controllers (PACs) – have become a primary building block for industrial automation systems in many manufacturing plants. Increasingly, however, users want the HMI platform to serve not only as an operator interface window into the application, but as an enterprise integration tool. As the trend toward open systems in the automation and enterprise markets continues to unfold, the HMI platform emerges as a single device to support a wide range of applications. At the low end of the market (characterised by small, fully integrated, low-cost products), HMI platforms can form the basis of an embedded control product for a wide range of OEM product applications. At the high end of the market (characterised by manufacturing processes integrated to global operations), HMI platforms provide data and information visibility across the plant floor and throughout the enterprise.

Reduced wiring and space plus easy design and modification

Over the past 15 years, HMI platforms have displaced conventional operator input devices and display elements – such as hardwired pushbuttons, lights, and LED numerical displays – providing substantial savings in wiring and space. The tremendous cost efficiency of graphical display devices and commercial software technology has largely displaced hardwired panels and pushbuttons. The simplicity of the design and the flexibility afforded by the easily modified software programs also drive the market toward scalable HMI platforms in lieu of panels and pushbuttons.

Highly reliable hardware and software

With continuously shrinking component costs and improved designs, processors, and software-based systems, today’s HMI platforms offer compact configurations, flexible handling, rich features, and competitive pricing. They can also offer increased reliability, with mean times between failures (MTBF) for hardware components typically measured in years of continuous operation. Hardware reliability is achieved by minimising physical faults by eliminating failure prone components and performing extensive burn-in testing, so reliability should not become an issue until well along in the platform’s service life.

Software reliability, however, is not measured as a direct function of time. It is achieved by eliminating design faults and performing extensive functionality testing and debugging. Unlike hardware, software reliability does not diminish over time. However, software reliability can be affected each time an upgrade is made. This has been an argument that bodes well for the HMI platform, as the embedded software has been included as part of the extensive functionality and burn-in testing is performed prior to delivery to the user. As a result, the HMI platform is not subject to continuous software upgrades that could negatively impact reliability.

Operations management

End user companies are increasing their agility by accessing and visualising real-time information and applying it to speed up and improve operations. They are also integrating business, manufacturing, and production within the operations management realm. These users are deploying operations management solutions based on industry standards to standardise visualisation and IT infrastructure across multiple facilities. This standardisation of visualisation is a driving force in the growth of HMI platforms. These users seek to reduce IT and engineering costs by implementing rapidly deployable and easy-to-manage visualisation applications. They want to take the pain out of expanding and managing disparate systems by transforming their HMI platforms into enterprise-wide collaboration tools, without disrupting their current operations.

Maintenance

A key reason that HMI platforms are growing in popularity is their ability to lower maintenance time and expense for OEMs and end users. HMI platforms that support automation and enterprise applications can provide the control room operators and maintenance technicians with information to speed up maintenance operations and reduce interruptions. These HMI platforms provide maintenance crews with access to the company’s maintenance management system at either the control room level or directly at the machine, equipment, or unit level. Some HMI platforms are configured to incorporate HMI, configuration procedures, programming languages, and maintenance procedures. This provides a common interface, and allows the user to achieve the operational benefits of transparent integration between each domain.

ARC’s upcoming latest worldwide HMI Software study, along with ARC’s worldwide Operator Interface Terminal study, addresses in depth many of the issues and trends relating to HMI platforms.

For more information contact Paul Miller, ARC Advisory Group, +1 781 471 1126, pmiller@arcweb.com, www.arcweb.com





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