One-size-fits-all HMI platform

February 2022 SCADA/HMI

Pepperl+Fuchs has added a new range to its successful, modular VisuNet series. With the new VisuNet FLX, the clue is in the name – FLX stands for flexibility, with a modular system that can be individually configured as required.

In the process industry, the requirements for product quality are extremely high. HMI devices, which are used for operating and monitoring the processes, also must meet the highest demands. Pepperl+Fuchs developed the modular VisuNet GXP for Ex areas in 2016. This success story is now being continued with the new VisuNet FLX for Zone 2/22 and non-Ex areas, making the modular system an ideal solution for even the most demanding application scenarios. This additional range supplements the existing VisuNet GXP series and therefore enables a uniform solution from Zone 1 to non-Ex areas.

A highly flexible, modular system

The fully modular design of the new platform allows for highly customised configuration of the HMI systems and enables fast, simple and cost-efficient service in the field. Each user can choose from a wide range of technologies, mounting options and peripherals. Every HMI system consists of at least one computer and display unit, which can be individually configured. In order to optimally support each application, the VisuNet FLX can be purchased as a thin client, PC or direct monitor. It is then available in three basic configurations according to the application requirement.

• The HMI system, or basic configuration 1: Various display options, including full HD, are combined with a thin client, PC or direct monitor unit. The housing is made of stainless steel, with a design that is suitable in pharmaceutical applications. Depending on the requirements, the system can be freely installed in the production plant on a stand using additional adaptors or on a wall bracket.

• The panel PC, or basic configuration 2: This allows various display options to be combined with a thin client, PC or direct monitor unit for panel mounting.

• The box PC, or basic configuration 3: This consists of a standalone PC or a standalone thin client for direct installation in a switch cabinet.

For cost-effective thin client applications, all basic configurations are equipped with Celeron processing units. For more CPU-intensive applications, i5 processing units are available from Intel’s seventh-generation ‘Kaby Lake’. Not only does this computer technology provide high performance for future software features, it also allows components to be easily replaced during upgrades. Overall, therefore, it is a safe investment in the future.

Coping with tough requirements and installations

The new platform has been aligned to the needs of the fine chemicals and pharmaceutical industry. This means the VisuNet FLX meets the strict requirements of one of the most regulated industrial sectors. For instance, the devices can be used for vaccine production in pharmaceutical cleanrooms. To this end, the HMIs feature a special stainless steel housing and are resistant to a variety of chemicals and cleaning agents. They are also suited for pharmaceutical applications as the lack of steps, edges or horizontal surfaces makes them easy to clean.

Such plants are often multi-purpose production plants that produce a wide range of products. For instance, solid or liquid raw materials are mixed in steel-encapsulated containers at temperatures from -50°C to 160°C and under pressure or a vacuum and react to pharmaceutical products.

In order to monitor these processes, not only do the devices have to comply with GMP guidelines, they also need to handle a whole host of installation situations. The new platform offers enhanced installation flexibility and is therefore able to cover all installation requirements of the plant with a single-device series.

Generally speaking, ceiling or wall mounting, panel installation, pedestals or variants with duplex monitors are all possible. Any features not already covered by the large number of standard configurations can be implemented as an individual solution in one of the Pepperl+Fuchs Solution Engineering Centres (SECs) located around the world.

Complete process availability

Plants in the chemical industry usually run around the clock in three-shift operation. In order to ensure this continuous production, a key focus within the industry is the availability of all operator stations and the mean time to repair.

Thanks to its modular design, the FLX, like the entire VisuNet family, has a clear advantage over monolithic devices. The latter must be completely dismantled, sent in and repaired or replaced as necessary. With the modular VisuNet device series, individual components can be replaced on site by plant service personnel. This reduces downtime to a minimum and is extremely cost-effective.

Plant operators can either stock relevant components themselves or quickly obtain them from a nearby spare parts warehouse. By using standard RDP (remote desktop protocol), the HMIs offer high reliability as well as beneficial flexibility. The VisuNet FLX is therefore compatible with all standard process control systems and MES systems.

Due to its wide range of configuration options, the FLX is suitable for a large number of possible applications. The devices were originally designed for the industrial indoor applications described above, such as vaccine production in pharmaceutical cleanrooms and for use as an operator station for monitoring and controlling processes under GMP guidelines in batch-oriented production in the pharmaceutical industry.

For special requirements beyond these applications, however, other versions are available as well, which can be used in ambient conditions up to the extended temperature range, along with versions with Zone 2/22 approval for other applications. Choose between an industrial-grade HMI for applications at temperatures from 0°C to +40/45°C or a panel for operating temperatures from -20°C to +55°C. Both are optimally tailored to the needs of the (petro)chemical industry and to oil and gas applications.

Backward compatibility ensures investment security

For operators of large process plants, backward compatibility is another very important criterion. Since successor products are often not compatible with older HMIs, given the large number of devices installed, replacement and updating are often an unnecessarily high cost factor. As with the GXP, backward compatibility is ensured at all times in the VisuNet FLX, such as through assembly compatibility and thin client technology, thereby ensuring a high level of investment security.

In short, the new FLX is an ideal complement to the flexible and cost-effective HMI operator stations already on offer in the VisuNet device family. This guarantees a consistent portfolio from Zone 1 to the switch room, all from a single source. With RM Shell firmware, all thin-client devices are also based on a common software philosophy with a focus on reliability and user-friendliness. Due to the VisuNet control centre, all HMI systems can be managed from a convenient central point. This ensures simple and uniform handling of the devices for users around the world.


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