Information systems: The exploding power of HMI software
Converging systems, mobile benefits
Indeed, convergence of systems, promoted and accelerated by sophisticated software, is a major trend in the HMI world. “I often think of the HMI as the brains of a process,” said Pepperl+Fuchs’ Mendicino. “The DCS actually performs the control, but it is now hidden a level below the HMI. The interaction, the program, comes from the HMI and is downloaded to the DCS. Because it is less visible, it is less apparent.”
Systems are achieving higher interoperability, agreed Taccolini. “New languages such as C# and VB.Net from the Microsoft .Net framework offer many advantages, making it possible to create programs that use built-in features from the language itself and from the operating system,” he went on. “Much as an intrinsically safe instrument operates at levels too low to spark an explosion, advanced HMI software—because of the way it is designed and built—inherently enables designs that protect a system intrinsically should a failure occur.” (For more on HMI programming languages read, New-generation software technologies impact operational stability, safety below.)
Admittedly, hardware improvements have given HMIs a lot more capability, but it is the software that is allowing it to happen. “The trend,” said Siemens’ Cone, “is to embrace mobile devices, not for control, but certainly for informational purposes. They are not your traditional HMIs, but they do reflect the way the industry is moving. It lets a worker know what is happening in a system without having to walk all the way across the plant floor.”
Mobility in industrial automation is off the plant floor, noted Invensys’ Krajewski. “It allows remote drop-in to review a process. Technology today is impacting the user interface,” he continued. “We are seeing an explosion in the area of user interfaces, tablets, and smartphones; slide-and-swipe; and multi-touch. These are not toys; they are techniques—for real work, to solve real problems. And customers will demand them. HMI software is a rapidly changing technology, a moving target. These systems are an expectation of how things should work, and they will have a great impact on industrial automation.”
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