The HMI of the future will look very familiar


Flash is required!

This Collaboration Station uses many of the new features borrowed from consumer electronic devices.

Is the cloud safe?

When the Internet is mentioned in the context of an industrial automation application such as HMI/SCADA, one of the first concerns involves security. As with any system, there’s always some chance of a security breach, but cloud-based SCADA often provides better protection than similar systems managed internally.

In many companies, shrinking budgets have dramatically reduced IT staff and resources, and remaining IT personnel often don’t have the time or the expertise to keep current with constantly evolving potential threats. On the other hand, cloud providers specialize in providing secure access to applications along with carefully protected data storage. Their people are trained continually on how to protect their systems from internal and external security threats, and cloud providers can afford the required IT staff because they spread their costs among many customers.

Many companies rely on a single Internet provider, but this means that if Internet service goes down, then access to HMI control and monitoring functions is lost. The cloud instead uses multiple Internet providers to ensure uptime, with data stored on more servers in diverse locations to ensure secure backup in the event of a catastrophic event.

The latest SCADA applications are changing the way automation systems are deployed and accessed in industrial settings. Along with being able to access systems using COTS devices such as smartphones, tablets, and cloud-based computing, SCADA packages also provide users with the choice to use another popular COTS technology known as multi-touch.

Benefits of multi-touch

When COTS technologies migrate to industrial automation such as cloud computing, it’s typical to feel some skepticism as to whether the benefits will outweigh the possible drawbacks. Will the new technology be secure and reliable enough for industrial applications? Can it withstand the rigors of a dirty, noisy industrial manufacturing or distribution site? Will the cost-benefit ratio make sense, resulting in a positive ROI?

Figure 3: SCADA systems that can be accessed via multi-touch screens are better designed for use in harsh areas than the alternative operator interface methods such as keyboards and pointing devices. Courtesy: InduSoftCombining SCADA for multi-touch applications along with the industrial hardware designed for harsh environments, users are now benefitting from these technical advances. Multi-touch HMI works through a system of touches and finger movements called gestures, very similar to the zoom, pan, and pinch gestures used to navigate smartphone and tablet screens (see Figure 3).

Gestures are very intuitive and enable much faster execution times. On average, a multi-touch command can be executed three times faster than the same command performed by keystrokes and mouse clicks. This allows operators to respond much faster to alarms and changes, and also frees up time to analyze and improve operations. Another advantage of multi-touch HMI is enhanced safety as advanced touchscreens enable operation by gloved hands. Multi-touch HMI can also be programmed so that critical safety-related actions require two-handed operation.

Multi-touch technology is usually a better choice for harsh environments than keyboards and pointing devices. No moving parts are exposed to dust, water, and other contaminates, prolonging the equipment’s life span. Protecting keyboards and pointing devices in hazardous areas, such as Zone 1 or 2, is possible, but typically very expensive. Multi-touch HMI screens can also be supplied with a protective overlay of glass or polycarbonate to safeguard them from splashes, dirt, and extreme temperatures.

Helping to fill a gap

One of the biggest issues for today’s manufacturers is the need to hire and train new automation professionals and operators as baby-boomer employees retire. Inevitably, most of these new workers will be from generations very familiar with smartphones, tablets, and multi-touch. In fact, asking these workers to use keyboards and pointing devices instead of multi-touch would be akin to asking them to operate a TV without a remote.

Multi-touch techniques for SCADA applications reduce the amount of training required to get these new automation professionals and operators up to speed. Moreover, since the method for accessing the system is so similar to the way they use their smartphones and tablets, more instruction can be focused on understanding and analyzing data, rather than how to access it.

Soon it will be difficult to train new operators who have only used multi-touch screens to use older keystrokes and pointing methods, resulting in increased training time and expense. In speaking with end users and system integrators, an interesting phenomenon is also occurring: mature workers in larger than expected numbers also prefer multi-touch technologies.

The same is often true for cloud-based access to HMI/SCADA systems through smartphones and tablets. Waiting for IT to load an application onto a desktop PC, and depending on IT to keep the network up and running, isn’t an attractive option for many. Much preferred is browser-based access via their own device or, better yet, app access which provides many advantages in both consumer and industrial applications.

The future is already here           

Most employees of manufacturing firms use their smartphones and tablets to access e-mail, the web, and key data sources such as their bank accounts from virtually anywhere via a few simple touch commands. Consequently, they will expect this type of functionality in their work lives. Companies that don’t update their systems with the software required for this type of access run the risk of looking antiquated to their employees, incurring high costs and foregoing important benefits.

The latest SCADA technologies don’t just satisfy employees’ desires; they also provide faster access to more data, which improves overall operations. For example, data mining has become very important in this information age, and cloud-based HMI systems are built to effectively manage large amounts of data.

The ability to access and respond to data in more intuitive ways is already improving the safety and efficiency of manufacturing operations. Graphical interfaces have made it easier to view and analyze data, and multi-touch SCADA technologies and access via handheld devices are increasing those capabilities.

See a video demonstration of a multitouch HMI application from Honeywell Process Solutions.Multi-touch and cloud computing for SCADA are the newest developments that enable COTS technologies to be used in industrial settings, but they won’t be the last. Computer, smartphone, and other consumer electronics manufacturers are continually developing more intuitive ways to use their products. Many are working on using eye movements and other revolutionary methods for navigation, as well as adding new functionalities such as wearable 3D viewing devices. HMI/SCADA applications will inevitably be at the forefront for allowing new technologies to be adapted for industrial environments.

While most manufacturers won’t immediately adopt all these new technologies—tablets, smartphones, multi-touch screens, and cloud computing—most are already using some, with more being adopted on a continuing basis. Now that SCADA packages offer an affordable and reliable way for industrial companies to use these devices for accessing automation systems, they will eventually become as common as desktops once were. Laggards will run the risk of being overshadowed by competitors who are increasing profits through efficiency gains and cost cutting provided by these technologies.

Fabio Terezinho is vice president of consulting services for InduSoft. 


Find the BYOD study at

Subscribe to the Information Control eNewsletter at

<< First < Previous 1 2 Next > Last >>

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Leaders Under 40 program features outstanding young people who are making a difference in manufacturing. View the 2013 Leaders here.
The new control room: It's got all the bells and whistles - and alarms, too; Remote maintenance; Specifying VFDs
2014 forecast issue: To serve and to manufacture - Veterans will bring skill and discipline to the plant floor if we can find a way to get them there.
2013 Top Plant: Lincoln Electric Company, Cleveland, Ohio
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Bring focus to PLC programming: 5 things to avoid in putting your system together; Managing the DCS upgrade; PLM upgrade: a step-by-step approach
Balancing the bagging triangle; PID tuning improves process efficiency; Standardizing control room HMIs
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.