Improve remote HMI and OIT access

Mobile HMI: Smartphones and tablets combined with industrial software can improve remote access to human machine interfaces (HMIs) and operator interface terminals (OITs). Mobile workers demand remote access solutions optimized for smartphones and tablets. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.


Figure 1: Apps developed by HMI software and OIT hardware providers provide users with a superior remote access experience as compared to browser-based access. Courtesy: Indusoft, Invensys, and AutomationDirectManufacturers and process industry companies expect human machine interface (HMI) software and operator interface terminal (OIT) hardware to deliver remote access to devices, including desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other devices. Internet connectivity and mobility can improve overall operations, and HMI and OIT solutions can deliver the functionality and features they need.

The growth of the Internet and its connected devices has changed how we live and do business. Activities once deemed far-fetched or prohibitively expensive, such as conducting a video call among participants from different continents, are now part of everyday life. Today's smartphones and tablets have more computing power than the mainframes that filled entire rooms a couple decades ago. As a result of these advances, business is becoming increasingly mobile.

This paradigm shift is occurring in the automation world as well. Today's manufacturers face the same challenge as other businesses: how to do more with less. Some of these changes are attributed to a fundamental shift in how manufacturers have done business over the last 10 to 15 years. From Lean manufacturing to Six Sigma, most of today's plants have implemented some type of continuous improvement initiative to cut inefficiencies, improve quality, and reduce energy use.

This focus on operations is also gaining momentum because more businesses face budget restraints and shortages of trained personnel. Many companies can't afford to hire more workers, while others are trying to cope with the retirement of experienced staff.

Today's markets demand that businesses must operate and execute in real time. To meet this goal, manufacturers must be able to retrieve and act upon data from anywhere in the plant or outside it to remain competitive.

Fortunately, the Internet and its related technologies are helping manufacturers overcome these challenges. Specifically, the growth in dependable remote access to human machine interfaces (HMIs) and operator interface terminals (OITs) is one of the methods being used by companies to reduce costs while improving operations. 

HMIs, OITs, Web browsers

The introduction of PC-based HMIs and the subsequent move away from proprietary systems to ones based on a standardized platform (Microsoft Windows) could be considered the first step toward remote access. The standard network protocols found in PC-based solutions facilitated communication among diverse equipment and systems, ending the isolation of automation processes.

Following closely were OITs based on embedded Microsoft Windows operating systems. OITs were less capable than PC-based HMIs and much less expensive to purchase, install, and maintain. This made them a better fit than PC-based HMIs for many lower-end and embedded applications, such as providing the operator interface for a simple machine.

Users were initially content with simply viewing information from multiple machines or processes on PCs running HMI software located in the control room. Each PC was loaded with its own HMI client software, which often required separate, expensive licensing. The PCs were typically connected to plant floor or field-mounted PC-based HMIs and OITs by hardwired Ethernet links.

PC-based HMIs proved to be a good method for monitoring and controlling plants from the control room and remain the dominant paradigm, but users soon began to demand remote access from areas outside the control room. Installing and maintaining software on PCs located in offices and homes initially accomplished this; however, this became burdensome and expensive.

The next step in remote access solved that problem by using Web browsers to access data from PC-based HMIs and from OITs. This was a tremendous improvement over older methods because software didn't have to be installed and maintained at each remote access device. Furthermore, it opened remote access to all devices capable of running a browser and connecting to the Internet, primarily smartphones and tablets.

Users were happy with browser-based access until the moment they first used a well-designed app, typically for an everyday interactive task like making a reservation at a restaurant. At that point, they immediately saw the superior power, speed, and ease-of-use of an app as compared to browser-based access-and they began asking for apps for remote access to machines and processes. 

Apps arrive

User demands for apps instead of browser-based access led some HMI and OIT suppliers to develop free or very low-cost apps for customers. These apps provided quick and easy two-way access to screens and data, a big improvement over slow and cumbersome browser-based access (Figure 1).

Unfortunately, most apps were initially limited to one or two device types, typically iPhones and iPads. Apple's handheld products all use the same operating system, which made app development, testing, and deployment manageable for suppliers.

Other smartphones and tablets, however, have a multitude of different operating systems and screen sizes, which made creating apps for them prohibitively time consuming and expensive. The much larger universe of competing smartphones and tablets based on Android and other operating systems was thus largely excluded.

For example, a company first builds a remote access app for iPhones and iPads. If it wants to include other smartphones and tablets, it must write an app for every brand's operating system and screen size, typically using a different programming language for each. To port even a simple application from one operating system to another can take developers months, and is often postponed or just not done. Fortunately, a standards-based solution was at hand, namely HTML5.

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

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me