HMI software is disappearing

Senior Tech Editor Rich Merritt takes a look at the HMI marketplace and finds today's software packages are getting better and cheaper, but are increasingly disappearing into control system vendors' portfolios.

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By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor

 

AS WE pointed out last year in this space, providing information to an operator is fast becoming a human-machine interface's smallest task. That an HMI can provide trend and alarm displays is a given: all HMIs do it and in just about the same way. Walk around at an ISA Expo, and you see the same displays from booth to booth. HMIs that just do operator interface tasks are a commodity, and you can buy them dirt cheap off the Internet.

The real action is in HMIs that provide web access, interface to higher-level enterprise software, perform MES functions, support Windows CE, and interface to every type of control system. The problem is there aren't many HMI packages that can do all that, and they're also pulled off the market on a regular basis. For example, Invensys bought Wonderware, GE Fanuc bought Intellution, and Schneider Electric most recently bought Citect.

Truth be told, many software packages on the market are re-branded versions of products from Wonderware, Intellution, Citect, Iconics, InduSoft and one or two others. With three of those companies now in the hands of process control vendors, many companies using branded versions of those packages are getting nervous. Do they really want their HMI packages controlled by those three big companies? If not, it means they either have to develop HMI/SCADA packages themselves, find another supplier to re-brand, or buy up one of the few remaining independent HMI/SCADA vendors.

It's not likely that equipment vendors will develop their own because HMI/SCADA software is a tough business. Not only is it extremely price competitive, but doing all the new functions associated with a modern HMI is very tricky, requiring very specialized expertise in Windows operating systems, enterprise integration and web technologies. It's easier to buy these capabilities.

For example, the Gartner Group says the reason Schneider bought Citect was to obtain Citect's MES capabilities. One observer says the reason GE Fanuc bought Intellution was to get its process historian capability. Some major vendors are seeking HMI software with Windows CE capability.

To get an idea of how widespread certain packages are through the industry, search an HMI/SCADA vendor's web site for news of "deals” between the vendor and equipment makers. For example, search Indusoft's site, and you'll find releases announcing rebranding and distribution arrangements with Automation Control Products, Advantech, Altersys, Applied Data, Arista, Beckhoff, CCS, Fluke, HMW, Maple Systems, Nematron, Optimation, Siemens, SoftPLC, Software Toolbox, Woodhead, Xycom and others. On the Iconics site you'll find similar arrangements with Endress+Hauser, Autosol, DVT, Saflink and others. You can bet that these announcements are just the tips of the icebergs in both companies, since many equipment vendors don't want to tell you where they get their stuff.

As for the cost of HMI/SCADA, it is dropping like a rock. At Automationdirect.com, for example, you can buy HMI software for prices ranging from $199 to $1,295. In the roundup that follows, you'll see an HMI PC with embedded HMI/SCADA software for $739. Small wonder the "big boys" may not want to develop their own HMI software when quality products are available at such prices.

Maybe next year at this time, all the remaining independent HMI/SCADA vendors will have been snapped up by process control and automation vendors, and we'll have a completely different story to talk about. Such as: Why has the cost of HMI/SCADA software quadrupled in the past year?


Product Roundup:
HMI Hardware and Software

HMI Reaches PLCS
Enhancements to iFIX 4.0 include the ability to discover PLC information from Siemens and Rockwell systems; integration with Proficy, including configuration, tags, historian, real-time information portal and change management; and graphic tools for drawing 3-D piping and connected object management. More info at controlglobal.com. GE Fanuc; 800/433-2682; www.gefanuc.com

HMI/SCADA Mines Data
Enhancements to Genesis32 version 9 includes support for SNMP, OPC UA and data-mining, all of which enables viewing and reporting of real-time or enterprise data sources, including Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, plant historians, and OPC real-time data. Real-time manufacturing and business information can be viewed on a web-enabled visualization dashboard. More info at controlglobal.com. Iconics; 508/543-8600 Ext. 202; www.iconics.com

HMI/SCADA Gets Dot Netted
Enhancements to ASComm.NET includes .NET communications driver and library for support of major industrial brands and protocols such as A-B, Modbus, GE and Automation Direct. The.NET library provides a ‘pluggable' driver approach that allows users to add one or more drivers without affecting existing code or requiring special handling. More info at controlglobal.com. Automated Solutions; 707/575-9631; www.automatedsolutions.com

CE Touchscreen Computer
Ivory Series open platform CE touchscreen operator interface computer comes with Indusoft HMI/SCADA software. It has Internet and network access with 10BaseT Ethernet, device-ready USB ports, compact flash port, and RS-232 and RS-485 compatible com ports. Models include a 6-in., 256-color STN touchscreen computer. More info at controlglobal.com. Maple Systems; 425/745-3229; www.maple-systems.com

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