Rich grayscale_2

HMI software takes on more responsibility

Dec. 15, 2004
HMI is not just an operator interface any more. In fact, these days OI is probably the least of its functions. CONTROL Senior Technical Editor Rich Merritt provides a Product Roundup of new HMI devices.

 By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor

It used to be, you’d buy a human-machine interface (HMI) just to get an operator interface (OI); that is, a device that lets you look into the process to see what was going on, and adjust or control what you saw. Such plain-vanilla OIs are certainly still available, but the overall roles of HMIs are changing.

Today, HMIs are taking over control, data acquisition, web access, maintenance, diagnostics and enterprise functions. The OI function remains, of course, but telling an operator what is going on seems to be the least of an HMI’s many tasks.

Virtually all desktop and panel HMIs are now based on a PC architecture and run some version of Windows. A certain number of handheld and PDA-based HMIs are also appearing and, while all are not Windows-based, the ones we see are compatible with the Windows architecture.

The “big iron” HMIs can be extremely powerful PCs, capable of running just about any kind of control, data acquisition, and SCADA software package. Many HMIs serve as the gateway between a process control system and its process historian, ERP, supply chain, and other higher-level software packages. That is, they gather the data from plant floor equipment, put it into XML or some other common database format, and ship it off to the enterprise software in a timely fashion. Some HMIs are powerful enough to host enterprise software.

HMIs can also be extremely tiny, embedded, diskless processors that can operate inside equipment and instrumentation. When equipped with an embedded Windows operating system, such as Windows CE, the embedded systems provide many of the functions of the big iron systems.

HMIs big and small also serve as the gateway to the Web for many process control systems. The HMI hosts the necessary web servers that allow remote PCs or HMIs to access Web pages via the Internet. Web access lets an instrument engineer be paged at home, receive an e-mail that says there is a problem at the plant, find out what is going on via a home PC’s web browser, and make the necessary setpoint changes at 3:00 a.m., all without having to run into the plant. 

Venture Development ( says that browser-based terminals are gaining in popularity for several reasons, not the least of which is reduced operating costs. Many HMI vendors have a “per-seat” charge, where you pay thousands of dollars for the original HMI/SCADA software, and then pay for every additional terminal or “seat” onto which the software is loaded. With a browser-based system, you still pay thousands of dollars for the original software, but you can eliminate per-seat charges by using browsers to view the display screens. 

Over on the accounting side of your business, the IT folks are probably looking into “hosted” software, such as CRM or CAD. In this case, the CRM software runs on the vendor’s server somewhere, the IT people gain access to it from a browser, and they pay only for what they use. Such capability will be coming to process control one of these days, but we see no evidence of it yet. We suspect that HMIs will be the first to use a hosted system, because HMI software vendors are always way out in front of everybody else in the control business.

The new breed of HMI/SCADA systems are selling fast. ARC Research ( says the HMI software market will reach $559 million by 2008, an annual rate of 5%. That’s faster than the overall automation market. “HMI and related software has become a critical component in the infrastructure for successfully managing manufacturing operations,” says ARC’s research director, Craig Resnick. 

In the roundup that follows, we have examples of HMIs performing all of the above-noted functions. This roundup also kicks off a new capability here at CONTROL magazine: the marriage of print and web. If the writeup indicates that more product details are available at, we mean it.

For example, we provide additional product information on our site. Just like the brief product writeups, we take additional information from the vendor, edit out all the product manager’s superfluous comments and the vendor’s unsupported claims, and provide you just with additional facts.

Also, instead of just giving you the vendor’s web site address, we provide links to the vendor’s product literature whenever possible. This means you will be able to click directly to the product’s data sheet or brochure without having to hunt it down on the vendor web site or fill out those tedious qualification forms.

Let us know if this works for you, and tell us what else we can do to improve future product writeups.

HMI Devices
For more information about any of these products, click on the description of the product below to view a longer description and all contact information, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses, websites, and a photo where available.

Attack of the Clones Propagates Icons
Version 9.0 of InTouch HMI with SmartSymbol graphics allows changes made to templates to automatically propagate throughout an application, including across multiple networked PC nodes. In addition, users can run a script function called IOSetRemoteReferences to modify the data source for ArchestrA Objects or InTouch tag references at runtime. This enables developers to switch object instances for graphic symbols based on particular conditions or directly via user interaction such as clicking a button. Wonderware

Even an HMI Can’t Be Too Thin
The Magelis Smart iPC thin client for Ethernet architectures measures just 67mm deep and high, and can be bundled with Telemecanique Vijeo Look SCADA software to create an HMI. It also works with the company’s Transparent Readyweb-based display for real-time data visualization using a web browser, and FactoryCast applets for real time data monitoring. The system conforms to UL508, CSA, and CE, and is rated Class 1, Div. 2 for use in hazardous environments. Schneider Electric

HMI Software Gets All Fixed Up
Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX with FIX Desktop software allows users of FIX software to use the database and connectivity features of Proficy iFIX, while continuing to view and control plant-wide processes in their existing graphics environment. This add-on is transparent to an existing software infrastructure, allowing users to enhance their current HMI/SCADA investment without having to re-configure their system. GE Fanuc

Web-enabled Operator Interface Terminal
WebOIT hardware and A-Studio version V5.1 software provide everything needed to connect a PLC to the Internet. The software is Microsoft .NET technology compliant, runs under Windows XP and CE.NET, supports the newest OCX version of OLE controls, and allows OEMs and end users to create web-enabled SCADA and HMI systems for process control, automation, and embedded controls. It includes an industrial touch panel computer, and development software. Advantech

HMI Web Software is a Drag
HMI Builder provides a drag-and-drop environment that minimizes typing and drawing when developing HMI screens for use on the Web. When graphical elements, such as a tank or motor, is dropped in the design window, they appear and function exactly as they will in the runtime environment. The HMI screens work over Internet and Ethernet networks, providing remote viewers with the same visual display as local screens. Control Technology

SISsy HMI Automates Safety Loop Testing
The Smart Safety Instrumented System provides automated safety loop testing of transmitters and valve controllers for IEC 61508, and SIL3 ratified safety systems. Safety data and alarms are presented on the company’s DeltaV operator interfaces, stored in its historians, and passed to the AMS Suite for integrated documentation and management. Emerson Process Management

Deterministic Communications Module Takes Priority
The ControlNet Scheduled communications module provides deterministic, repeatable communication for the company’sPanelView Plus HMI and VersaView CE computers. Unlike unscheduled communications, which use leftover bandwidth as it becomes available, the scheduled module takes priority placement on the network’s bandwidth, guaranteeing that a signal will transmit within a specified time period.Users can schedule how often a controller is updated with data. Rockwell Automation

Touch Panels Talk to Everybody
EZTouch touch panels are available with Data Highway Plus,  Ethernet, Modbus Plus, DeviceNet or Ethernet I/P communications capability.  Using an Ethernet option card, up to eight panels can be connected to one or multiple DirectLogic PLCs, using off-the-shelf Ethernet hubs. Prices start at $425. Panels are available in 8, 10 and 15-in. sizes with slim bezels, in color or monochrome versions. AutomationDirect

Worldwide HMI Changes Text, Language and Icons On Line
Automation Studio software provides online language switching by changing texts and their fonts,   keyboard layouts and key displays, and measurement units and process variable scaling according to each respective country. The number of languages and fonts the software can handle is limited only by the amount of available RAM Other enhancements include a single development tool that allows seamless integration of controllers, drives, visualization, communication and software. B&R Industrial Automation

HMI Gets Downright Personal
The OperateProcess Portal interface in Industrial IT System 800xA provides personalized workplaces for users such as maintenance technicians, process engineers, production managers or plant operators.  A single window environment can include data from smart field devices, asset optimization functions, information management, batch management, safety systems, and MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) applications. ABB

Where in the World is Carmen Operator? The PDA Knows
InstantHMI PDA Clipboard validates data entries people make by automatically recording the person’s physical location and time when data is entered.Using the Global Positioning System, the location of the PDA is always known.Barcoding and RFID can be used to make the capturing of data automatic and more reliable. The HMI is compatible with Allen-Bradley, Koyo, Mitsubishi, Modicon, Omni Flow, Siemens, Trio, Toshiba, Watlow, Wago and Yaskawa controllers. Software Horizons

Smart Controller Has Built-In Display
TFT Control Panelhas an Intel Pentium-compatible 266 MHz CPU that can run Windows CE and XP Embedded operating systems, so it can be used to run SCADA or visualization software provided by the end user. It has an anodized metal housing cut from solid aluminum and is available in protection class IP 65 (front)/IP 20 (rear) or completely IP 65. Beckhoff Automation

Stainless Steel Bezel Fronts Industrial Computer
The A2T-15 industrial panel computer system has a flat screen color TFT display, analog resistive touchscreen, and NEMA 4X stainless steel bezel. Priced at $2,495, it includes on-board Ethernet ports, multiple USB ports, Pentium 4 architecture and 2 PCI expansion slots. Panel mount requires no tools for installation. Ann Arbor Technologies

Big Touch Screen Takes Industrial Abuse
The 21-in.Model SV-2100 Industrial Grade touch screen LCD monitor withstands water, dust and dirt intrusion. The steel-enclosed NEMA 4/IP displayruns resolutions up to UXGA 1600 x 1200 pixels with both analog and digital input sourceswith 250 nits of brightness and a contract ratio of 500:1. Monitors are available with resistive and surface acoustic wave (SAW) touch screens. Stealth Computer

HMI Displays Come Alive With Animation
Industrial Gadgets Pro software has a software component library with realistically animated valves, pipes, gauges, sliders, pumps, motors, tanks, buttons, and switches.To make them work, the HMI developer connects the process tag to the object and configures it. Components work with VB, VB.NET, and HMI and process software such as ABB 800XA, iFix, DeltaV, InTouch, RSView, WinCC, Iconics, and others. Software Toolbox

Splish, Splash, this HMI is Taking a Caustic Bath
The stainless steel 8901/8903 Series meet caustic washdown, NEMA 4X and IP66 ratings. Both have an active matrix TFT display, 1GHz processor, shatterproof polycarbonate screens, IP67 compliant I/O connectors, operating temperature range of 0-50 °C, VESA 100mm mounting pattern and an internal cooling system.Options include shatter resistant resistive touch screens, NEMA 4X keyboard, electro-polish finish for clean room applications, and flexible mounting options for pedestal, wall, or pipe configurations. Comark

HMI Enhancements Make DAQ Faster
Enhancements in Version 1.91 of InteractX HMI include a boost in runtime performance, and more than 20 updates to communications drivers. Upgrade are free for current customers. Real-time data acquisition has been updated to automatically optimize the amount and efficiency of data being acquired from controllers. Runtime has been improved to update panels faster and require less CPU time. CTC Parker

PLC Programming Tool Gets HMI
Visualization tools for the CoDeSys IEC 61131-3 programming tool include HMI, Target-Visualization, and Web-Visualization, all of which reproduce the masks created in CoDeSys and communicate with the controller via the same mechanisms used when programming. This means a configuration as would have to be done when using OPC is not necessary. 3S-Smart Software Solutions

Sanitary HMI Works in Food and Beverage Applications
The Premium Panel flat panel operator interface has an IP69K rating that protects devices against high pressured/jet steam cleaning and wash-down and the ingress of dust for hygiene/sanitary protection. It is available with or without a keyboard housing. Made of Type 304 brushed stainless steel, the operator enclosure can attach directly to the company’s stainless steel pendant arm system. Rittal

Software Puts Labview on a PDA
The LabVIEW 7.1 PDA Module software helps develop applications that will run on any Pocket PC 2003 consumer PDA device and on some industrial devices, including handhelds and touch-panel screens. The software supports a Bluetooth interface, PCMCIA, four programmable PDA buttons, and a PDA touchscreen. For data acquisition, it has a  200 kS/sec sampling rate, the ability to scan across multiple channels, and access to functionality on PCMCIA devices such as analog and digital triggering. National Instruments

Hazardous Operator Interface Terminal
With a Class 1, Div 2 Hazardous Area Rating, SCADAPackVision50 compact operator interface terminal can monitor process parameters in the field. It has a high-visibility LED backlit LCD display with 4 lines x 40 characters, 20  programmable function keys, up to 32 alarms, eight programmable LED indicators. Programming is via Windows-based software. The terminal provides prompts to change data and presets. Control Microsystems

OI Has Big Touch Screen
OptoTerminalG75 has a 10.4 in. diagonal, 640x480 pixel color touch screen, standard Ethernet port, an aluminum housing, an active-matrix TFT display and soft keys. It is NEMA-4 rated and CE certified. The OI has 4MB flash and 16MB RAM. Price is $1995.00. Opto 22

Sponsored Recommendations

2024 Industry Trends | Oil & Gas

We sit down with our Industry Marketing Manager, Mark Thomas to find out what is trending in Oil & Gas in 2024. Not only that, but we discuss how Endress+Hau...

Level Measurement in Water and Waste Water Lift Stations

Condensation, build up, obstructions and silt can cause difficulties in making reliable level measurements in lift station wet wells. New trends in low cost radar units solve ...

Temperature Transmitters | The Perfect Fit for Your Measuring Point

Our video introduces you to the three most important selection criteria to help you choose the right temperature transmitter for your application. We also ta...

2024 Industry Trends | Gas & LNG

We sit down with our Industry Marketing Manager, Cesar Martinez, to find out what is trending in Gas & LNG in 2024. Not only that, but we discuss how Endress...