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HMI software is disappearing

Feb. 13, 2006
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.
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

HMIs For LabView
FPT-1015 flat-panel touchscreen, TPC-2006 touch-panel computer, and PPC-2015 panel PC HMIs work with LabView graphical development environment to develop user interfaces. Engineers can deploy LabView applications on HMIs and connect via Ethernet to other hardware through industry standards including Ethernet, USB, PCI and PCMCIA. More info at controlglobal.com. National Instruments; 512/683-5090; www.ni.com

VB Scripting for Web Viewing
Enhancements to Web Studio 6.1 HMI/SCADA software include Visual Basic scripting, a trending tool, screen translations, an advanced development environment, and database management functions. An optional wizard imports legacy PanelMate applications. VB scripting allows HMI screens and applications to be ported to Windows CE devices or viewed on web browsers. The software runs on all Windows platforms, including diskless CE. InduSoft; 877/463-8763; www.indusoft.com

Touchscreen HMI
Qterm-Z60 graphic operator interface terminal has touchscreen graphics, one switch-selectable serial port, and can communicate via EIA-232, EIA-422 or EIA-485. It has a QVGA, 320 x 240-pixel, 256-color, STN color LCD display that is viewable in most lighting conditions; 2 MB flash/16 MB SDRAM; programmable speaker; and a 5 VDC 200 mA output from the interface connector to power external devices. QSI; 801/466-8770; www.qsicorp.com

Extreme Lighting Displays
High Bright monitors are suitable for use outdoors or in brightly lit rooms. Displays have a screen luminance of 700 nits with a high-contrast ratio, and provide VGA to XGA screen resolutions. Monitors are available with resistive or capacitive touchscreens in 15 and 17 in. models, and in NEMA 4 and 4X (IP65/IP66) industrial panels and enclosures. VarTech Systems; 800/223-8050; www.vartechsystems.com

Panel with Detachable Monitor
ARP-1720AP industrial panel computer has a 20.1-in. detachable, NEMA 4 LCD monitor for easy maintenance and quick upgrades. The unit is available in configurations ranging from a P3 to a P4 CPU, 24 VDC or 100-230 VAC input power supply, multiple expansion slots and a RAID-1 system. More info at controlglobal.com. Arista; 510/226-1800; www.aristaipc.com

Programmable Touchpanel
C-more touch panels are fully programmable, so objects can be placed, scaled and overlapped without limitation. Panel displays are available in either grayscale or full color. STN grayscale and color displays are available in a 6-in. touchscreen, while color TFT touchscreens are available in 6 to 15-in. versions. More info at controlglobal.com. AutomationDirect; 800/633-0405; www.automationdirect.com

Operator Panel Integrates I/O
PP15 Power Panel has integrated I/O for control, positioning and visualization tasks. The display is IP65 protected on the front, has 4 x 20 character resolution and 26 keys, each equipped with LEDs. Two models are available: one has 16 digital I/O, while the other has four analog inputs and outputs plus eight digital I/O. Both have a CAN interface for for remote I/O and servo drives. B&R Industrial Automation; 770/772-0400; www.br-automation.com

Very Visible, Programmable Terminal
ScadaPack Vision50 terminal has a high-visibility LED backlit LCD display with four lines x 40 characters, 20 programmable function keys, and eight programmable LED indicators. Programming is via Windows-based software that provides prompts to change data and presets and define up to 32 alarms. It has a Class 1, Div 2 Hazardous Area Rating. Control Microsystems; 613/591-3878 ext. 223; www.controlmicrosystems.com

Cloning Backs Up Systems
The VersaView cloning utility provides advanced backup, data protection and recovery for users. It uses the Symantec Ghost  8.0 cloning program to create a duplicate image of the computer's hard drive, so the most recent critical settings are protected during unplanned computer outages. This duplicate image can be stored either on an unused portion of the hard drive or on external devices, including CDs, DVDs, USB devices and networks.
Rockwell Automation; 800/223-5354, Ext. 1804; www. ra.rockwell.com

HMI Gets Web-ability
Experion Station HMI uses a web-based architecture to provide a common infrastructure across the enterprise to ensure seamless, third-party integration using open web standards. Its alarm and event presentation adheres to Abnormal Situation Management (ASM) Consortium and EEMUA Publication 191 guidelines. A Mobile Station version provides information to operators in the field. Honeywell; 952/346-6409; www.honeywell.com

Touchably, Sealed Monitors
Models 1749L and 1746L 17-in. rear-mount touch monitors use clear glass surface wave touch technology, have an injection-molded minibezel, and are smaller than previous models. Both have a watertight seal that makes them suitable for industrial automation and indoor/outdoor applications. More info at controlglobal.com. Elo TouchSystems; 800/356-8682; www.elotouch.com

One-window Navigation
System 800xA Operations accesses enterprise-wide data from multiple applications or from any connected workstation in the plant or office. It provides one window for navigating, accessing, and viewing plant information in real time. Contextual navigation presents the entire production facility in one window for single-point entry, single-point change, and re-use across the plant. ABB; 203/750-2200; www.abb.com
Bright, Steel Monitor
FPM-3060G 6-in. flat-panel monitor has luminance of 400 nits, reportedly 42% brighter than a typical laptop PC, and can be easily integrated with embedded platform products. The chassis is stainless steel with an aluminum front bezel, anti-reflective tempered glass, and NEMA 4 and IP65 ratings on the front panel for installation in misty or dusty environments. More info at controlglobal.com. Advantech; 877/294-8989; www.eAutomationPro.com

Teeny Terminal
Magelis XBT-GT 1000 Series monochrome graphic terminal is 3.8 in. wide, has six function keys, and has an Ethernet interface with an embedded FTP server for easier diagnostics. It can be simultaneously connected on Modbus, Modbus TCP/IP and Uni-Telway. Programming is via Vijeo Designer software. More info at controlglobal.com. Telemecanique; 800/392-8781; www.us.telemecanique.com

HMI Creativity Software
IoDisplay can be used to design and run operator interfaces on Microsoft Windows-based clients. Users can create elaborate graphical user interfaces using original or preset symbols, jpegs and bitmaps. It has support for alarm management, recipe handling, operator logging, real-time and historical trending, multimedia, and unlimited tags.
Opto 22; 800/321.6786; www.opto22.com

Web Module Replaces HMI
Prodigio WSC31-CB Micro web server module can replace a PC-based solution for many data acquisition and control applications, including remote monitoring of equipment, automated e-mail alarm notification, wireless data collection, and web enabling of legacy systems. It can deliver HTML pages, collect data, and take actions based on information gathered from a web page, transfer files via FTP, and send e-mail based on timed or external events. More info at controlglobal.com. Computer Aided Solutions; 440/729-2570; www.DataLoggerSales.com

Alarming HMI
Enhancements to InTouch V 9.5 HMI software include intelligent alarm techniques, operator guidance, runtime language switching, unlimited scalability from the smallest to the largest applications, improvements to SmartSymbol change propagation, pan-and-zoom capabilities in development, and one-click I/O backup configuration. More info at controlglobal.com. Wonderware; 949/459-9696, x 244; www.wonderware.com

Toolkit for .Net
Software development tools help system integrators and process users develop user interfaces using Microsoft .NET technologies, including Visual Studio 2005. Ingear.Net.Logix component provides a driver for communicating via Ethernet to the Allen-Bradley Logix PLCs, while Instrumentation.NET provides 50 different user interface components, including gauges, meters, sliders, switches, trend charts and more. More info at controlglobal.com. Software Toolbox; 704/849-2773 Ext.1122; www.softwaretoolbox.com

Pretty Pictures
Various elements of Vsystem software supportsimages. Vdraw HMI can display images; Vlogger historian can record images; and Vtrend historical trend package can display images integrated and correlated with conventional data. The software runs on OpenVMS (Alpha and Itanium), Linux, Windows, Solaris, and Concurrent RedHawk real-time Linux. Vista Control Systems; 505/662-2484; www.vista-control.com

Big Flat Panel Monitor
LSX19 19-in. industrial flat panel monitor has better viewing angles and more brightness than previous models, a higher temperature range, and native mode SXGA resolution. It uses the same cutout, mounting scheme, power and interface as the company's 18-in products. Christensen Display Products; 425/222-3800; www.christensendisplay.com

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