A Common HMI for Improved Operational Excellence | Automation.com

A Common HMI for Improved Operational Excellence

A Common HMI for Improved Operational Excellence

By Andrew Stuart, Honeywell Process Solutions

In the industrial sector, increased specialization of expertise and the need for a faster pace of decision-making make collaboration not just another trend—but the difference between success and failure.

With short innovation cycles, changing customer needs and intense competitive pressure, harnessing the power of employees across functions and regions has become extremely important for manufacturers. However, such cross-enterprise knowledge sharing requires a robust, scalable and secure platform for collaboration.

Recent developments have taken collaboration to a new level in manufacturing operations. Today, plant personnel have access to new human-machine interface (HMI) solutions providing the ability to display and interact with system or plant-wide data. This enables high-quality collaboration with the field or with experts in other locations, and is particularly useful in facilitating regular plant events like shift changeovers and operations meetings, and also when troubleshooting is needed.

With secure collaboration across the enterprise, industrial firms can extract maximum value from the talent in their organization and release the trapped value from their intellectual asset base.


When you think about it, collaboration is at the heart of every business. Most people are a part of a team that needs to work together to achieve the best possible results; the team members are a part of many teams that must collaborate to help grow an enterprise.

One of the major barriers to human performance improvement in industrial organizations has been the development of functional “silos,” meaning that each part of an operation only works vertically within its own narrow space—not horizontally across functions. These silos limit the amount of interaction needed to drive maximum value from assets (See Fig. 1).

Figure 1. A major barrier to human performance improvement in industrial organizations is functional “silos,” where each part of an operation only works vertically within its own narrow space.

In complex environments, such as processing plants, turning information into action often requires specialized knowledge and understanding of what the information actually reveals. A few select individuals may hold this specialized knowledge across the facility. The goal is to make the information available and obtain talented personnel from the various disciplines to work together toward transforming information into actions.

Value of Collaboration

Industrial companies with a global reach and presence need a way to get everyone on the same page, and to effectively operate as a single entity instead of as a fragmented organization. They require improved methods of communication to coordinate multinational activities, meet increasingly stringent regulatory requirements, and better manage changing workforces.

Today's typical process plant has multiple repositories of data, and the volume of data is increasing each year and becoming more fragmented. There is a growing need to bring all this information together and make sense of it, and make faster and better decisions.

At the same time, fewer personnel are operating plants. Process, maintenance and other support resources backing up these facilities are often located remotely. Business support resources such as production planning are normally situated at remote sites, too, typically at headquarters.

There are four major market developments making enterprise collaboration increasingly vital for manufacturers and other industrial entities. They are:

• Globalization: Every company in the world is affected by globalization, and the more globalized the business is (or wants to be), the more important collaboration becomes.

• Specialization: In a technology-driven environment, increasing specialization of knowledge-based work has made collaboration a key initiative.

• Innovation: As competition increases, the only way to ensure a business advantage is through innovation. Collaboration promotes real-time organizational awareness of opportunities for innovation; shortens the cycle time for conception and design; and helps drive acceptance, adoption, and expansion of ideas.

• Distributed Expertise: In a global economy, employees often have to coordinate efforts with people all over the world. This makes harnessing the power of people across functional/geographic boundaries a critical success factor.

Enterprise productivity can come from a number of areas, ranging from improved decision-making and reduced re-work, to a more robust innovation pipeline and fewer sub-optimal decisions based on imperfect information. Indeed, the promise of timely collaboration is game-changing transformation, if applied in the right way.

Latest Technology Trends

Innovative solutions enabling people to connect and interact virtually have a global economic impact on productivity. Significant economic returns annually may be unlocked by this technology in knowledge worker productivity, on a scale critical to performance and growth in the 21st century (See Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Modern collaborative tools enabling personnel to connect and interact virtually have a global economic impact on productivity.

As industrial firms begin to embrace organizational change, more intently on improving communication and collaboration, there are apt to be specific types of technologies that can increase collaborative behavior across enterprise networks, which will help employees to share objectives and activities in achieving business goals.

For example, the use of touch screens in mobile phones and tablet computers is well developed and accepted by users. Large-format touch screen monitors offer display capabilities such as pan and zoom, plus the ability to show multiple windows of related information concurrently. Similarly, the use of video for business and operational purposes is increasingly common. Video streaming and video calling are now common methods of communication. In a business environment, desktop sharing is a routine technique covering voice and visualization.

Technology suppliers like Honeywell are now developing powerful HMI solutions that will greatly expand visibility of enterprise information, with a common view for all those collaborating. Through complete visual integration with process control and information systems, these tools can enable plant, business and support personnel to use interactive displays, embedded video and other telecommunication capabilities to communicate, collaborate and make decisions, regardless of whether they are in the control room, conference room, situation room or in remote locations.

The new breed of collaborative tools are already enabling the “control room of the future,” as well as providing the means for industrial organizations to visualize data across the enterprise in a way never before possible. These tools have the potential to improve collaboration between multiple experts within the organization, making it easy to integrate all types of overviews, alarm displays and other users’ computer screens; display business network data and distributed control system (DCS) information; and see the same views simultaneously for enhanced decision-making processes.

Intended for large, highly distributed operations, as well as multiple sites with central engineering, an integrated “collaboration station” is one way to allow for faster, more efficient evaluation and action on abnormal situations, and support broader communication among employees—no matter where they reside—so they can share the same view of information through intuitive navigation and ease of use (See Fig. 3).

Figure 3. An integrated “collaboration station” can enable industrial organizations to visualize data across the enterprise.

In the plant control room, this solution meets the need to reduce operator fatigue, improve situational awareness, increase speed of response, and improve ease installation. New consoles are designed to make the operator’s job easier—increasing productivity, minimizing stress and creating a better working environment.

The collaboration station approach, as demonstrated by the HMI that Honeywell has built into its Experion® Process Knowledge System (PKS), can be particularly valuable to plant and operations managers who want to track the state of their process for faster response to both routine and emergency situations. This includes sites with frequent product grade changes, complex processes and dynamic operations, where addressing problems quickly has significant benefits. It may also be useful in management of emergency situations. A station can be designed to display performance information across distributed assets such as oil & gas fields and pipeline operations, and rapidly establish communication and collaboration between centralized operations, maintenance and specialists without having to bring them to the same location.

Putting New Tools to Work

Ideally, a collaboration station should employ a large-format monitor with interactive displays and multi-touch gesture control capabilities. This design allows collaboration from the control room, the plant, home, and from experts around the world. The station may be useful during normal operations, as well as for shift handover, troubleshooting, or operations meetings.

Specific types of applications that might be opened and displayed on a collaborative screen include:

  • Enterprise historians
  • Maintenance
  • Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
  • Permit to work
  • Production planning
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • Materials management
  • Reporting

For obvious reasons, a collaboration station should be a read-only station that cannot be used for actual plant operations such as performing setpoint changes. By locating the station outside the control room environment, users have the ability to display additional applications available on the business network to merge control room and business data.

One effective approach could be configuring a collaboration station with enterprise software technology such as an instant messaging client. This provides access to capabilities ranging from instant messaging, voice-over-IP (VOIP) and video conferencing, to real-time multi-client collaboration enabling teams of people to see and simultaneously work on the same documents and communications session.

These capabilities may be implemented as follows:

  • Collaboration through plant records such as design drawings, maintenance files and production reports
  • Analyzing incidents or production problems by viewing trends, journals and recorded video
  • Collaboration through PowerPoint® documents, where participants can control and see presentations, as well as add text, drawing and graphical annotations
  • Desktop sharing, where participants can see and collaborate on their windows screen
  • Windows application sharing, where participants can see and collaborate on a specific application

Benefits for Industrial Organizations

The use of modern collaborative technologies promises to heighten situational awareness in a wide range of application scenarios, allowing key organizational stakeholders to display relevant information in a shared environment. This approach can reduce the impact on performance from an abnormal situation through faster analysis and response:

  • Rapidly establish communication and collaboration between centralized operations, maintenance and other specialists supported by relevant information
  • Common view of the situation for both local and remote collaborators, as opposed to collaborators having their own separate view—or no view at all—with more potential for miscommunication
  • Faster navigation between different contexts by accessing displays across the screen with persistent content
  • Exploits all available resources: people, advanced applications and control systems in one collaborative system


Through implementation of an integrated collaboration station, industrial organizations can employ the latest tools enabling visualization of multiple streams of process and business information on a large interactive display, around which many people can collaborate for rapid and effective situational awareness and decision making. This approach may be suitable for any organization that designs, operates and maintains large industrial facilities where co-operation between personnel needs to be catalyzed. It can also help address the challenge of skilled labor shortages by leveraging the expertise of remote experts as needed.

Did you Enjoy this Article?

Check out our free e-newsletters
to read more great articles.

Subscribe Now


  • The Push and Pull of Composite Manufacturing 
    The Push and Pull of Composite Manufacturing

    By Robert Glass, Exel Composites
    From window and door manufacturers to the professional tree surgeon, weighing up material options usually comes...

  • Augmented Intelligence 
    Augmented Intelligence

    By Mark Howard, EU Automation
    Augmented intelligence is one of the few technologies named on the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies,...

  • PLC Programming Preference Survey: Insights & User Comments 
    PLC Programming Preference Survey: Insights & User Comments

    By Bill Lydon, Automation.com
    The PLCopen organization and Automation.com conducted a joint survey of PLC programming preferences. Here are some...

  • Robots or Cobots: Which to Choose? 
    Robots or Cobots: Which to Choose?

    By Jonathan Wilkins, EU Automation
    Today’s plant managers are faced with a dearth of automation technologies but it’s not always obvious what...

  • A Closer Look at Composites 
    A Closer Look at Composites

    By Robert Glass, Exel Composites
    Composites have transformed the technologies of many industries —although the materials used to manufacture...