HMI Solution Offers Flexible Customization Options

  • January 03, 2013
  • InduSoft, Inc.
  • Case Study
January 2013 
By: Kim Ground, Senior Electrical Engineer for Controls and Automation for the Surface Finishing Technologies division of Technic, Incorporated
As metal coating and finishing technologies become highly automated and more technical, they require precision equipment and advanced chemistry. Surface Finishing Technologies, and our parent company Technic, Inc., meet these needs by delivering specialty and cutting-edge machinery used to electroplate, electropolish and anodize various materials and products for the semiconductor, aerospace, printed circuit, and general metal finishing industries. 
SFT is a member of the National Association for Surface Finishing, and has been providing customized part plating machines, web plating machines and semiconductor wafer plating equipment for over 40 years. 
As new technologies emerged, SFT sought better and more advanced control systems for our machines. After we found the right control system, we knew we had to match it with new Human Machine Interface (HMI) software to fully maximize our machines’ capabilities. 
Finding the Right Solution 
While reviewing HMI software options, we considered several factors. Since SFT is always on the lookout for the most flexible and advanced control system hardware, we needed an HMI solution that was equally flexible and wouldn’t lock us into one controller vendor. This meant the HMI software had to have the flexibility to communicate with our machine controllers, even if SFT decided to change the type of controller, or use customer-specified controllers.
In addition, we wanted to offer customers all the functionality they required without being forced to pay for additional software modules when and if customer requirements changed. We had also been encountering an increase in customer demands for an HMI that included data logging and the ability to visualize online historical data trends, so any solution we considered needed to include these capabilities. 
InduSoft’s Web Studio HMI Software came highly recommended by Beckhoff Automation, the maker of the control system hardware that SFT decided to use for many of our machine automation applications. After reviewing many HMI software options, we decided to go with InduSoft Web Studio due to its rich feature list, competitive pricing and flexibility.
InduSoft Web Studio provides the capabilities our customers require, without the need to purchase extra modules or integrate third-party solutions. As an independent HMI provider, InduSoft also offers a library of over 240 drivers, which gives us the flexibility to use controllers from a wide range of vendors.
Unique Architecture Makes Troubleshooting Easier
SFT uses Web Studio’s rich feature set to develop applications that offer our customers a wide range of capabilities while supporting diverse control system hardware brands. The software also allows us to easily provide the extra benefit of recipe and batch capabilities for customers who need these options.
By creating a unique architecture, we can also offer additional value for our customers. We install the Web Studio development software on the PC that runs the HMI. On the same PC we then install all the programming software for the controller, the HMI, the servo systems and any other automation components on a machine that require PC software for programming or troubleshooting. This saves our customers money because if they have the skills to troubleshoot problems, they will have the tools necessary to do so, and it also makes is easy for SFT to perform revision level control and associated documentation. 
Modifying Programs without Losing Control 
We initially implemented remote access to the machine PC via a phone modem, and more recently have progressed to Internet-based access. This access allows us to remotely modify the PC-based HMI and machine controller programs after our equipment is installed and running at a customer site, or to access these programs for troubleshooting purposes. 
This saves our company time and money, and more importantly, gives our customers faster results when they have a problem. InduSoft fully supports remote access by allowing program modifications and file backup of the HMI project files to be performed without interrupting HMI operation.
Remote access saves us time if we have to diagnose and address any issues, or make program changes or upgrades. It also allows us to remotely upgrade the Web Studio software or any other software on the PC to the latest revision level if that is deemed necessary or beneficial. 
Remote access is especially beneficial when controller programs must be modified, as these types of changes directly affect machine operation. Because the controller programming software is installed on the machine PC, remote access to this software eliminates the risk of losing control of the PLC during a program transfer.
Data Logging and Trending Provide Benefits
As more customers requested data logging, we standardized this feature and also added trend charts, for process variables. These are now default features for all SFT machines, and there was very little cost to add these enhancements as only simple programming to activate existing HMI software features was required. In most cases the tag count doesn’t increase, since these tags are often used already elsewhere in the HMI program.
This ability wasn’t immediately noticed by all of our customers, but has proven to provide immense benefits both for SFT tech support and for our customers. Many customers who never would have thought to request the trend displays have commented on how useful they are for diagnosing process problems. 
Not all of our customers use the data logging and trending that is installed on their machines, but we often use these features when asked to help solve process-related issues. Because we also sell the process chemistry, and in many cases design the chemical process for use on our electroplating machines, we’re often asked to diagnose process problems. 
In these situations, the first thing we do is remotely download the data logs from the machine to review the historical record of process conditions in detail from our home office, or from any other convenient location. This feature lets us solve most chemical process problems without the expense of technicians visiting our customers’ plants, and without interrupting customer operations for testing to recreate the problem and gather data.
Superior Support
The benefits of standardizing on a single HMI software platform for all of our machines are apparent. The savings we realize using InduSoft Web Studio instead of competing HMI development software allows us to invest and innovate to create feature-rich and more efficient HMI applications that deliver greater value to our customers.
The support available from InduSoft has also been a bonus. The change to Indusoft was primarily motivated by controller support flexibility and cost considerations, but a very pleasant side benefit is the top quality tech support we get from InduSoft. It’s such a pleasure to call for support and have a human voice ask, “How can we help you today,” instead of hearing a robotic voice demanding, “Please enter your current software support contract number.”
In addition to superior support, the incorporation of InduSoft Web Studio into earlier machines has given SFT a constantly growing library of HMI screens and techniques that can be applied to other product lines. This helps us take advantage of the complete data logging, recipe, and alarm presentation capabilities across both new and existing machine families.
Standardizing HMI Software for Customized Machines 
Each piece of equipment from SFT is customized for a specific work piece and process, but all our machines fit into a few basic categories. This made the investment in creating a template HMI an attractive option. 
By standardizing controller code and associated HMI objects, we were able to make the process of customizing the HMI software for a specific customer application a matter of assembling an array of previously proven programs in the specific configuration required for that customer’s process. Web Studio provides features that enable this type of software development.
More standardization in the controller and HMI programs, along with a more common appearance and functionality of the operator screens, makes it easier for support people from other branches of our parent company to become familiar with our various machines. It also helps them quickly understand how to support a machine that they haven’t seen before. 
What’s Next?
SFT has seen a steady increase in the proportion of equipment sold to users outside the U.S. This means increasing demands for foreign language HMI screens, and multiple language support. SFT expects to make greater use of InduSoft Web Studio’s built-in language translation capabilities to implement these features for our overseas market. 
The ability to view screens remotely through Web Studio’s web server feature will let us push operator and information screens to users outside of the factory floor. While our customers haven’t utilized this feature very much up to this point, it’s good to know this capability exists as we can see its potential. 
Importantly, remote access with Web Studio doesn’t require each user to purchase and install expensive software to view and interact with the HMI software, as remote access is through any web browser running a simple low cost viewer.
Upgrading to a new HMI solution has lowered our costs while allowing us to provide our customers with a variety of new features. We now have a flexible HMI platform that let’s us integrate controllers from a wide variety of suppliers. Along with our customers, we look forward to expanded use of HMI features to provide continuing high levels of performance and support.
Kim L. Ground holds an honors BA from the University of Colorado at Denver in Chemistry/Physics /Math and has worked in the field of industrial automation for over 30 years. He holds electrical contractor licenses from West Virginia and New Mexico. For the last 10 years he has been the senior electrical engineer for controls and automation at Surface Finishing Technologies.
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