HMIs Evolving to Serve the Enterprise in an Industrial IoT World

  • November 27, 2017
  • Schneider Electric
  • Feature
HMIs Evolving to Serve the Enterprise in an Industrial IoT World
HMIs Evolving to Serve the Enterprise in an Industrial IoT World

By John Krajewski III, Director of Product Management, HMI/Supervisory, Schneider Electric

Back in the 1980s when Windows-based HMIs were first introduced, most were used as a point solution to provide operator interface for a single machine, process unit or other asset. These HMIs were a tremendous improvement over prior operator interface solutions—most of which consisted of panel-mounted switches, pushbuttons, thumbwheel potentiometers, lights and meters. They were also a significant upgrade over DOS-based HMIs, many of which were proprietary in nature instead of open, and all of which were severely limited in terms of graphics capabilities.

But the explosion of data due to the Industrial IoT (IIoT), along with the need to leverage and implement Industry 4.0 strategies, is driving the need for holistic, company-wide industrial software platforms instead of point solutions. These industrial software platforms can be distributed to as many locations as required, and can:

  • model the physical assets
  • collect real time data
  • historize the data
  • monitor alarms
  • handle automated business logic
  • transform the data into information
  • contextualize the information so it can be easily understood by operations personnel

But, modern industrial processes do not rely on operational asset data alone, and commonly leverage many other software systems and cloud services spanning both operations technology (OT) as well as information technology (IT). With such a vast amount of data, a new approach to enable IT/OT convergence is needed.

Schneider Electric Software has developed a new solution to meet these challenges, which they refer to as Industrial Software Platform, managed with an Operations Management Interface (OMI). This platform allows management of interactions between OT and IT across the enterprise, designed to provide visualization and management of operations with greater efficiency. These OMIs include all the traditional capabilities of an HMI, but also extend to contextually access virtually any associated data, information or application.

Figure 1. Operations management interfaces gather operating information (OI) from a variety of data sources.

These holistic OMI-based solutions are expanding the scope of traditional HMI point solutions by gathering data from a wide variety of sources as shown in Figure 1 including:

  • Controllers
  • IoT Devices
  • Software Platforms
  • The Cloud

Not only are there more sources of data, this data can now come from multiple plants and facilities located across the globe. Collecting, storing, distributing and analyzing this data requires a holistic solution with the capability to interface across many different components and software data sources – located anywhere in the world. Just as HMIs helped to link islands of automation, OMIs now link islands of data.

Let’s look at each of the four main functions of an OMI—create awareness, perform analysis, inform personnel and enable action—and show challenges and solutions in each area. We’ll also look at two application examples showing just how an OMI can be used to address a specific issue and improve operations.


Create Awareness

A significant goal of an OMI is to facilitate a transition from reactive (break/fix) to proactive operations. A core component of any HMI/SCADA/OMI is process visualization. Schneider Electric has made a significant investment in core process visualization capabilities to facilitate situational awareness, now available in the company’s flagship control and information software portfolio (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Process visualization is a core component of any HMI/SCADA/OMI, as depicted in this Wonderware Online InSight screen shot.

A core tenant of situational awareness is the ability to leverage a large volume of real-time data from physical assets, and to transform this data into intelligence to empower operations staff to identify and address abnormal situations before they negatively impact operations (Reference 1).

This data originates from four main sources: controllers, IoT devices, software platforms and the cloud. The Industrial Software Platform collects data from each through a variety of different types of communication protocols.

For example, a Mapping App can pull information from GIS systems, mapping servers and other real-time data sources to provide an interactive experience for managing geographically distributed assets. An OMI can access this data and then contextually access other data, all of which is available within the OMI.

Other examples of integrated applications facilitating awareness include camera integration, predictive analytics and alarms. Of course, access to these applications and their data occurs with greater ease when working in or through the cloud. Further advantages are unlocked when taking advantage of the IIoT to gain greater intelligence.         


Perform Analysis

When an abnormal situation has been identified by creating awareness, a common next step is to search for a root cause. Without proper access to relevant information, the analysis activity will often take too much time, preventing plant personnel from taking action before negatively impacting operation.

As an example of quick action enabled by an OMI, an operator becomes aware of a KPI drifting away from an optimal state. He or she can quickly and contextually access analytic tools through an industrial application to analyze all historical data available for the associated asset. This allows determination of either a root cause for the issue, or a time when the issue began to occur, which can then be used to look for other relevant events occurring at the same time frame.

Other examples of data sources available to perform analysis are quality samples from laboratory systems, vibration analysis data, business intelligence dashboards, inventory systems and energy management systems.


Inform Personnel

Once a root cause has been identified, one or more people may need to be notified to take the right action. For example, an OMI can be used to inform operators by allowing them to contextually access associated standard operating procedures through use of a Document Viewer application. Operators can then inform other company personnel by quickly creating a work order in an asset management system, or by creating an entry into an electronic log book.

Notification methods for informing personnel include instant messaging, email and text. This information can be distributed to personnel via any intranet- or internet- connected device including desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Personnel can be informed in a variety of ways when action needs to be taken, such as through this tablet interface.


Enable Action

Once personnel are informed, action can be taken by performing either planned or unplanned activities. A planned activity could be execution of a production schedule, using an OMI to contextually integrate with impacted systems, such as Wonderware Recipe Manager Plus, to facilitate the execution of a specific production process. Information for this production cycle might be required to fulfill a customer commitment residing in an IT system, such as an enterprise resource planning system. Unplanned activities might be a setpoint adjustment through an asset faceplate to maintain a target KPI.

Functional areas where planned and unplanned activities might be required are loop tuning, manufacturing execution system operations and business process management.

These two application examples demonstrate an OMI in action.


Wireless Heat Exchanger Monitoring

Heat exchangers are widely used throughout the process industries, but often do not operate at peak efficiency due to a lack of measurement points, which limits awareness (Figure 4). Adding conventional wired temperature transmitters to existing heat exchangers to collect the required data is often too expensive and disruptive to operations. Wireless transmitters can overcome these issues.

Figure 4. Heat exchanger operation can be improved by adding wireless transmitters, and analyzing the data provided by these transmitters to inform personnel and enable action.

Data can be collected by wireless temperature, pressure and other instruments mounted at heat exchangers to inform personnel of abnormal situations, such as early detection of fouling. Analysis of this data can also determine the best time to clean the exchanger, based on heat transfer degradation and economic calculations.

An OMI can not only be used to not only facilitate these actions, but to also streamline them by interfacing to wireless transmitters to collect the required data, creating awareness through visualization to the operators. Through this prompting, operators can perform the required analysis to transform the collected data into intelligence. Plant personnel can then be informed so they can then take action.


Improving Operations in a Potable Water System

Providing potable water for any medium to large municipality involves a coordinated orchestration of widely distributed assets, processes and personnel. Traditionally, many of these assets have operated largely independent of each other, with each focused on uptime and continuous operation. Therefore, the control and monitoring applications were primarily concerned with management of alarms and clearing of process interlocks in a reactionary manner.

Many potable water systems are faced with aging infrastructures, resulting in unplanned outages. Asset owners are simultaneously facing budget constraints resulting from price regulation. This constraint means they must optimize the use of their existing assets.

With the right OMI in place, these types of organizations are empowered to manage their entire fleet of assets with minimal staffing requirements. They can now meet the demands of their customers for product availability and quality by better leveraging many of the systems they already have in place.

An OMI allows them to schedule asset utilization to minimize the use of associated utilities and production costs. These types of organizations can also leverage historical data to forecast the impact of weather events. When unplanned outages occur, they can engage the proper resources in a timely manner to shift production to unaffected assets, minimizing or eliminating impact to their customers.      


The Future of OMI

Islands of information exists in most industrial processes, with software packages that were put in place to deliver a point solution. Most of those software packages come from a variety of vendors. The people running these operations are left with trying to make sense of it all, and often lack the proper tools. With the acceleration of the IIoT and Software as a Service/Cloud, the issues associated with islands of information will only increase.

Businesses can outperform their competition and improve their business practices by leveraging solutions that feature an OMI. Proper application of the OMI will facilitate world-class operation by unifying those islands of information, and by empowering personnel to shift their focus from operating their process to optimizing their business.   


About the Author

John has 23+ years of experience in industrial automation and control systems. After acquiring a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Delaware, John began his career working as a control systems engineer in the potable water industry. Subsequently, John worked as an application engineer for a system integrator focused on the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. He joined Invensys Wonderware in April 2000 as a Senior Application Developer in the Product Marketing department. Shortly thereafter, John assumed the role of Product Marketing’s Functional Manager of Infrastructure. John Spent five years as a Domain Architect with responsibilities for architectural and functional definition of InTouch and ArchestrA technologies. For the past eight years, John has served in multiple product management roles for Schneider Electric HMI/Supervisory Control products.  



  1. Situational Awareness – The Next Leap in Industrial Human Machine Interface Design, by John Krajewski, Product Manager HMI/SCADA, Schneider Electric:
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