- By Doug Warren
- May 19, 2023
- AVEVA, Inc.
While HMI/SCADA technology is relatively mature, there is still a lot of room for innovations that benefit developers and end users alike.
PC-based human machine interfaces (HMIs) have been around since the 1980s, so there has been a lot of time for this technology to evolve.
Certainly, today’s HMIs have much improved upon their predecessors due to better hardware, networking, communications protocols, displays, and more. Robust connectivity has made supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems—which expand beyond standalone HMI capabilities—ubiquitous for decades. Most industry users probably have a highly developed sense of exactly what HMI/SCADA is and what it can do.
But due to recent innovations, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), systems integrators (SIs), and end users would be well served to revisit how modern HMI/SCADA has added capabilities that can drive efficiency and improve operator interactions.
An HMI that gets outside of itself
Classic HMIs were originally standalone PC-based desktop applications. Even as HMIs gained connectivity and could be deployed as fully networked SCADA systems, the user experience was delivered through PC applications.
But today’s user is equally comfortable using mobile phone/tablet displays, while high-performance wireless has unshackled users from desktop and control room form factors (Figure 1). Everyone already views and interacts with internet sites via web pages which are dynamically rendered on desktops, tablets, and phones as needed—so they expect the same level of functionality with their HMI/SCADA systems.
AVEVA offers HMI/SCADA platforms building upon a decades-long legacy, and enhanced with modern experiences such as extensive mobile access, complete scalability, and personal configurability.
For these and other reasons, modern HMI/SCADA also must be capable of being built and deployed based on a web architecture, whether the applications are accessed from one location or many. A web architecture facilitates user interaction from any target device. It also frees up developers to focus on the content to be visualized as they design with confidence knowing that the information will be rendered in the appropriate form and location needed by each end user.
There are still use cases for standalone application-based HMI, but in general end users of all types are finding that a web architecture unlocks the most flexibility and possibilities for developers and users alike, and a web architecture also provides superior performance in standalone applications.
Adding the personal touch to HMI
Another hallmark of traditional HMI is that configurations are relatively static, in the sense that once engineers and developers create and commission the visualization experience, the results remain fixed for years or decades, unless upgrades or capital projects are implemented.
This practice is understandable, and even necessary to best support core functionality. But users today are increasingly looking for ways to customize working environments to meet their needs. Consider a modern automobile. Some basics such as steering, shifting, and pedals for the accelerator and brake are available and mandatory. But modern cars are enhanced with user-configurable displays for phone and multimedia interfaces. In fact, phone and web apps are prime examples of software providing a base functionality, but with the ability for users to tailor the visualization to their needs.
Modern industrial HMI/SCADA software can support the personal touch for users by providing a workspace-type environment. Fundamental HMI elements are still configured by the designers initially, but end users can become “citizen developers” with the ability to drag, drop, combine, and share customized displays.
For example, an operator can create a screen that gathers information so they can fine-tune operations, while maintenance personnel can assemble a display with just the essential elements needed to help them troubleshoot an issue.
Expanding HMI capabilities
There are other opportunities to extend HMI beyond traditional constraints. Mobile device cameras, combined with QR code reading capability, empower new workflows where operators can easily access relevant information. Web widgets and libraries support standardized and efficient use and re-use of code elements.
Technical architectures should support complete scalability from the smallest systems, up to unlimited configurations, as long as sufficient hardware is deployed. Commercial models should be simplified so developers can focus fully on the application at hand, without worrying about tag- and screen-count constraints.
Unlocking the interface
Industrial HMI/SCADA has evolved into a very mature status, and it is important to remember the progression over the years, but that legacy does not preclude innovation. On the contrary, the accelerating performance of hardware, software, and communications technologies are making it possible for HMI/SCADA to extend in new directions.
For end users, SIs, and OEMs to excel in competitive markets—while differentiating their automation and equipment offerings—designers should seek out HMI/SCADA platforms offering web-based deployments, personal configurability, and more. When these technical abilities are combined with easy-to-use commercial models, it is truly possible to unlock new and improved HMI/SCADA interface experiences.
Images courtesy of AVEVA
Did you enjoy this great article?
Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..Subscribe