Without HMI interfaces, today’s increasingly complex machines are almost impossible to operate easily and safely. However, the individual programming of these operator interfaces is complex and requires a high level of software know-how. Ready-made HMI/SCADA solutions are an alternative. However, their use often comes at the expense of the individuality of the HMI graphical user interface. Modern HMI systems such as VisiWin from INOSOFT therefore combine both strategies, making it possible to create custom-tailored operator interfaces quickly and with forward compatibility.
For machinery and plants, digitization means more intelligence, more functionalities, more modularity. However, this also means that the machines are becoming ever more complex, while the requirements to be met in terms of interaction between the human and the machine are increasing at the same time. The human-machine interface (HMI) plays a commensurately important role in today’s development process: It is increasingly regarded as the hallmark of a machine and its manufacturer and represents an important differentiating factor on the market.
There are basically two strategies available for the development of an HMI application: First, a company can deal with the task completely in-house and program an HMI or SCADA application itself from the very outset. Second, there are ready-made solutions that meet requirements through extensive parameterization.
Those who program themselves have the complete freedom to implement their operating concepts and application ideas themselves. In terms of realization too, all technical doors are open, for example when it comes to programming languages or development frameworks. However, the programming requirements are high: You have to be fit in the latest programming languages and tools.
Although ready-made solutions require hardly any programming skills, the user is limited, among other things, in the graphical design of the graphical user interface. Suppliers must also offer ways of implementing additional desired functions, for example, providing corresponding APIs and interfaces that allow supplementation with additional products or the integration of new operating devices and operating concepts.
There are also significant differences when it comes to the administration of the HMI graphical user interface once it has been created, depending on the strategy. For instance, the “side effects” of an application programmed in-house should not be underestimated: This is because it needs to be continuously adapted to new hardware and updated operating systems and frameworks. The version management of in-house codes and the libraries used from third parties require particular attention. Furthermore, security must be guaranteed over the lifetime of the system.
For those who opt for a bought-in solution there is no need to worry about these kinds of problems, as they are for the provider to deal with. However, bought-in solutions are often proprietary and use manufacturer-specific data and interface formats. This binds you closely to the HMI provider.
An alternative for HMI development are hybrid software systems such as VisiWin from INOSOFT, which combine the advantages of both strategies: For standard functions they provide ready-made configurable modules and combine them with a high-performance programming environment which allows special functions to be individually designed.
Here, the preconfigured modules should provide an extensive integrated control and class library and also various UIs. Taking VisiWin as an example, it is possible to realize an HMI using both the so-called Classic UI and Modern UI (WPF) as well as using the HTML5-based Web UI in the web browser on different terminals.
A hybrid HMI solution also provides highly efficient support for team-based HMI development: Software experts first prepare the additional individually programmed functions. To do this, they work in Visual Studio, for example, and in the development tools it provides. The individually created libraries are then integrated as part of a custom-tailored modular system. This can then be used by experienced automation engineers to assemble the final HMI graphical user interface. They no longer need to program to do this, just parameterize the modules quickly and easily – and thus, for example, very conveniently customize the design, page navigation or templates. The actual extent of in-house programming or configurable functions is freely selectable. To continue with the example of VisiWin: In the standalone IDE of the system, the software expert can supplement the contents of the toolbox, templates for projects and views as well as object parameters or specify them completely by themselves.
This approach has already proven itself many times over in practice: For example, Manz, a medium-sized high-tech machine manufacturer, has been using VisiWin since 2016, where it is used on the machines of the Reutling-based company under the name smartSCADA, with remarkable success. The introduction of the HMI system allowed Manz to focus its own development capacities on special features – and to adopt standard functions as configurable modules. Since the users in the operative business at the company are generally not high-level language developers, the ease of use of the software was also important: For example, staff use “Drag and Drop” to create their own digital toolbox which is restricted to the relevant components for the respective job order in each case. This reduces the amount of installation work involved and considerably simplifies the processes in actual use.
Manz considers that one of the major advantages of VisiWin is the versatility offered, for example in terms of the platform-independence of the client types. The process visualization supports mobile and stationary terminals such as tablets, smartphones or classical desktop industrial PCs and is therefore also compatible with the various Microsoft, iOS and Android operating systems. Manz uses both the Modern UI and the Web UI: The Modern UI enables Manz designers to create an individual “machine face” using animated high-end graphics or high-quality designs. Manz is planning to use the Web UI to realize service diagnostics applications and image processing HMIs for various mobile devices. Both UIs provide the most important standard interfaces for control and standard features, such as the controller-independent OPC UA protocol, a comprehensive recipe and alarm system, authorization tools, multi-touch function, gesture control, style guide-compatible design options for the UI and much more besides.
VisiWin has enabled Manz to achieve a significant improvement in the efficiency of HMI creation without any compromise in terms of an HMI solution with an in-house individual “look & feel”.
When it comes to HMI graphical user interfaces, hybrid systems offer optimum potential, especially for today’s increasingly complex machine concepts. While standardized functions and designs can be parameterized quickly and conveniently without specialist skills, machine-specific special functions can be created by programmers and then in turn integrated by automation engineers. This allows individual solutions to be developed very effectively without having to compromise on a high degree of freedom in implementing in-house ideas. That not only streamlines processes and reduces costs, it also enhances the status of the HMI as the hallmark of the machine.
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