Human-machine interface (HMI) software is continually improving, now providing IT and operations technology (OT) capabilities. Once confined to the role of machine and process visualization and control, modern unified HMI software now delivers better user interfaces, containerization, and remote device management — all wrapped up in a cybersecure package.

Modern User Interface

The new wave of HMI software, running on dedicated devices or PCs, is more attuned with the sleek development and runtime environments of modern smartphones than it is with the clunky interfaces of antiquated predecessors. Support for multitouch gestures — and native web technologies like HTML5, scalable vector graphics (SVGs), and JavaScript — is increasingly commonplace (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Siemens WinCC Unified HMI devices provide support for multitouch gesture recognition, along with web technologies like HTML5, SVGs, and JavaScript. (Credit: Siemens) thinkhubstudio/

This functionality gives developers the ability to customize and animate HMIs and the move from pixel- to vector-based graphics greatly improves onscreen aesthetics and machine visualization.

Configuration and Usage

Modern unified HMIs ship with pre-installed apps for viewing documents, watching instructional media clips, and securely accessing external Web-based systems. Additionally, native and third-party apps are available for purchase to:

  • Perform advanced production algorithms and calculations

  • Connect to data from multiple sources over multiple protocols including MQTT

  • Visualize historical data

  • Automate workflows

  • Manage inventory

  • Analyze machine and motor drive health for predictive maintenance

  • Create notifications and send alerts

Figure 2. Each app has its own container, hosted by a unified HMI’s docker. (Credit: Siemens)

Machine builders can use these and other pre-built apps or they can develop their own apps and open application programming interfaces. To increase compatibility, unified HMIs utilize a docker engine — running each app in its own container — greatly simplifying the management of application versions and dependencies (Figure 2).

Unified HMI software also enables users to establish and monitor production key performance indicators and to include this data in business process reporting.

Secure Device and App Management

In addition to new IT capabilities, unified HMI software utilizes common development and runtime environments across all visualization devices — control room computers, smartphones, tablets, panel HMIs, and other platforms — increasing development efficiency on the OT side. These visualization interfaces share a common library of application objects, SVGs, and scripts, reducing the time and money required to bring additional devices online.

Figure 3. The right industrial apps — like these available from Siemens — ease connectivity between the cloud and plant-floor devices. (Credit: Siemens)

Management of these devices is made simple through a Web-based interface independent of an OT automation project file, enabling storage of apps and licenses on servers. Furthermore, administrators can remotely deploy or update apps, apply security patches, and manage content of all unified HMIs across an enterprise (Figure 3).

Apps run in the background, full time with their hooks in the docker, independently of the runtime layer executing the classical automation project, so a change in app configuration does not impact HMI runtime. Communication among devices running unified HMI software is encrypted and HMIs can be configured for automatic system backup to prevent data loss.

Software for the Future

As an increasing number of enterprise-connected smart devices are implemented around the world, unified HMI software is providing modern graphical, connectivity, and IT-based features while maintaining the robustness manufacturers require from industrial HMI runtime software. These advances are improving machine performance, enabling greater profitability, and fueling connected enterprises through the Industry 4.0 revolution.

This article was written by Ramey Miller, HMI/Edge product marketing manager for Siemens Industry (Norcross, GA). For more information, visit here .