Is your HMI built for the future?

Posted: August 01, 2023

HMI and SCADA systems have been around for almost 40 years and are in widespread use today. You might be satisfied with the basic performance of your current HMI, but, with a slew of HMI software options available, it’s worth considering whether you can achieve better cost efficiency in the long term by going beyond basic HMI.

These are the five considerations I encourage plant managers to think about when evaluating HMI systems:

1. Advanced visualization and graphics capabilities

Just as important as the behavior of a user interface is the way users interact with it—how they maximize or resize windows across multiple monitors or how they zoom, pan, or use multi-touch functions. If it’s difficult for users to interact with your HMI, they won’t take full advantage of all its features.

You want to make sure you get all of the best graphics capabilities out of the box—including a world-class situational awareness graphics library, automation objects, faceplates, element styles and themes. Sophisticated graphics capabilities let operators get insights at a glance, easily identify anomalies, and respond to critical events in real time.

2. Future-proof development and support

Unlimited input/output (I/O) licensing can help your organization scale for future production growth. So, you should ensure that your industrial systems are built to handle it. You want an HMI/SCADA system that has been thoroughly tested to handle a large number of I/O points, so you avoid slow response times and other issues caused by systems that are not designed for unlimited I/O use.

The cost of ownership is not just the cost of designing and implementing a project. The real cost depends on how long the project can provide a return on investment while keeping your manufacturing facility competitive. A good HMI investment considers the “operational lifetime of a project”—how long you’ll be able to maintain, upgrade, and add new functionalities to the system.

3. Robust Security

A key question to ask any vendor: How much do they invest annually in security patches and ongoing hardening maintenance? Their answer will likely depend on the size of their install base. Proven HMI leaders with a larger install base are likely to be safer than smaller vendors that rely on open-source technologies, use third-party components, or employ Java, which has a proven higher degree of security vulnerabilities. Robust HMI security ensures that sensitive industrial data and operations remain secure from unauthorized access or malicious cyber threats.

4. Ease of use

Pre-configured demo systems can be vaporware. Any HMI system should be judged on its usability and day-to-day functionality—particularly the time it takes for both operators and administrators to perform standard day-to-day tasks. You want to determine whether people with varying technical skill sets can use the software to change configurations.

A surprising number of products make you enter the same information over and over again in multiple places. For example, you might need to manually type a tag name as part of the RTU/PLC program—and then again for a database configuration, as part of a report configuration. Such a system will not only be slow and difficult to configure but also likely to contain many errors.

5. Integration and interoperability

Cloud-first and mobile delivery are crucial to ensure that data flows seamlessly from the control room to the board room. Native cloud and web technologies harness the technical expertise of multiple engineering centers.

A supervisory control system that integrates seamlessly with manufacturing information systems also pays off. Companies are realizing that both of these investments only achieve their full potential when they work together.  

So, even if your HMI is working well with your current setup, investing in new technology can unlock big dividends in the future. After all, your HMI is much more than just a software license. HMI/SCADA is an integral part of a business—not just its operations.

See how AVEVA™ InTouch HMI (formerly Wonderware) can take you beyond basic HMI.

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