Manufacturing Engineering: What’s new in HMI software from your company?
Chirayu Shah: Our software covers any of the HMI software that runs on our industrial panels, our industrial computers and distributed HMI, which is more of a server-based offering that runs on standard industrial data servers. So our HMI software spans the operator level to supervisory level control, in terms of plant environment.
The HMI software obviously plays a very critical role in the new world of manufacturing, as opposed to being an acquired component to configure the controller, the way it was previously. When you compare a lot of control and HMI vendors, our software has served as a differentiator for our customers and what tools they choose to use. It goes without saying that the HMI becomes a key integral part of the decision-making process.
ME: How does HMI software such as the FactoryTalk suite work with your PLC programming systems?
Shah: We do differentiate between an Allen-Bradley PLC 5 or ControlLogix control programs, and how we interface with them and the firmware that’s associated with it, versus HMI control software that is more a user interface to a machine. I support the HMI user interface software, as opposed to the design software that interfaces with the controller.
ControlLogix is our preferred control platform for large control systems; to configure ControlLogix, we have a software called Studio 5000, which has multiple dimensions to it. That software includes Logix Designer, which allows you to write ladder logic or function blocks, or use other editors we offer to configure your controller. The Studio 5000 software also includes View Designer software that allows you to build HMI applications for our next-generation platform. Traditionally we had an HMI design tool that was different than the controller design tool, but to create more productivity for our users, we’re combining those editors so you can do things like configure a tag in the controller that can be referenced in the HMI without duplicating the same tag in the HMI database.
ME: Is this part of an ongoing evolution of Studio 5000?
Shah: If you go back even four or five years, we’ve made a very focused attempt at improving Studio 5000 to be more of a productivity tool for our customers. We’ve done a lot of work in trying to simplify the design environment as well as integrating with other sources. Last year we created more of an integrated environment with the View Designer launch that supports the new 5500 family of HMI panels. The same principles are applicable in our current platforms as well. If you use our FactoryTalk View Site Edition HMI platform, you can leverage the same benefits. We’re able to extend that same technology to the controller. What we’ve done is taken the strength in the controllers and expanded it. Modern controllers have a lot more horsepower for dealing with a lot more information, as opposed to the limited footprint capacity that they used to have with earlier controller technology.
ME: How much easier is it for users to program HMIs or control software with these advances?
Shah: I’d say we definitely made it simpler, so that you’re not duplicating efforts. If you are an engineer designing the screens or content, you’re now able to repurpose a lot of the work you’ve done on the control side. For example, if you’re designing an alarm in the HMI, now you can reference the definition of an alarm directly from the controller, so you don’t have to reconfigure that alarm in your HMI system. When alarms occur, they’re not only available directly in your HMI without a lot of configuration, but it’s also more accurate because now the PLC is providing the time stamps and controlling the floor’s alarms so they don’t get out of sequence and accuracy is retained. So there are more benefits than just design time productivity because again, PLCs have gotten a lot stronger and they’re now able to process a lot more.
ME: Is there a lot of crossover between the PLC world and the machine control world, with machine controls like a FANUC or a Siemens?
Shah: FANUC is one of our partners. We’ve brought in their machine profiles into our PLCs so we can interface them natively as a third-party device. Now the industry as a whole has more or less adopted OPC [OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) for Process Control] as a standard so if you’re interfacing with a mixed environment, whether you have Rockwell, Siemens or other systems, your information-layer products can interface with a lot of these different, disparate systems because they all talk the same OPC protocol.
It’s very typical for some of our large customers with large complex plants to have multiple systems from multiple vendors, because an OEM had a preference for a particular vendor. If you’re using our systems, there are native benefits provided by the integration within our architecture, but OPC-type common protocols allow some level of communication as well, so you don’t have to replace everything.
ME: What are some developments from the recent Rockwell Automation Fair?
Shah: At Automation Fair, we announced our new analytics for machines and analytics for cloud strategy. We have a branded product, FactoryTalk Analytics, that will allow OEMs to create an out-of-box solution. Using our control system, they will be able to collect data from machines and visualize their performance through a common corridor in the cloud, regardless of where the machines are deployed across the globe.
It’s more of a solution for machine builders, using Microsoft Azure cloud. Equipment builders can use this when they deploy their machines, and it allows them to build in how they generate their data and how to use that data to look at the performance of those machines through their control program. It also lets them develop technology to enable users to transport that data up into the cloud and efficiently store it.
We have developed a portal from the cloud that allows them to look at this machine status via widgets. If you want to do side-by-side comparisons, or if you want to look at a world map showing where all the machines are deployed, there are a lot of different ways for you to interface with this system. The intent is that you are able to monitor machine performance in real time, so as you’re providing warranty support to your customers, as OEMs would, you’re able to monitor those systems and reduce maintenance costs—you don’t have to send people locally to collect data from those machines, because you have that real-time information available to you.
ME: How key is this to the IIoT and smart manufacturing?
Shah: If you listen to our leadership, we’ve been talking about our Connected Enterprise message and the strategy that we’re executing that’s built around this information layer or IIoT or Manufacturing 4.0—you pick any of those initiatives that are across the globe, China 2025, they all pertain to the same thing. You’re looking for a secure environment that allows you to take data from shop-floor devices up to central sites and analyze them through enterprise-level tools.
We’re working to deliver this content, and we’ve improved our architecture with high-performance control systems. We’ve also implemented the best practices we have learned through our partnership with Cisco to improve our architecture and move data on a standard or modified Ethernet network, accessing that data through the cloud using the Microsoft Azure platform. We’ve made a lot of strategic investments in improving our products, but we’ve also gone after partners who have developed a lot of core competency in this space, and partnered with them to deliver more of a well-rounded solution to our customers.
ME: Are partnerships really the key to success here?
Shah: The reality of it is the software itself has gotten very complex, the systems are complex, and everybody has their own core competency. On our own, if we try to figure out all the best practices in cybersecurity threats and network infrastructure, we could probably arrive at that point, but wouldn’t we want to use Cisco’s leadership in that space? So we’ve leveraged expertise, but we also understand that partnership alone is not sufficient, because then it becomes an exercise of just connecting the dots in the architecture. We wanted to take a step forward and build technology within our systems that enable a much-better integration. When you look at our control system and advanced architecture, you can see the advancements that we’ve made to enable it house more data and process more data from a controller, from a previous generation to now, having 10 to 20 times more performance, which gives us the ability to deliver more content to our users.
Big Lever Software (Austin, TX) has launched an updated version of its product line engineering (PLE) solution with its new onePLE, which is said to be a holistic solution enabling organizations to achieve competitive advantages by freeing up more time for product innovation and rapidly sharing innovations across a product line portfolio.
Big Lever’s onePLE helps remove engineering complexity and streamlines the creation, delivery and evolution of a product line. The solution combines Big Lever’s PLE technology and methods with the business strategy and organizational change needed to accelerate PLE adoption.
“Organizations are being pushed to the edge of their capability by the exponentially growing complexity of today’s products and how they are engineered,” said Charles Krueger, BigLever Software CEO. “As engineering teams are increasingly consumed by the mundane tasks of managing this complexity, the opportunity for creating and fully leveraging new product innovations is often lost.”
The underpinning of BigLever’s PLE approach is the creation of a “PLE Factory,” which is much like a typical manufacturing factory except that it operates on digital assets rather than physical parts. PLE allows an organization to create a “superset” supply chain of digital assets that can be shared across the entire product line. These digital assets are equipped with all the feature options offered in the product line. The PLE Factory is an automated production system that assembles and configures these shared digital assets based on the features that are selected for each product variation.