Chirayu, what’s new in HMI software from Rockwell?
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 plays a critical role in the new world of manufacturing, as opposed to being an acquired component to configure the controller, the way it was before. 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.
How does HMI software, such as the FactoryTalk suite, work with your PLC programming systems?
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. That software includes Logix Designer, which lets you 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-gen platform. Traditionally we had an HMI design tool that was different than the controller design tool, but to create more productivity for 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 tag in the HMI database.
Is this part of an ongoing evolution of Studio 5000?
If you go back even four or five years, we’ve worked to make Studio 5000 more of a productivity tool. 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. 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.
How much easier is it for users to program HMIs or control software with these advances?
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.
Is there a lot of crossover between the PLC world and the machine control world, with machine controls like a FANUC or a Siemens?
FANUC is one of our partners. We’ve brought 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.
What are some developments from the recent Rockwell Automation Fair?
We announced our new analytics for machines and for cloud strategy: FactoryTalk Analytics will let OEMs 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.
It’s more of a solution for machine builders, using Microsoft Azure cloud. Equipment builders can use this when they deploy machines, and it lets them build in how they generate data and how to use that data to look at the performance of machines through their control program. It also lets them develop technology to enable users to transport data up into the cloud and efficiently store it.
We’ve developed a portal from the cloud that lets them look at this machine status via widgets. If you want to do side-by-side comparisons or look at a map showing where all the machines are deployed there are different ways for you to interface with this system. The intent is that you are able to monitor machine performance in real time.
How key is this to the IIoT and smart manufacturing?
We’ve been talking about our Connected Enterprise message and the strategy that we’re executing that’s built around this information layer. You’re looking for a secure environment that lets you 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 … control systems. We’ve also implemented best practices learned through our partnership with Cisco to improve our architecture and move data on a standard or modified Ethernet network. We’ve made a lot of strategic investments in improving our products, and we’ve gone after partners who have developed a lot of core competency in this space.