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Web-Based HMI Proves Ready for Industrial Use

With Inductive Automation’s Perspective module, companies can have access to all the web-functionality tools they want while also linking to legacy systems.

Randy Otto

Technology suppliers have been promising a human-machine interface (HMI) utopia based around web technologies for more than two decades. The prospect of simply providing a web address to anyone within an organization that leads to a fast loading, full power supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system has been on most factories’ wish list for a long time. After all, internet page tools and functionality have far outpaced advancements in SCADA software over the same time. And when coupled with hardware developments like high contrast screens, enhanced touchscreen operations, and capabilities like Bluetooth, accelerometers, geolocation and more, a flexible, web-based option is something to covet.

What some users fail to understand about HMI systems, however, is exactly how tightly the software is connected to factory floor controllers. This connection via high security networks, VPNs, and masks, can be tricky to navigate, particularly when the architecture is intentionally complex to provide security. There is also the architectural complexity of software that can link to multiple databases and remote data sources, where gigabits of proprietary information stream into and out of the SCADA application.

Clients of ours at ECS Solutions (ECS) have seen these web tools and frequently request that we consider deploying them on their behalf. As such, it is our responsibility to stay abreast of these technologies so that we can make informed decisions, balancing risk and reward when building a solution. We believe that Inductive Automation’s Ignition Perspective module successfully answers the question: Are web-based SCADA systems truly ready for all the rigors of the industrial world?

Ignition Perspective is stable, modular, and extendable. The product runs on every major browser and operating system and couples seamlessly with Ignition modules that round out industrial applications such as reporting and alarming. Security is handled via standard but robust web tools, offering many ways to control and limit access, including options for SSL and two-factor authentication.

Perspective offers access to all the web-functionality tools that developers may want, while also providing a link to legacy systems. Inductive Automation has taken great pains to make this palatable to legacy industrial programmers. For example, Perspective functions without needing a Python, HTML, or Java programmer. By using the Perspective Workspace, there are also ways to access those tools if they’re needed.

ECS has been delivering Perspective solutions to clients for years now. Our initial deployments were based largely on applications like OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) and downtime tracking. These were more dashboard visualizations rather than control applications, but they allowed our team to test the development environment as well as the end user functionality. Once those proved successful, we expanded our offering to IT-based solutions that would have been quite a bit more complex if deployed in a traditional SCADA environment. One such application involved integrating card scan readers, thermal cameras, and physical control of door actuators to control access based on permissions defined in a security authentication system. These systems were combined to provide a comprehensive way of controlling who could enter the plant based on their credentials, as well as the results of a real-time infectious disease query—all with little interaction from the user.

We’re now examining cases for full industrial control using Perspective. For example, if a client wants to be able to access the software remotely on a regular basis or wants to consolidate non-factory-floor applications into an intermittently used SCADA machine, then Perspective is a great fit.

Working closely with Inductive Automation, our team members routinely achieve Inductive Automation's Core certification, which exposes them to legacy SCADA applications with Inductive Automation’s Vision technology as well as its web-based Perspective system.

Randy Otto is CEO of ECS Solutions, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about ECS Solutions, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.

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