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Modeling, Objects & Graphics Please System Integrators

Latest Wonderware InTouch and System Platform releases up the ante in HMI and manufacturing software platforms with expanded ArchestrA technology, vector graphics and more.

Billed as being among the most significant announcements in its history, Wonderware’s new InTouch 10.0 HMI and System Platform 3.0 software will have a ways to go to live up to the billing. So Automation World interviewed three system integrators who have implemented systems using the new software. Is it significant? The results are pretty impressive.  

To begin with, the system is built upon a technology foundation called ArchestrA—sort of an orchestrated architecture. Added to that is a powerful object programming Integrated Development Environment as part of a new Wonderware Development Studio, and vector graphics that have designers drooling. The integrators all point to advantages of cost and development-time savings for them and the ability to get systems running more quickly with easier usability and maintainability for their customers.  

For those who have struggled to understand ArchestrA—the often-promoted new technology that forms the foundation of Wonderware’s new offerings—the explanation is actually quite simple. According to Dario Rossi, Chief Engineer at ASECO, in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, “The new Wonderware System Platform is a highly configurable, powerful plant modeling tool. With the Wonderware Development Studio, you can create models that represent systems in your plant without worrying about the specific details of the implementation of each system. Ten different valves, although all created by different manufacturers, can be modeled by identifying common attributes and using one object-oriented template to represent them all. Templates are then assigned attributes that connect the model with the real world. You use the templates to create objects; the objects are then turned ‘on’ (it’s called Deployment in Wonderware terms), and the data model comes to life, collecting real-time data from the plant. With the ability to incorporate scripting, security and data logging as part of each template, System Platform takes the concept of a ‘tag database’ into the 21st century.”  

Rossi continues his explanation by describing an object. “Take a valve, for instance. It has attributes such as open, closed, faulted. You create a template using these attributes in the Wonderware Development Studio. The attributes are the basis of the model, with which you can create QuickScript .Net scripts, activate security, log data and more. You can even add Visual Basic or Microsoft.Net libraries as required. With the new System Platform 3.0, you can also incorporate graphics into object templates. It is now possible to create a whole-scale object model: attributes, security, data logging, scripting, and now graphics—everything required to represent a physical plant object in software. ArchestrA-enabled tools such as InTouch and SuiteVoyager then let a user interact with the ‘live’ System Platform model, both visually in the traditional ‘touch screen’ sense, or with robust reporting capabilities.”  

Brad Wise, vice president of Business Development for Maverick Technologies, a systems integrator with headquarters in Columbia, Ill., says the company’s experiences using the beta versions of InTouch 10.0 HMI and System Platform 3.0 software proved the new products to be beneficial to both the integrator and the customer. “The new software is very user friendly,” Wise says. “Migration from older versions is seamless, and the objects are very powerful when it comes to scripting. InTouch 10.0 HMI is very organized in its presentation with an easy-to-recognize iconography and a workspace that was designed to maximize efficiency. In comparison to other HMI (human-machine interface) programs, this one allows for faster runtime changes.”  

Maverick will be able to deliver better-integrated applications to its customers faster—a benefit for both. “For example,” adds Wise, “having the graphics, which are mainly smart symbols, embedded as part of the object allows our engineers to port our standard object libraries to customers’ unique needs. This allows for a single object repository for graphics and objects, so we only have one system to maintain internally. This means there’s only one system for us to maintain and only one system for our customers to maintain.”  

The object libraries and improved Wonderware Development Studio will have great benefits for integrators and their customers. Wade Harsy, president of IPACT, a Valparaiso, Ind., system integrator, says, “Now we have the ability to use multiple concurrent developers in the same application by making graphics part of the ArchestrA application object. We can also warehouse all of the objects we develop, and the Wonderware Development Studio has tools to help in finding them for reuse in future projects.”  

Object libraries are not the only good things about the new development environment. The shared Wonderware Development Studio between InTouch HMI and System Platform software provides a single consistent environment for developing applications and graphics. The shared Wonderware Development Studio software, in combination with the ArchestrA graphics capabilities, provides a new look for the Wonderware System Platform, allowing it to be brought to the forefront of the solution set. Andrew Barker, technical lead at ASECO, says, “The new Wonderware Development
Studio has all the features of the last version of the ArchestrA IDE, but has improved significantly from a performance and usability perspective. Activities such as deployment, which traditionally take a significant amount of time, are much faster now. The InTouch integration is seamless with graphics integrated directly into the Wonderware Development Studio. Now you can draw a valve as you see fit and then use it in any InTouch application.”  

Adds Rossi, “The integration of graphics with custom properties linked to objects reduces development and testing time. This reduces time to get the final project to the end customer. It also can reduce the overall project cost and execution time.”  

Building these object libraries doesn’t exactly come for free. All those objects must be built before they can be used. Barker says that users must look first at an investment that leads to a cost reduction and shows a return on the investment. “You won’t see the cost reduction on the first project because you’re building a library; after you build the templates and libraries, then you should see significant return on all your later projects.”  

The same advantages that apply to the HMI also apply to manufacturing execution systems (MES). Mark Takaki, ASECO project manager and analyst, says, “MES users expect a data-centric type of user interface. With the new graphic tool editor, you can create grids and combo boxes for use and reuse on screens. The same thing for MES controls—the overall graphics capability makes it easier and more intuitive [for users] to read screens and relate what they see to their processes.”  

The ArchestrA technology advantage for developers and users is expanded through the use of the concept of a distributed Galaxy. As IPACT’s Harsy explains, “People have been used to silos of functionality. But with the move to object-oriented structure, the Wonderware Development Studio lets you organize objects within the Galaxy. The new version is more hierarchical, and users and developers can make better sense of objects that are carried out in InTouch HMI.”  

Harsy continues, “The Galaxy is a namespace—a collection of all the information about an application you are developing. This includes the logical elements, computations and the database of all information from the user—the entire line, plant or even corporation. Across the Galaxy, you create a namespace, and objects make associations under the hood. When you’re at the Galaxy level, if you want to find a temperature, it finds it no matter where in the Galaxy it resides, or [on what machine]. And if you move the data from PLC1 (programmable logic controller 1) to PLC2, you can still find that temperature. It’s an abstract model of the plant.”  

Further explaining the utility of the distributed Galaxy concept, ASECO’s Barker says, “The classic architecture in the personal computer (PC) world is client-server. In that case, all the information is on one PC and the data is served to clients. With ArchestrA technology, you can have 10 PCs that all recognize they are part of the ArchestrA Galaxy. They are all part of the distributed system platform. So, PC-A is aware of objects running on PC-B and vice versa. The model you construct and deploy is equally shared across all PCs in the galaxy; they can all read each other’s information.”  

Rossi adds, “This is great for scalability. If I have a ‘Line 1’ that has 20 valves, and I want to create a replica of that line somewhere else in the plant, it’s easy. Take the template for ‘Line 1’ and create a new instance (‘Line 2’) in the Development Studio. All the valves, configuration, data logging, the entire footprint is replicated. ‘Line 2’ can then be deployed on a new PC, or to one of the existing PCs in the distributed Galaxy. The beauty is that as you deploy a new PC, it recognizes its membership in the Galaxy—shared data logging, access to other objects on other PCs, it’s all configured at a template level. The intent is that you can model and run a whole facility with one common Galaxy, across multiple PCs.”  

One final value to the new InTouch software lies in the vector graphics. Says Harsy, “The vector graphics are good. Say I want to push a window out to your new iPhone, I don’t have to worry about re-creating the windows for it. The Vector graphics can reconfigure the window for the platform. I think we’ll see an evolution to smart handheld devices—we’re just cracking open that box—and this is how we can improve the platform to get that done.” 

Adds Rossi, “Real estate on the screen is a big challenge for systems integration projects. Getting important information to operators without cluttering the screen is key. The new graphic capabilities, such as transparency and dynamic resize, allow us to develop screens that make more effective use of the screen space. This will make it easier for plant personnel to focus on the real issues affecting their process.” 

Maverick’s Wise says, “Although adding the new generation of Smart Symbols (known as ArchestrA graphics) to InTouch windows forces new instances, it helps that every application object created can be linked to an associated ArchestrA graphic. Previously, instantiating from application object templates and instantiating graphical Smart Symbols were two separate tasks. Now it is just one task, which allows a less error-prone application and reduces engineering hours in development and testing.”

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