The use of thin client technology for human-machine interfaces (HMIs) has been around for a long time. Typically, these thin client technologies rely on Microsoft’s remote desktop (RD) services. Although the functionality of Microsoft RD services is adequate for thin clients, the process can sometimes be confusing to operators, and the technology portfolio can be limited and inflexible once implemented.
In today’s modern age where a smartphone or tablet has much more processing power than that of a traditional HMI workstation—which still needs its own monitor, keyboard and mouse—demand for mobile control rooms and mobile HMIs is rapidly rising. This demand harmonizes operators’ desires to have technology at work that mimics that in their consumer lives. Clearly, there is a gap that needs to be filled to keep up with modern trends.
Packages that ease the integration and operation of a thin client enterprise are invaluable to manufacturers of all sizes. One of the more popular packages in the industry is ThinManager ( a Rockwell Automation technology). In this post, we’ll discuss our most recent deployment as a case study as well as the ThinManager platform’s benefits.
Most recently, Panacea was able to deploy a completely mobile HMI solution on bioreactors in the highly regulated pharmaceuticals industry, where expectations for reliability and resistance to change are both very high. The users immediately noticed the benefits of this system, however, because they were no longer tied down to an unmovable workstation. They could walk up to various reactors and—with the scan of a QR code—the graphic for the plant area or reactor would come up. With their mobile HMIs, supervisors could be in their offices away from the production area, or what used to be the designated control room, and easily check their area of responsibility. Using the platform, we were able to quickly spin up a dashboard displayed on a large-screen television in a common area for everyone to see high-level data.
Users have compared the experience of migration to mobile HMIs as being similar to what they experienced when they migrated their wired landline to mobile phones, as far as technology leaps are concerned.
One of the many things that separates ThinManager from the regular Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connection is that ThinManager can be easily integrated with mobile devices. This means that a tablet or even a smartphone can be used as an HMI with the download of an app and some minor configuring. Though there are several apps available that simply RDP to the terminal server, with ThinManager you can easily customize the session for each of the mobile devices. On top of this, the session that the device will get can even depend on different resolvers such as QR code and device’s location.
In addition, with an RDP app, the user would need access to the terminal server credentials to access the terminal server. With ThinManager, users do not need to know the terminal server credentials, which prevents users from using RDP from a potentially unsecure or unknown terminal to grab a session from the terminal server. On top of the decreased deployment times, ThinManager has several high-level differentiators, such as session shadowing, simultaneous sessions, robust redundancy options, and location resolvers to ensure the right users are getting the right access securely.
Many integrators have seen the value of moving to a mobile HMI solution to modernize thin client technology.From our standpoint, we have made it a priority to train all our engineers on how to deploy a good mobile platform because of what a technology like this can empower manufacturers to do. It’s our responsibility as service providers to deploy innovative solutions, and a robust mobile platform is a step in the right direction.
Vryan Constantino is lead engineer at Panacea Technologies, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Panacea, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.