HMIs Put in Historical Context

Touch-screen technology and Windows CE become popular choices for European human-machine interfaces.

The Tower of London
The Tower of London

Public relations consultants often seem to follow the herd when choosing locations for their clients’ presentations. Emerson Process Management and its European PR consultants started the current fashion for historical locations early last year, when they hosted the world launch of DeltaV SIS (for Safety Instrumented System) at the Tower of London. Since then, we’ve found ourselves in a Cistercian monastery, founded in 1150, for last June’s International Profibus Conference, and only a few days later, at Penshurst Place, built in the 13th century and home to the Sidney family since 1552, for the launch of a new range of human-machine interfaces (HMIs) from Mitsubishi Electric.

Mitsubishi saw its sales in Europe grow by 12 percent last year to reach 1.13 billion pounds ($1.98 billion), with much of that growth coming from factory automation. UK Factory Automation divisional manager Roger Payne expects the market to slow in 2005, but he’s still predicting sales to grow by 1 percent. That’s despite the fact that “customers are getting smarter,” and showing an increasing willingness to go through “unofficial channels,” including eBay.

Touch me

The European HMI market is currently worth 250 million pounds ($437 million) per year and is growing at 4.9 percent compound overall. However, sales of touch screen products are growing at an impressive 15.1 percent and are expected to be double those of non-touch products in 2006, according to data from market researchers IMS. One of the key factors driving that market growth is the rapidly rising ratio of HMIs to programmable logic controllers (PLCs). That currently stands at 1:4 but is expected to reach 1:2 within two years, boosted by users retrofitting HMIs to existing systems.

Microsoft Windows CE is now the de facto standard for HMIs, so much so that “if you haven’t got it, you can’t play,” says Mitsubishi’s UK business development manager for PLCs, Hugh Tasker. Networking capability is also expected as standard, and customers are increasingly looking for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)-like functionality so that, “The dividing line between lower cost IPCs (industrial personal computers) with SCADA and HMIs is becoming increasingly blurred.”

Blurred lines

It’s going to get even more blurred with the launch of E1000, which is expected to further boost Mitsubishi’s 30 percent share of the UK HMI market. The range forms part of the Vision 1000 family, which also includes soft HMIs, PC-based SCADA and Manufacturing Execution System (MES) solutions based on Mitsubishi’s MX4 implementations of Citect Ltd’s SCADA and MES software. Built for Mitsubishi in Sweden and believed to be the first to use Intel’s Xscale RISC (for Reduced Instruction Set Computer) technology, the new HMIs are offered with 6.5-, 10.4- and 15-inch touch screens in three degrees of resolution. They come with 32 Megabyte of Strataflash memory, 64MB of Random Access Memory (RAM) and the potential to expand up to 1024MB via an internal CompactFlash (CF) card.

According to Tasker, one reason users choose to go the HMI rather than the IPC route is concern over security. E1000 runs a stripped-down version of Microsoft Windows CE.Net, which will not allow more than one application to run at a time and is therefore, it is claimed, largely immune to viruses and hacking. As secure as the Tower of London, in fact?

About the author

Andrew Bond, andrew@abpubs.demon.co.uk, is a journalist based in the United Kingdom, and is the Editor of the Industrial Automation Insider (www.iainsider.co.uk), a monthly newsletter delivered via e-mail .

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