Case Opportunity: Customisable High-Performance HMI for SCADA
Published on: Aug 19, 2022

“Uhm, what’s a case opportunity?” I’m glad you asked. 

Too often in our interactions with people that are interested in Ignition, they have very conservative views about what to do – not because they don’t want smarter, more powerful solutions, but because they don’t know what’s possible in Ignition (more specifically, in Ignition when in our hands). 

So, we’re on a quest to show you the amazing possibilities you can have in your SCADA system, with real-world examples that we’ve successfully done for our clients. 

Opportunity

Users can customise their HMI to fit their specific needs and wants.

There are two main goals of High-Performance HMI: 

  1. Turn data into information.
  2. Draw attention to the most critical information. 

But before we jump into all the technical details, let’s look at the definition of High-Performance HMI.

– HMI means Human-Machine-Interface and is the front end of your SCADA solution. it’s the part the individual user or operator interacts with every day. 

– High-Performance HMI is considered the industry standard for an easy-to-use and more productive HMI. 

Never forget the human part in this. The human element of HMI should be at the core of how we design and implement industrial solutions. And because the human element sits smack in the middle, I suggest we add something important to the recipe: 

High-Performance HMI must give the users freedom of choice, foster curiosity, and shall contribute to building trust and cooperation. 

Thus, we have the recipe for High-Performance HMI:

Turn data into information, draw attention to the critical information and do so in a way that gives users freedom of choice, fosters curiosity, and builds trust and cooperation. 

Problem

Humans don’t change much over time, but technology does.

Our job is to use technology in the best possible way to achieve the main goals of High-Performance HMI design. And here’s the main problem: most industrial HMI doesn’t work following these principles. 

What if we could design and build an industrial HMI that follows the recipe for High-Performance HMI? 

That doesn’t happen today in most cases. Sure, there’s often a focus on parts of what I call the recipe. For example, you can find great information about how to turn data into information. 

But we are still far from the user experience in many digital services in our daily private lives. 

People are different. They have other preferences, different organisational roles, and various tasks. Organisations use statements like: “Our staff is our biggest asset”, but still, industrial HMI often follows the fundamental idiom of one-size-fits-all. 

The traditional approach is to define different user roles, for example, Operator type 1, Operator type 2, Engineer, and Administrator. But all users getting the same role, for instance, Operator type 1, will get the same HMI. I believe this approach is a problem because it fundamentally doesn’t acknowledge that people are different. 

The one-size-fits-all HMI approach is a problem and violates the idea of giving people freedom of choice and fostering creativity. We can and must do better than that. 

Causes

Why is it like this? Why do we so often see a one-size-fits-all approach to HMI? What’s standing in the way of High-Performance HMI following the above recipe? It’s not like I am asking for flying cars or the climate crisis to be solved next week.

As I will show later, we have the technology to deliver on the requirements. And the interest in the promises of High-Performance HMI is there. 

All organisations focus on using data in more productive and efficient ways. Similarly, all organisations aim for more creativity along with trust and cooperation. In short, on the surface, everybody should favour High-Performance HMI.

But the reality is different.

It begs the question: what’s going on? I think the problem roots back to three core issues: technology, tradition, and policy.

Technology is often an obstacle. We have the technology available to deliver on the promise of High-Performance HMI, but not necessarily in your industrial environment. There’s a lot of relatively old technology out there. Most brown-field automation solutions don’t support the recipe for High-Performance HMI. Whether it’s vendor lock-in, legacy technology, or any other technological limitation, the result is the same: you cannot deliver on the premise of a High-Performance HMI.

Tradition is also often an obstacle. When we showcase how HMI can look, we often get a reply along the lines of: “hey, dude, that’s not how this should look.”

We’ve seen all kinds of HMI, where it’s easy to determine how to make this more effective. But people got used to how it looks. And because of habituation, there’s a consensus about how HMI should look.

Policies can also be an obstacle. Sometimes there are strict rules around who should be able to see what kind of information. Or vice versa, there are rules that this type of information must be available to these specific users. 

More often than not, policies are the mere result of compromises made along the way. When the default is one-size-fits-all, it’s necessary to make numerous compromises. And policies tend to be the result of the least lousy settlement. 

Together, these obstacles hinder High-Performance HMI. And that’s a severe problem. 

How do we tackle these obstacles and move forward with High-Performance HMI to reap the benefits? 

Solution

The solution must deliver on the premise of the High-Performance HMI and overcome at least the three mentioned obstacles. We use Ignition from Inductive Automation as the software platform. And the task is to build solutions that support the recipe for High-Performance HMI:

Turn data into information, draw attention to the critical information and do so in a way that gives users freedom of choice, fosters curiosity, and builds trust and cooperation.

Inspired by app development for mobile devices, we created an HMI frame consisting of a dashboard and tiles. The following two images show the layout of the solution we propose.



Figure 1: Principles of the configurable dashboard





Figure 2: Examples of widgets for the dashboard.



We build the solution in the Dashboard Component in Ignition. 

In the background, we control three essential elements: Users, roles, and widgets. 

The widgets are the tiles in the dashboard, and the idea is that each user can configure the composition of widgets as per individual needs. 

Each widget effectively turns data into information for the user. We can bring alarming elements to each widget to bring the user’s attention to critical matters. And it’s customisable for the user allowing for freedom of choice. The flexibility of the tiles allows for curiosity, where the user can activate the necessary widget to dive deeper into a specific problem. 

Let’s look at how this solution addresses the three main obstacles to High-Performance HMI. 

Technology: we often recommend building solutions like this in parallel with the existing systems. With the transparent and competitive license price for Ignition, you can start small and develop from there. There’s no need for significant revolutionary changes. Instead, add Ignition to your existing setup and add something like this dashboard to create value for the daily users. Instead of being restrained by your legacy systems, add Ignition and start building valuable insight. 

Tradition: an HMI like the above will meet some skeptical comments from the users. It’s certainly not like “the HMI we normally have”. Despite such statements, we experience acceptance among users simply due to the value it brings to their work situation. The flexibility is appreciated and outperforms the reluctance to work with something different. 

Policy: the solution brings so much flexibility to the table. The solution contains control of the triad of the user, role, and widget in the background. This way, the dashboard is configurable, with a fixed section where we place role-depending widgets that cannot be customised. Do you need a particular type of information available to a specific group of users? Then add the appropriate widget to the fixed segment. Do you require certain information only available to supervisors or managers? Then add the essential role for that widget to be available. 

Using the idea of a configurable and customisable dashboard, we propose this type of solution as an easy, flexible, and affordable recipe for High-Performance HMI. 

It turns data into information. It draws attention to critical elements. And it does so in a way that gives users freedom of choice, fosters curiosity, and builds trust and cooperation. 

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