The Evolution of Human Machine Interfaces
By guest contributor Mick McCluskey, VP of Product Management, Enghouse Networks
Digital Transformation is top of mind in the Industrial market. Through Digital Transformation industrial customers are looking to cut costs, improve efficiency, and enhance functionality while delivering on the key attributes of safety, security, and reliability within the constraints of modern-day manufacturing environments.
Digital Transformation is particularly visible in the evolution of the Human Machine Interface (HMI). The HMI is now completely under software control and can be configured and customized to a particular user, role, or machine state. This new flexibility provides a tremendous opportunity for simple and effective user experiences. Building these simple HMIs for the industrial market can leverage modern software technology like HTML5 to deliver clean, easy-to-understand interfaces. Not all operating systems are optimized for robust performance in industrial embedded deployments and not all HTML5 browsers are optimized for such deployments. In this blog, I discuss the key elements necessary for the digital transformation of industrial HMI’s and present proven OS and browser technologies optimized for deployment in this segment. Together Wind River and Enghouse have demonstrated how the combination of our technologies can support digital transformation in the industrial market.
Key values sought by industrial segment customers
Driven by digital transformation there is a strong focus on advanced HMIs that assist with automating and enabling industrial machines. These HMIs are often touch screens and integrate multiple capabilities including control functions, monitoring, and video. This permits the user to pull in additional information and control functions required to act without leaving the machine workstation. Information accessed and presented can be local or remote, including cloud based.
Such flexible HMIs are found across multiple industry segments including industrial machines, medical, automotive, CE (e.g. printers) and many others (e.g. boats, airplanes). These HMIs permit industrial operators to identify status, gather information, and act. These interfaces often include all the capabilities required to understand status – including the integration of rich media like video. They also can incorporate all the information necessary to understand the implications of data – including access to historical/recorded information and other reference sources like user manuals.
To ensure these interfaces deliver the values sought then they need to:
● Provide a rich interface, which is easy to use and can seamlessly integrate multiple data sources both locally and remote.
● Offer a responsive and performant experience for users.
● Be capable of being easily customized and tailored for specific deployments to align with operational practices and automation roadmaps.
● There is a fast pace of innovation and HMI solutions need to support tailoring/customization for languages, deployment context, and price/function of the device.
● Support on machine interfaces as well as remote interfaces through mobile and web.
Problems with transitional approaches
When they are deployed on machines these advanced HMIs need to run on platforms which have constrained resources: RAM/ROM/CPU. They often run on a RTOS which may not support a wide range of APIs/functions. In the past, HMIs may have been created using C or C++ directly but in recent times the typical approach has been to build a native interface using frameworks and toolsets.
These toolsets and frameworks have been broadly deployed across the industrial segment and are optimized for high performance on platforms with limited resources. As HMIs become more advanced, these approaches create challenges.
● These are specialist tools and require specialized resources to develop and build which can drive cost and time to deployment.
● They can run on mobile and web platforms but they are not optimized for this so the development effort can be larger.
● They often require heavy (costly) integration to include web functions, video, remote data, and control.
● Integration and tailoring for specific applications or as processes evolve over time can be expensive and slow.
● There may be issues with GPL-licensed software when it is used for commercial deployment.
Why HTML5 changes the game
HTML5 is widely used across the industry for the development of web interfaces, and it has multiple standard interfaces to data sources like cloud data and video. It also natively supports the rendering of web content.
HTML5 can be used to directly address the issues of a custom or transitional approach to HMI development.
1. HTML5 is standards-based and has a massive international contribution community evolving it at a very rapid pace. This means that it is always current with the most recent standards and APIs making it fast and easy to integrate to web functions, video, remote data, and control.
2. There Is always a ready source of developers available as direct employees, independents, or vis contract agencies.
3. Interfaces built for on-equipment deployment can also be used for remote access on platforms like PC/MAC or mobile.
4. Initial integration is fast and easy, ongoing updates and improvements are also fast and easy to implement.
5. They can be quickly tailored for different models (Good, Better, Best) or different industrial settings.
Key values of the offer
Being able to build a performant HTML5 interface on scarce resource platforms has historically been an issue. The situation is addressed using embedded browser technology. Embedded browsers offer broad support for HTML5 while consuming the minimum amount of ROM, RAM and CPU and providing similar performance to native HMIs. Standard web browsers such as Chromium are not optimized for constrained environments and will either not run at all or experience significant performance issues. Enghouse provides an embedded browser (Enghouse Smart Browser) which is fully optimized for embedded deployment.
Enghouse has broad experience in delivering browser-based solutions to embedded applications and has been deployed on millions of devices supported over several years. The Enghouse Smart Browser comes with a highly flexible porting layer making it fast and easy to port to a new OS and SOC platforms and it provides a wide range of standardized APIs making it easy to integrate multiple data and video sources to the HMI.
RTOS’ are very popular in industrial control applications where safety, security, and certifiability become important. So having an HMI technology that spans both Linux and RTOS really helps customers maximize the return on investment they can get from their HMI project as well as provide options for deployment on smaller, more resource-constrained hardware.
Wind River VxWorks is the most widely deployed RTOS having been in the market for over 30 years. Wind River VxWorks allows you to confidently deploy embedded and safety-critical applications on a proven software foundation. From medical infusion pumps to the Mars Rover customers continue to trust and rely on VxWorks as the RTOS for their innovative solutions. And of course, VxWorks retains its hard real-time, determinism, the performance that you need, meeting the most stringent industry safety regulations.
Real-world solutions we have jointly created
Wind River and Enghouse have now implemented solutions which have ported the Enghouse Smart Browser to both Wind River Linux and Wind River VxWorks operating systems. These have been deployed on NXP and other leading vendor chipsets. Some of the details of a recent integration are provided as a case study below.
The customer is a leading manufacturer of industrial machines for global deployment. These machines require advanced HMIs which can integrate data, actions, media, and web sources on the screen. Deployments are typically integrated and tailored for specific deployments, so simplicity and flexibility of integration and tailoring were important. The customer offers a range of models from high to low end and the same HMI needs to run on each. The customer wanted a highly graphical and performant HMI.
Wind River / Enghouse solution
The hardware / operating system platform was:
● SOC: NXP i.MX8 Family
● VxWorks 7 for Arm 64 bit
● ROM (allocated for browser) – 100MB
● RAM (allocated for browser and browsing based on applications) – 250MB
● Graphics OpenGL ES 2.0
Supported HTML5 features/extensions:
● Standard HTLM5/CSS
● MP4/H.264 video playback
● RTSP streaming playback of H.264 video and Motion-JPEG
● Multiple video playback
● Support 3rd party font engine
Enghouse provided their Smart Browser for rendering HTML5-based HMI. The HMI supports:
● View of local and remote data
● View of PDF documents
● View of web pages
● Control / actions
● View of live cameras
● View of cloud-recorded camera feeds
High-Level System Architecture Diagram
This customer now has an HMI which is standards-based, easy to develop and integrate/customize over time. The interface incorporates multiple data and video feeds enabling the operator to understand very quickly what is happening and act as required. Multiple local, cloud and web-based resources are available at the HMI for the machine operator – ensuring they make the right decisions in the fastest time.
To find out how the Enghouse Smart Browser can enable digital transformation for your industrial solutions, visit:
To find out more about the Wind River solutions for digital transformation in the industrial segment, visit:
*Article originally published at Enghouse Networks.