HMI Software - Different Tools, Applications and Solutions to Meet Your Needs
Introduction to HMI Software
HMI Software is commonly referred to as the development application that will be used to create the runtime application for an HMI terminal. It’s important to understand this distinction as we will be going over the HMI development environments used by PLC and HMI programmers to create the screens rather than the end-user applications you will see at the plant level.
Numerous HMI programming software solutions are found on the market. Although they aim to achieve the same result, different packages have a distinct advantage over others in terms of price, reliability, ease-of-use and technical capability. It is therefore possible to find the right solution that will fit your specific application if you spend the time to research all options.
Although you may want to ignore the hardware when choosing HMI software, it’s advised to consider the entire package. In fact, the terminals, as expected, have a price tag as well as quality associated with them. Certain software packages are capable of creating applications that will be cross-platform; others will be restricted to their specific terminals. The hardware plays an important role in the selection process.
High-End HMI Development Software
The most expensive, and future-rich software has been developed by the largest players in the industry: Allen-Bradley, Siemens, Schneider Electric and a few others. These tools are aimed at larger manufacturing facilities, come with extensive software development features and are very well supported by their respective developers. Let’s explore each vendor in-depth.
Allen Bradley FactoryTalk View Suite
FactoryTalk View Studio is a complete solution for small, medium, large and distributed applications. From within the development software, the user is able to create HMI solutions that will be used in stand-alone machine terminals (PanelView Plus Terminals), stand-alone industrial PC based terminals (Local Site Edition) and complete Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) HMI screens used across the plant (FactoryTalk View Site Edition / ThinManager).
The most utilized tool within this family is FactoryTalk View Machine Edition. Machine Edition, or ME for short, is the HMI software solution that will create runtime applications for PanelView and PanelView Plus HMI terminals. Although the hardware that is required to run these applications is typically more expensive than the alternatives, deploying these applications into the field is extremely simple. Furthermore, FTView ME is highly customizable and packed with features unavailable in most other HMI development packages.
Getting Started with FTView ME
The hardware used to run FactoryTalk View ME applications will contain the necessary elements to execute the application: database, alarm system, security permissions and more. However, you will have to choose a terminal that is appropriate for your application. For the most part, the options available for the end user will dictate the size of the screen, the presence of physical buttons and connectivity. It is important to note the small details aren’t noticeable to first time buyers. For example, the “Standard” HMI terminals will only be able to establish a connection to a single Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).
FTView Machine Edition will run on a Windows based computer. Additionally, the HMI software comes with external tools that are required for certain operations: ME Firmware Upgrade Wizard, Application Manager, ME Transfer Utility and more. Despite Rockwell’s effort in providing an all-in-one solution, the user must know how to utilize all the auxiliary tools in addition to FTView Studio in order to develop and deploy a working HMI application.
Disadvantages of FTView ME
FTView ME comes at a steep price tag which may discourage small to medium manufacturing operations from investing into this HMI software. Although it is robust, highly scalable and easy-to-use, it may not be the right solution in situations where price is a major driver. Furthermore, it may not be necessary to have such high reliability in environments which do not operate on a 24/7/365 basis.
FactoryTalk View Site Edition
The Site Edition variation of FactoryTalk View Studio is different. However, Rockwell has done an excellent job in keeping most of the design elements for the end-user exactly the same. Furthermore, there’s an easy migration path from ME to SE should a manufacturer choose to leverage the distributed solution.
FactoryTalk View Site Edition has two different versions for distribution:
- Local Client
The two variations listed above are utilized in specific scenarios and vary primarily in the deployment of the application. However, the development of the HMI screens that will be used on the end-user terminals will be exactly the same in both cases.
FactoryTalk View Site Edition is commonly used as a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) solution as the pricing model is such that it only makes sense in a larger manufacturing environment or one that is highly dependent on data. Therefore, it is much more common to see the distributed version of this HMI software rather than the local client implementation. Furthermore, the Network Distributed edition requires a server that will manage an array of services that will make the field HMI terminals much more capable and reliable. The most fundamental feature of the networked FTView SE deployment is that the HMI terminals become thin clients and can be easily swapped out.
FactoryTalk View Studio HMI Software Conclusion
FactoryTalk View Studio from Rockwell Automation is an excellent tool packed with capabilities and suitable in most applications. However, the tool includes an array of auxiliary tools that the end-user must utilize in order to deploy a full solution. Furthermore, the price tag may not be suitable for most smaller companies, system integrators and machine builders.
Learn More: FactoryTalk Software by Rockwell Automation
SIMATIC HMI Software
Siemens has developed a complete solution that incorporates all of their PLC development: TIA Portal (Totally Integrated Automation). However, the HMI software package was branded under a different name: SIMATIC WinCC. The two tools are closely linked as it appears that Siemens is doing their best to combine the two into a single solution.
Just as Rockwell, Siemens provides a range of application development solutions from within their tool. Small, medium and distributed SCADA applications can be designed and deployed from within SIMATIC WinCC.
Learn More: SIMATIC HMI Software by Siemens
Mid-Range HMI Development Software
As mentioned above, there are a number of HMI software packages available for in all cases. We define “mid-range” software to have less features than the packages above while still providing a solid foundation for HMI development for a manufacturing environment. The software packages within this category receive constant support from their developers, can be utilized in large scale manufacturing plants and typically come with a monetary discount over the Rockwell and Siemens solutions.
Ignition by Inductive Automation
Ignition is a Java based application solution that is typically used in distributed SCADA applications. However, as we had discussed in another post, Ignition can be easily used in stand-alone HMI applications. Furthermore, Ignition has released packages that make it easier for end-users to develop smaller applications at a lower cost.
Ignition can be downloaded for free and be utilized for a period of two hours without any restrictions. At the end of this period, the user can reset the trial in order to experience the features for an indefinite period of time.
Ignition Application Development
Every Ignition application can be developed from a single environment. Although this open environment creates a lot of flexibility in how an Ignition application is layed out, it creates confusion and complexity for those who aren’t used to these tools. A typical Ignition implementation requires the involvement of an experienced Systems Integrator to develop and deploy.
The tools within the designer application are similar to the ones you’d find in any other HMI software. However, Ignition has two sets of distinct application types the user can choose to deploy. One, called Vision, is typical of a traditional HMI; the user will design each screen, link the user between them and deploy the application to an appropriate terminal. The other type of application, called Perspective, is designed as a modern take on what HMI screens should have been. These applications are browser based screens that can be accessed through an IP from authorized computers, but more importantly, handheld devices: phones, tablets, etc. It is possible to develop an application that will incorporate both of these versions and takes full advantage of the features of each one.
Getting Started with Ignition
As mentioned above, Ignition is completely free to install and test-drive for non-commercial applications. This selling point has popularized the adoption of Ignition among control systems engineers, technicians and system integrators. We believe that Ignition is an excellent platform to learn HMI development, SCADA design and create fully-featured projects you can showcase in your interviews.
In addition to being free, Ignition University offers a series of videos that outline the features of the platform. If you’re looking to learn a platform that is gaining traction, is packed with features and allows you to test the full array of features without having to purchase a full license, we believe that Ignition is an excellent way to get started.
Unlike the vendors mentioned above, Inductive Automation does not distribute terminals that will be running Ignition. However, the platform is easy to deploy on a Windows or Linux based machine. In a plant environment, the distributed component of Ignition is hosted on a server which is deployed locally or in the cloud.
Learn More: Ignition by Inductive Automation
C-More by Automation Direct
Automation Direct is a brand that is typically known for it’s inexpensive line of industrial solutions. They’ve released a series of affordable PLC and HMI solutions along with their suite of HMI software development tools. Although these tools don’t come with nearly as many features that one would find in the Rockwell and Siemens packages, they may still be suitable in most low to mid range applications. If your system requires the user to start, stop and monitor the system status, you may choose any HMI platform; why pay a premium?
Getting Started with C-More HMIs
The HMI editor for the C-More HMI screens allows the user to create a simple user interface, multiple screens, and to link back to the tags of a PLC. The system is generally designed to work with a single controller and displays a limited number of tags. However, the C-More HMI software is completely free. The user can download a copy and deploy the applications onto Automation Direct terminals that support the tool.
If you’re familiar with any other HMI development package, you shouldn’t have any problem migrating to the C-Micro suite. The software is easy to use due to limited capabilities.
Learn More: C-more by AutomationDirect
EZAutomation HMI Solutions
EZAutomation is a manufacturer of PLC and HMI solutions that are seen in low to mid range manufacturing machinery. Their hardware and software solutions are comparable to Automation Direct. However, they seem to have been able to incorporate some of the high-end system features without raising the price on their solutions. One such key feature is the ability of online-edits. This isn’t something available even in the FactoryTalk View Machine Edition world; you must download and reboot the terminal.
Learn More: EZ HMI Software by EZAutomation
Wonderware / AVEVA Visualization Solutions
Wonderware is an industry leader that has been recently rebranded to AVEVA. Their visualization solutions have been used for stand-alone HMI terminals as well as full blown SCADA systems across the world.
Although SolisPLC doesn't specialize in Wonderware integration, there is a high demand for their ecosystem and plants all over North America speak highly about their software packages.
Learn More: Wonderware by AVEVA solutions
Low-Range HMI Development Software
There are a number of tools one may use to create an HMI application absolutely for free. Although these tools are practical for HMI development practice, we don't recommend that you deploy them onto a manufacturing environment. The reason is that these tools aren't as polished as the options above, aren't always supported by the manufacturer and provide little to no documentation due to their freeware nature.
Advanced HMI Solutions
The Advanced HMI suite of products features an easy to use HMI development tool that can be used to create basic HMI layouts.
Learn More: Advanced HMI Software
SCADAvis for Node-Red
Node-Red is a powerful tool that can be deployed onto a PC, industrial IoT device or otherwise. Paired with the SCADAvis tool, it can be used to create intricate HMI screens.
Learn More: SCADAvis for Node-Red
There is an array of tools used for HMI Development. Although it is up to you to decide which path you want to take, we recommend that you evaluate the application, as well as the long term goals of an implementation before deciding to a single platform. The most expensive tools will provide your organization with advanced features, but will come at a price. Furthermore, they will typically feature robust terminals compatible only with their software suite. Another plus side of a mature platform is the support you will receive from the manufacturer as well as the system integrators that work with their tools.
If you choose a mid-range platform, expect to have less customization and tools, yet greater cost savings. Many of the companies we've classified in this range provide an excellent service in supporting applications deployed on their platform.