Surface Finishing Technologies Develops an HMI Solution that Opens the Door for Flexibile Customization Options
- When changing hardware, Surface Finishing Technologies (SFT) had an opportunity to rethink their current HMI development platform and explore more cost effective and inclusive options.
- Applications developed in InduSoft Web Studio offer SFT a customizable HMI development platform that allows them to offer customers more features without inflating their budget requirements.
- SFT has developed a huge library of screens and techniques that can now be used across product lines.
|Figure 1: The main screen opens automatically when the computer is powered up. The operator screens are made to be as self explanatory as possible and are arranged so an operator only has to access a few screens to operate the machine.
Metal coating and finishing technologies have become highly automated and technical requiring a need for precision equipment and advanced chemistry. Surface Finishing Technologies and its parent company Technic deliver specialty and cutting-edge machinery for electroplating, electropolishing and anodizing materials. Surface Finishing Technologies has taken advantage of the rich feature set in InduSoft Web Studio that allows the development of applications that offer their customers flexibility of features and support of a broad range of hardware.
Surface Finishing Technologies has been providing customized part plating machines, web plating machines, and semiconductor wafer plating equipment for a number of years. Over time, they recognized a need for more diverse and flexible hardware in their machines that might make them more competitive in terms of price and capabilities. With the need for new equipment, there was an opportunity to explore new HMI development platforms, and InduSoft Web Studio was among the software packages for SCADA/HMI development that Surface Finishing Technologies explored.
InduSoft Web Studio came highly recommended by Beckhoff, the maker of the hardware that SFT eventually chose for many of their control applications, and rapidly became the software of choice when developing HMIs for their plating machines, regardless of what controller platform is used.
|Figure 2: The “Map” screen opens by touching “Details” on the “Start” screen. It provides a more detailed overview of machine status.
While determining whether or not to make the switch to InduSoft Web Studio, SFT had several factors to consider. First, they wanted to avoid being locked into only one manufacturer of hardware. Instead, they required the flexibility to communicate with their machines even if they decided to change out PLCs, or use a customer specified controller. InduSoft Web Studio’s library of 240+ drivers offered peace of mind in knowing that support for the software would not be dependent upon using only hardware within a proprietary family.
In addition, SFT wanted to offer customers all the functionality they required, without nickel and diming them by being forced to add in the cost of additional software modules when customer requirements changed. Because InduSoft Web Studio offers all the available features in one package, SFT can offer their customers the capability to expand the range of functionality in their operator interface without a large additional cost.
Another trend that SFT encountered was an increase in customer requirements for data logging and the ability to visualize online and historical data trends right on the HMI. InduSoft provides these capabilities without extra modules or integration of third party solutions, which made it ideal for tackling this challenge. Similarly, InduSoft Web Studio offers integrated Recipe and Batch capabilities to support customer requirements for those features.
Once the machines at SFT were standardized on InduSoft Web Studio, a unique architecture was put in place to offer additional value to SFT customers. SFT installs the InduSoft Web Studio development platform on the same PC that runs the HMI. In addition, they install all programming software for the PLCs, servo systems, and any other equipment on that machine that needs software to program or troubleshoot. This means that if the customer has the skills to troubleshoot any problems, that they also have all the tools necessary to do so. In addition, in most cases, all necessary communication cables are already connected and in place to allow for immediate adjustments. This saves SFT valuable time in diagnosing problems and handling different revision levels on the runtime and programming software.
SFT also makes extensive use of remote control software running on a phone modem or, more recently, over the Internet to modify the machine control programs if necessary after the equipment is installed. Using this remote access, they can provide remote troubleshooting assistance to customers when necessary. This is especially beneficial when PLCs are involved; having the programming software on the machine computer means that there’s never a loss of control of the remote PLC during a program modification. There is no file transfer (directly into the PLC over the remote connection) and thus no risk that a loss of connection might lead to a loss of control of the PLC.
SFT implemented another feature that often acts behind the scenes but has proven to offer measurable benefits. As more customers requested data logging, SFT took this a step further and standardized this feature, along with trend charts for all process variables. This is now a default feature of all SFT machines. According to Kim L. Ground, senior controls engineer for SFT, “Many customers who never would have thought to request the trend displays have commented on how useful they are for diagnosing process problems. Probably only 25% of our customers actually use the data logs on our machines, but since our organization also sells the process chemistry, and even in many cases designs the chemical process for use on our electroplating machines, we are frequently called upon to help solve process related issues. In those cases, the first thing we do is download the data logs from the machine by remote control so that we can review the historical record of process conditions in detail and in the comfort of our office. Most chemical process problems are solved without the necessity of ever visiting the customer’s plant or interrupting their operations for testing or attempting to recreate the problem while someone is watching.”
||Figure 3: The operator can view the detailed settings for each process by touching the “Zoom” buttons on the “Map” screen. While operators can view the process settings, the ability to change them is controlled by having different levels of security for operators and supervisors
The benefits of standardization of machines to InduSoft Web Studio have made themselves apparent. Because InduSoft Web Studio is a more cost effective option than competing HMI development software, savings can be used to create more efficient HMI applications that deliver greater value to the customer.
The support available from InduSoft has also been a benefit for SFT. According to Mr. Ground, “The change was primarily motivated by cost considerations, but a very pleasant side benefit to the change is the very top quality tech support we get from Indusoft. It is such a pleasure to call for support and have someone there ask, ‘How can we help you today,’ instead of a robot voice demanding, ‘Please enter your current software support contract number.’”
In addition to support, the incorporation of InduSoft Web Studio into earlier machines has given SFT a constantly growing library of HMI screens and techniques that can be applied to other product lines. This helps SFT take advantage of the complete data logging, recipe, and alarm presentation and logging capabilities of InduSoft Web Studio.
Each piece of equipment from SFT is designed for a specific work piece and process, but all of the machines produced by SFT fit into a few basic categories that make an investment in creating a template HMI an attractive option. By standardizing controller code and associated HMI objects, it is possible to make the process of customizing equipment for a specific customer’s application a matter of assembling an array of these previously proven assets in the specific configuration required for that customer’s process. More standardization in the controller programs and the appearance and functionality of the operator screens also makes it easier for support people from other branches of the parent company to become familiar with SFT machines, and easily understand how to operate a customer machine that they have not seen before. Troubleshooting is simplified when service teams can examine controller code made up of standardized program modules. SFT intends to set development procedures in place to take advantage of a standardized system of HMI applications created in InduSoft Web Studio.
SFT has also seen a steady increase in the proportion of equipment sold to users outside the US, and with that trend comes increasing requirements for foreign language HMI or multiple language support on the HMI. In the future, SFT will be making greater use of InduSoft Web Studio’s built in translation capabilities. Another prediction from Kim Ground has to do with the ability to view screens remotely. “I believe that the future trend will be toward greater use of the ability to publish operator screens and information screens to users outside of the factory floor. While we and our customers have not utilized this feature of InduSoft Web Studio very much up to this point, it is good to know that InduSoft Web Studio supports this capability without the need for each remote viewer to purchase and install an expensive instance of the software just to view these remote screens.”
Figure 4: Most process variables have a trend chart associated with them. These charts are viewed directly from the HMI by touching a “Chart” button near where the process variable is displayed on the detail screens
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