Operator control and monitoring with "second screen"

Technical apps extend the possible applications for HMI panels and SCADA systems

IEE - Elektrische Automatisierung 4/2014, Author Marcel Roske

Whether at home or in the factory, tablets and smartphones are handy and useful devices. These devices, that are used on the couch as a "second screen" when watching TV, offer genuine added value in the industrial environment, thanks to special apps. Within the scope of Simatic apps, Siemens has already published very successful apps for the S7 series of controllers and the Logo! controller. Now two new apps are supporting users at machine-level operator control and monitoring and in process visualization.

Whereas aspects such as entertainment and convenience play a more dominant role in the private use of such "second screens", a mobile human-machine interface (HMI) has long been a requirement in the industrial environment, arising from the demand for the maximum possible productivity and availability. "For high productivity and efficiency, it is important to have the latest information available as text or graphics at as many locations in a plant as possible", says Ralf Klößinger, product manager for Simatic Apps at Siemens. "For this reason, we offered corresponding solutions for devices such as laptops or mobile panels at a very early stage. We see the topic of apps for machine-level operator control and monitoring or the visualization of processing plants not as a the latest hype, but as a logical further development of our systems that, as ever, are serving an industrial need."With corresponding consistency, Siemens is accompanying the increasing spread of mobile terminals such as smartphones and tablets in the industrial environment and has begun, at an early stage, to develop apps for specific industrial applications. "At first, we identified suitable applications – partly from our own investigations, but also in dialog with customers and partners – and then extended our range step by step", adds Florian Titz, also a product manager for Simatic Apps at Siemens.

Up-to-date information at every location and whenever required

The important thing for the efficient industrial use of apps is that users quickly receive the "right" information, i.e. information that is up to date and exactly what they are looking for, and that the apps are as easy and intuitive to operate as possible. The actual set of functions of the existing application must therefore be reduced and made available as a bundle – this applies in particular for a complex subject such as operator control and monitoring in industrial plants. These differences become clear when comparing two Simatic apps recently launched by Siemens in the field of visualization: "Our "Simatic Sm@rt Client App" was developed specially for machine-level operator control and monitoring. With this app, operators or service personnel can operate and monitor our HMI panels for Simatic, e.g. the "Comfort Panels", using a smartphone or tablet. The app should give users the impression that they have a familiar HMI device in front of them – and for this reason, we not only display the screen content in the app, but also the complete panel layout including the hardware pushbuttons on the front of the device, so that with our app you can actually operate the panel and the machine or plant", explains Florian Titz. The second app, Simatic WinCC OA Operator, has been designed for monitoring and controlling large-scale or widely distributed plants. "If you want to call up performance data of individual units in a wind farm, for example, you often need different information than you would require in the normal control room – for example, you want to know where a fault has occurred, relative to your current position. For this reason, the app also contains a map and corresponding localization functions", he adds.

The two apps for visualization and operation supplement the existing range of technical apps at Siemens. With the "Simatic WinCC Sm@rtClient App" in combination with the "Simatic WinCC Sm@rtServer" option, users on the move can operate and monitor HMI devices via Industrial Ethernet and WLAN. This makes the app the perfect supplement to the HMI Comfort Panels. The corresponding station delivers its pictures to the app by means of the Sm@rtClient concept. The station assumes the function of a server, while the smartphone/tablet assumes that of a client. The user of the client can optionally be in "view only" mode or can perform a "coordinated operation", for which only one user at a time has the operating rights activated; in other words, either the operator station with a server function or the client app. In addition, the app offers a simple configuration of connections by automatically recognizing the HMI panel.

The mobile app "Simatic WinCC OA Operator" permits the monitoring and control of a plant with a smartphone/tablet and should simplify the support of distributed or wide-area plants. The app can easily be configured using a wizard in the "WinCC OA" SCADA system. As a wealth of information can be utilized, especially for the process visualization, the app offers numerous functions with which users can put together the values and data of interest to them. Various widgets can be placed on the homescreen and, in addition, the last alarm and the two most important process values are displayed.

Furthermore, values and commands for supporting the plant can be compiled in user-defined lists. Users can also have trends of individual values displayed with data compression and updating and, thanks to a screen with filter and sorting options, they have access to all current alarm messages. Here too, as already mentioned, they have the use of a map with defined plant locations and filtered alarms in each case.

Criteria for the use of smart devices and apps in industry

Essentially, four scenarios of use can be identified in the industrial environment, in which a mobile device with the appropriate app represents a logical addition to existing systems. Ralf Klößinger: "Our industry apps concentrate on applications in commissioning, servicing, plant operation, and general support. Initially there were apps with which we supported the user with information on our products and systems." In the next stage, we then developed apps that interact directly with the automation products such as controllers or HMI panels. "By this stage at the latest, the user should generally be thinking about the topic of IT security and plant safety", points out Ralf Klößinger. "As a supplier, we ensure that our apps deliver the appropriate security functions – such as the topic of authorizations by means of user administration with roles and rights and corresponding interlocks that prevent simultaneous access by two people to one device or plant unit. Cell phones and smartphones, however, are only half the story. It is just as important that companies have a secure infrastructure for these devices – encrypted and password-protected networks, defined roles and rights for employees – as well as a clear ruling on who may do what in the plant and with which device. Meanwhile our industrial clients have been made aware of this issue and we are supporting them with corresponding offers for protecting their plants against unauthorized access, or even targeted attacks."

Positive response from users

Once the corresponding conditions have been established, the apps offer genuine added value in their everyday use by engineers and operating personnel. That is what Ralf Klößinger regularly learns in discussions with partners and customers, for example, at trade fairs: "The feedback on our apps borders on elation – and our download figures are also something to be proud of. For our teams of developers that is a further incentive to expand and improve our range of products."

"Apart from the ongoing development of the range, Siemens is also concentrating at present on offering the apps already developed for the two most widely used platforms: Android and iOS", explains the product manager, adding: "In addition, we will always also offer a free "lite" version for the fee-based apps such as "Simatic WinCC Sm@rtClient", so that users can try out the basic functions of the app and decide for themselves whether it is worth investing in it for their application. After all, apps are useful little applications that should make life easier for our customers and partners – at no great expense."

Apps supplement automation and drive solutions

"Second screen" for industry: "With Simatic apps, users will in future be able to work faster and more effectively on many typical tasks in and around machines or plants," asserts the Simatic Apps product manager. "Apart from the basic acquisition of information, we support fast, flexible and simple commissioning, maintenance and diagnostics and, not least, the operation of the plant. Our new HMI apps demonstrate that even more complex tasks can be implemented in an app, thereby ensuring useful assistance to the personnel on site in the plant." Smartphones and tablets will thus become a valuable supplement to automation and drives technology. The two Siemens experts still see limitations in the robustness of the devices, which were, after all, designed originally only for private or office use. Furthermore, the limited scope of performance of the mobile devices will ensure that industrial PCs and panels remain the first choice when equipping plants.

With the "Simatic Sm@rt Client App", an operator or the service personnel can operate and monitor HMI panels for Simatic, e.g. the "Comfort Panels", using a smartphone or tablet in the same way as with a conventional device