New HMI/SCADA Version Uses Simpler Graphics to Help Improve Operator Performance

GE issues new versions of iFIX HMI/SCADA and Historian aimed at enhancing plant productivity and simplifying plant operations and operations data analysis.

New HMI/SCADA Version Uses Simpler Graphics to Help Improve Operator Performance

An iFIX screen from the high-performance human-machine interface (HMI) is designed to help increase operator efficiency through effective design using fewer colors. The screen shown uses mostly gray-scale colors and has an alarm card with bright icons related to severity. The net objective is to help operators easily recognize and understand information.

Interested in Instrumentation?

Get Instrumentation articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Instrumentation + Get Alerts

It’s hard to imagine operating a water or wastewater plant without a modern SCADA system. But what SCADA characteristics help operators keep their facilities operating at peak efficiency? What helps them understand when something happens that needs attention?

GE Digital has considered those and other questions in creating new versions of its iFIX human-machine interface/SCADA technology and Historian. The new iFIX 6.1 follows the latest design standards to create a user interface that helps operators easily prioritize critical alarms and substantially enhance plant productivity. It also incorporates the latest interoperability standards so that it runs across a variety of hardware platforms and operating systems.

Meanwhile, the new Proficy Historian 8.0 is designed to improve security and ease of use and enhance performance. It includes features that let operators access data about assets such as pumps and motors without knowing the technical intricacies of SCADA. Scott Duhaime, iFIX product manager, and Steve Pavlosky, Historian product manager, talked about the new versions in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What would you consider the core strengths of your technologies in this realm?

Duhaime: iFIX and Historian are intertwined; we provide them as a package. We have a fairly broad base of customers in water and wastewater. Our HMI/SCADA system is noted for flexibility. It can go from very small deployments, such as on a single PC for a pump station, on up to large cities. We also support industrial users of water.

TPO: How do the different components of this technology fit together?

Duhaime: Think of SCADA as the engine. The SCADA scans the PLCs, and when parameters fall outside expected limits, it creates an alarm, which the operator reacts to. The HMI is the visualization side. Our HMI has a lot of flexibility. Our screens can go from a simple picture of a pump station or tank, to a dashboard overview, all the way down to nitty-gritty detail. Once the parameter values are captured, that’s where Historian comes into play. The values can be played back on the HMI screen or used for purposes such as analytics and regulatory reporting.

TPO: What is significant about the new offerings?

Duhaime: On the HMI side, from an operator’s perspective, what’s new is a focus on standards, one of which is the ISA 101 high-performance HMI standard. That has nothing to do with how the computer performs; it’s about making operators high-performing.

TPO: How is that accomplished?

Duhaime: It’s done by using basic graphical packages and basic colors. Historically, HMIs are very colorful and detail oriented, so it’s pretty complicated to get newer operators trained and running on them. They’re good for people who have been looking at SCADA for 20 years, but newer operators need to be trained quickly to know exactly what they’re looking at. One of our focuses is on providing high-performance graphics.

TPO: Can you describe what is meant by high-performance graphics?

Duhaime: In the HMI world, screen designers and controls engineers doing screen layouts have believed that putting as much information on a screen as possible was the right way to go. But research has shown that those cluttered screens can hide key elements that operators need to focus on. So on our HMI, operators see a more muted color palette. They see much less information on a given screen — only critical pieces of information that help them respond to and interact with the equipment.

TPO: Does your system use, for example, a green/yellow/red color pattern to create easy visualization?

Duhaime: We’ve moved away from that in part because many operators are men and a high percentage of men are color blind; they see red as brown. We use more of a gray-scale approach. There are only 16 colors on the high-performance graphics. And it’s not just color that we present to the operators. We may present a shape, a color and maybe a number so they understand what’s going on. The screen generally starts with a dashboard. Then there’s a drill-down to the next layer.

TPO: What is the ultimate goal of this approach to design?

Duhaime: The overall goal is maximize machine uptime and eliminate operator errors. An operator can make mistakes for various reasons. One is they’re looking at a display that’s so busy that they can’t interpret the situation quickly and they make a bad decision. The high-performance HMI standard is really about enabling operators to make the right decisions quickly.

TPO: What are the highlights of the new Historian offering?

Pavlosky: Part of the concept of the high-performance operator is the use of web-based technology. We’ve built a product called Operations Hub that overlays our HMI/SCADA and Historian offerings so mobile operators can interact with the system. Without knowing the inner workings of SCADA, they can look at the key performance indicators of a filtration unit, for example. And they can easily display trends or tabular data or build dashboards to represent that data. This information can display on a PC, tablet, smartphone or smartwatch.

TPO: Why is this capability important?

Pavlosky: Our focus is on enabling customers to derive value from data that’s being stored. Nobody gets value from storing data. They get value from analyzing or reporting on that data.

TPO: What else is new with this latest version of Historian?

Pavlosky: We’ve built in some powerful capabilities that allow users to interact with the data and share context around what is happening at a given time. For example, suppose an operator queries data associated with a pump and sees something odd with the revolutions per minute. That operator can make a comment or annotation that will be stored in Historian. Now when anybody else looks at that pump’s data, that comment will be displayed.

Another capability we offer as a subscription-based service is cloud-based analytics. We have reliability analytics for many rotating assets, pumps being an important one in the water industry. That’s a value we see a lot of municipalities taking advantage of in the future.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.