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Control Engineering Article



Control Engineering Eaton Cutler-Hammer newsletter


Introducing PanelMate® ePro PS and ePro Canvas™
PanelMate ePro PS Operator Interface
-High performance, cost-effective OI solution
-8", 12", 15" display options
-Ethernet & serial communications
ePro Canvas Configuration Software
-Supports ePro ES and PS
-Easy to use and learn
-Features re-use and collaboration
Email to request more information.

Hybrid Operator Interface Devices Bridge Control and Information Needs

Electronic operator interface products are moving beyond simply replacing pushbuttons and pilot lights. With increasing demands on operators to support more complex processes, the need for more advanced graphic capabilities, process diagnostics, and communication with both plant control equipment and business systems is leading to a new generation of "hybrid" devices.

Since the 1970s, the use of electronic operator interface (OI) devices has grown substantially. Based on recent surveys, including a November 2003 Control Engineering Product Focus study, electronic operator interface use and adoption continues to grow. Early use of these devices was primarily targeted to pushbutton and pilot replacement, especially when machine complexity made use of traditional electromechanical devices too cumbersome for the operator. By using graphical OI devices, operators are provided with more options for machine control and status while simplifying the user interface, reducing panel space, and reducing wiring costs.


Limitations drive change

Advances in touch screen technology in the 1980s and the support for the many proprietary PLC and control network communication options has led to further adoption of electronic OI devices. Touch screen interfaces simplified user interaction with the many process graphic displays and support of network technology increased the number of devices supported by a single OI device.

However, support for network-based communication and the growing list of communicating control devices can be a major challenge for traditional OI devices. In contrast to PC and SCADA software-based installations, electronic OI devices have typically been built around proprietary designs and technology. Proprietary OI devices can offer rugged designs, optimized cost and size, and reduced maintenance and support, yet may restrict how fast new technologies, such as Ethernet communication, can be incorporated. To get around the limitations of proprietary OI devices, many users adopted PC-based solutions. The additional complexity and post-installation issues to support PC-based OI approaches proved problematic. Short product life on PC technology was not transparent to the end user and issues related to multi-vendor support of PC-based solutions often led to user frustration and post-installation support issues. Given the number of OI devices used in a typical industrial facility, deploying an industrial PC-based platform and corresponding SCADA software can be cost prohibitive even when not factoring in the maintenance costs.



Hybrid OI devices emerge

Although proprietary OI solutions are still viable, their limitations in dealing with today's automation strategies where more flexible machine designs, diagnostics, and plant-wide communication is needed requires another approach.


With the emergence of PDAs, smart mobile phones, and technologies such as Microsoft's embedded CE and XP software, there is a new concept in OI design: "hybrid" OI. Hybrid OI devices incorporate many PC and information-based technologies coupled with rugged designs and modifications to support the harsh realities of industrial application and use. Eaton's line of PanelMate ePro products is one such example.

Difference between an operator using a pushbutton control panel and Eaton's PanelMate operator interface.

The ePro OI products are built upon single-board computer designs incorporating embedded Microsoft CE.Net technologies for the cost-focused ePro ES line and Microsoft XP-Embedded technology for the more powerful and extensible ePro PS offerings. Both use a contemporary configuration tool called ePro Canvas. These products exemplify hybrid OI solutions by their use of: solid-state memory technology; stable hardware designs to reduce form and fit issues; and support of preferred interface standards such as USB and Ethernet.


By using embedded Microsoft operating system technology, incorporation of emerging technologies and features is easier and faster than what is possible with proprietary OI devices. In addition to the benefit of Ethernet communication to both control devices and business systems, these hybrid OI devices can now offer many SCADA-type options such as document browsing, advanced trending, and data collection without the complexity or cost of traditional SCADA offerings.



Benefits of hybrid OI


Hybrid OI offerings can often provide the balance in performance, features, and supportability required in the current manufacturing environment where total cost of ownership must be justified.


These products' ability to provide traditional machine control and status functions as well as integration with plant-wide MES and business systems can help address today's information-intensive manufacturing environment while providing the ease of use and support comparable to proprietary options. Advanced features such as document browsing can help address ISO processes and certification, while Ethernet communication offers the ability for remote configuration, data sharing, and plant-wide communication.


When reviewing your operator interface needs, hybrid OI devices should be considered on your list of options for their ability to balance performance and plant-wide integration without sacrificing supportability and ease of use.


For more information:

Jim Thorp
Automation Interface, Ltd.
2285 Clairborne Drive
Powell, OH 43065
PH: 614-431-5431

Toll Free: 866-451-1815

Email to request more information.

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