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HMI selection

Seeing the bigger picture
Pitfalls and opportunities in the selection of HMIs

HMIs are now without a doubt one of the essentials of any modern manufacturing, processing or exploration application. We talked to Patrick Neuhalfen, associate product line manager at power management company Eaton, about the pitfalls and opportunities when it comes to selecting HMI solutions, and the added value that specialist suppliers can bring.

With the advance of Industry 4.0 and the colossal levels of connectivity derived from Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) hardware, it can be argued that data is now industry’s single most powerful tool. But without an efficient means of collecting, analysing, deciphering and then – most importantly – presenting this data, all the gains from a connected infrastructure are for naught.

Patrick Neuhalfen, associate product line manager for HMI at Eaton, which includes the Gecma workstation range, explains: “Increasing automation and data capture in
industry has resulted in a far greater use of human machine interfaces, but there is no ‘one size fits all’, as every application is
different – some placing extraordinary
demands on the HMI solutions.”

Assessing the risk

Hazardous areas are a case in point. Money used to be no object for industries such as oil & gas, but as market demands fluctuate and industry pressures manifest new and interesting challenges, many operators – and not just in oil and gas – are seeking to reduce costs and overheads. Changing the infrastructure and re-assessing the Atex zones can be one option.

However, assessing the appropriate level of hazard and implementing the correct precautions involves an element of risk for the company and its employees. A single mistake in a long chain of activities – zone classification, selecting the right product, product design, complex installation, regular maintenance – can cause disaster.

“Standards are essentially guidelines on how to design a product, but they are subject to change: for example, becoming more restrictive in response to lessons learned from major incidents or amended to take account of new technology etc,” says Neuhalfen.

For many customers, the decision to select a zone 2 product can be a risk too far. Zone 2 products can be self-declared for Atex and do not require any notified body to certify the design. Specifying a zone 1 product, even in a declared zone 2 environment, adds a significant layer of additional protection and eliminates potential risks. There is also the benefit of future-proofing the system: for example, if a plant reconfiguration changes an area from zone 2 to zone 1. Sometimes a static HMI must be re-located, or it’s important to eliminate the risk that a mobile HMI will be accidentally placed in the wrong zone-environment.

Modular design benefits

“At Eaton, we think that every company should do everything they can to provide the safest environment possible,” says Neuhalfen. “So, we decided to develop an option that can keep long term costs under control without compromising safety in hazardous areas.” The solution, spearheaded by the Gecma team, is the deployment of modular HMI designs. 

A major benefit of this approach relates to downtime, where individual modules – as opposed to the whole system – can be replaced and hot swapped, reducing non-productive time to a minimum.

This modular approach also delivers the all-important service differentiators. Due to their high flexibility and configurability – in both electrical and mechanical aspects – customers have a far greater range of choices. One example would be transforming a KVM transmission HMI into a Thin Client or PC. By offering a variety of housings, users have more options available, such as mounting and positioning especially for areas with limited space.

“We complete the service picture with strong support and management of our customers’ expectations,” Neuhalfen elaborates. “Our expertise can offer the best possible support, based on in-depth knowledge across multiple applications and the associated certification requirements, such as Atex, IECEx, TIIS, etc. As a result, our ETO solutions are always genuine options that fit the precise needs of the customer and the legislation they must comply with.“

“Compliance is a big area where Eaton can add value,” he continues, “not only at the front end, but also further down the design chain. If compliance is not fully understood and addressed by a preferred main OEM supplier, customers can potentially run into problems: for example, because a CE declaration for an individual product does not mean it remains CE compliant when combined with others. Compliance is largely dependent on circumstance.”

The bigger picture

Industry knowledge and application expertise are vital. “Sometimes adding value can be relatively simple, like offering ceiling and wall mounts for offshore applications where space is at a premium,” Neuhalfen says. “We are also seeing a growing need for dual displays, especially in relation to the boom in data capture. As well as offering more screen real estate for broader information delivery, this dual screen approach can also cut costs, via savings in both wiring and installation.”

A recent example highlights the importance – and effectiveness – of Eaton’s expertise. On an oil and gas zone 1 application in Kazakhstan, HMI equipment would be exposed to temperatures as low as -40 °C. Standard solutions cannot operate at these temperatures.

Eaton worked directly with the project management company on behalf of the main instrumentation contractor to develop a bespoke solution. Eaton also conducted a feasibility study to ensure its recommended approach was viable, managing end customer expectations and setting out a clear delivery schedule. 

The specially designed HMI is capable of operating at temperatures of -40 °C, and so required recertification to ensure compliance under Atex, IECEx and EAC. The customised enclosures were also IP 66 tested, at an Eaton facility, and all retesting was undertaken to ensure full compliance under one certification. An internal heater was added to ensure reliable operation and maintain a temperature of 0 °C inside the HMIs.

Gecma Components electronic GmbH, Kerpen

Dr. Bernd Rademacher


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