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  • Writer's pictureDaymon Thompson

Accelerate Programming and Deployment — Mobile HMI, Part 2

The familiar TwinCAT programming environment and easy-to-use servers help controls engineers develop state-of-the-art HMIs

HMI on both a tablet and industrial Control Panel

While larger companies may have entire user experience (UX) teams dedicated to mobile interface creation, many factories and machine builder OEMs rely on a group of controls engineers for these upgrades. Rather than requiring engineers to learn an entirely new programming environment, some HMI software supports programming via familiar platforms, such as the automation software itself. This means controls engineers have a shorter learning curve when programming HMI and can manage all machine code and projects in the same place.

Mobile HMI design directly in TwinCAT

With TwinCAT 3 automation software, the convenient graphical editor allows engineers to build responsive, HTML5 and JavaScript-based HMIs with the same convenient toolset and programming environment used for the machine control programming. TwinCAT HMI also provides a toolbox stocked with premade interface components to cover common elements such as buttons, dials, sliders and menu layouts.

Reusable HMI control components, including various buttons and alarms that perform the same function throughout the system, speed up the design process. In addition, the Beckhoff software supports Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) themes to build new pages without having to create new style parameters for each object. With TwinCAT HMI, CSS is automatically generated based on theme designs and works in the background to enable faster implementation. Colors and styles for alarms, content blocks or body text, for example, automatically apply to new pages. If a specific style requires adjustments or updates, these happen in a central location and automatically take effect across the entire platform.

HMI software should also be extensible. If preset controls cannot be customized enough for specific tasks, TwinCAT HMI software provides an integrated application-programming interface (API). It also allows users to create objects once and store them as reusable extensions to the HMI software for future use. This capability enables engineers to create whatever program they require in C# that can talk to a piece of hardware, another API, an obsolete database or a custom protocol, as long as there is connection to a server.

HMI servers for real-world connectivity

TwinCAT HMI and its server options
HMI servers should support multi-client, multi-server and multi-runtime concepts, providing options for local or cloud-based servers and secure communication protocols, such as OPC UA, ADS or ADS over MQTT.

Mobile HMI allows operators to complete plant-floor tasks whether they’re onsite or off via a web browser and a secure connection. However, to enable this capability for multi-client, multi-server and multi-runtime concepts, an HMI server must support powerful architectures. TwinCAT HMI software supports servers on local devices or in the cloud. As a result, client devices can use communication protocols, such as OPC UA, Automation Device Specification (ADS) or ADS over MQTT, to ensure reliable and secure data transmission between devices and the server.

With data binding, engineers can link specific controls in the HMI to devices in the field. To avoid issues from communicating through multiple servers and technologies, some software packages make connections from virtual buttons on the HMI to actual functions in the PLC via OPC UA, as a widely adopted protocol for its vendor independence and built-in security mechanisms.

These connections are represented in a tree browsing menu, which allows users either to directly browse the memory of the control device or to browse the namespace of an OPC-enabled device. While many HMI platforms require users to complete the time-consuming process of mapping such connections upfront, TwinCAT HMI performs this function in the background for faster configuration and programming.

From server architectures to responsive designs, effective mobile HMIs ensure that engineers can interface with real systems in an intuitive and timely manner. This capability is extremely important if systems require remote troubleshooting or data access. Mobile HMIs created in TwinCAT have the power to modernize many applications and provide access to live production data anywhere in the world. Because HMI performs such crucial functions, engineers must design and implement it with reliable software that values both controls engineering and UX best practices.

Are you interested in using TwinCAT HMI to optimize your operator interface? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


Daymon Thompson, Beckhoff Automation LLC

Daymon Thompson is the Automation Product Manager for Beckhoff Automation LLC.

A version of this article previously appeared in Control Engineering.


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