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Standards-based HMI system represents ‘a paradigm shift’

01 December, 2015

At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, the automation manufacturer Beckhoff unveiled a new approach to HMIs (human-machine interfaces) which it is hailing as a “paradigm shift” in HMI technologies. Instead of using proprietary systems for engineering and communications, the new Web-based TwinCat HMI system uses IT standards such as Microsoft Visual Studio for the engineering, HTML5 for the design, and Websockets and HTTPS for secure communications.

The HMI user interface can be executed on any HTML5-capable browser, irrespective of the operating system, resolution or display. It can, for example, be viewed on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, as well as industrial panels of various shapes and sizes. Beckhoff claims that it has therefore created a future-proof, open and high-performance system suitable for Industry 4.0 applications.

Beckhoff sees the development as being the first step towards the next generation of HMIs, because it integrates the HMI directly in the familiar Visual Studio environment. No programming or HTML knowledge is needed because the graphical editor handles all of the configuration duties. The modular, web-based system, based on HTML5 and JavaScript, acts “responsively”, irrespective of the operating system, browser or device being used.

The TwinCat HMI concept can be applied to installations ranging from simple local panels, to multi-client, multi-server and multi-runtime architectures. Individual extensions can be implemented rapidly via defined interfaces. The combination of standard graphic controls and custom design elements allows a high degree of individualisation.

Beckhoff's TwinCat HMI system will allow industrial processes to be visualised on almost any device using any operating system, without needing any programming

The HMI logic can be implemented either on the client side in JavaScript, or as a server extension, offering the possibility of writing extensions in .Net or C++. Beckhoff says that this allows users to achieve a high degree of intellectual property (IP) protection.

The company plans to offer a scalable hardware and software portfolio to support the flexible operator interfaces. The first TwinCat HMI products are expected to go on sale in the third quarter of 2016.

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