Modernization of Operator Interfaces

Modernization can have a big impact on plant operation. Recently ICI modernized a water treatment facility from an antiquated Klockner-Moeller MCC and Automation Direct PLC to a Schneider Square D MCC and a modern control panel with Schneider M580 & Magelis HMI. This facility has come a long way in terms of operational capabilities as they transitioned from using analog displays and indication lights (Figure 1) to a full-fledged HMI. The new MCC, and new control panel can be seen in Figure 2 and Figure 3.

Figure 1: Pre-upgrade WTP Electrical and Controls
Figure 2: Post upgrade new MCC
Figure 3: Post upgrade new control panel

An example HMI screen is shown in figure 4. This screen provides the operator with an overview of the entire water system, as well as the ability to navigate to screens specific to various sections of the system.

Figure 4: HMI Interface Example

The addition of an HMI when previously operations personnel were used to working just with their visual observation can be a bit of a learning curve, so we work with our clients through training and user manuals as well as by being accessible to help them with the transition. HMIs for this project were all designed based on the ISA-101 High Performance Graphics standard. This standard outlines a methodology for creating user friendly designs in an industrial setting. E.g., having a clear and consistent colour scheme is one of the basic steps in creating an effective user interface for operators. Often operations personnel need to get their information in a quick glance and do not have time to search for it. Our implementation of the high-performance graphic standard used in this project is as follows:

Standard ColorDescriptionExample
BlueBlue in the HMI screens represent selectable objects. 
Selecting anything in blue will direct operators to different page or allow parameters to be adjusted.
RedRed in the HMI screens represent faults. If there is red graphical object, it means that related equipment is in a fault or alarm condition. 
WhiteWhite in the HMI screens represents an active condition. For example, when motor switched colour into white, that means the motor is running. 

In the example above, whenever an operator sees red, they know there is a problem and can look further into it. Any other colour will indicate the plant is in normal operation from the controller’s perspective.

The transition from indication lights to HMI screens provided the operations team significantly more control and monitoring ability. They are now able to adjust set points for their facility, allowing updates throughout the year as conditions change, while previously the setpoints were only changeable by the PLC programmer. Additionally, the ability to adjust the setpoints over time for process control as well as for alarming optimizes the plant performance. From a monitoring standpoint, the addition of the HMI provides the ability to trend data visually over time. If there is an alarm, they can go back in the trend history and determine what conditions were leading up to that.

Migrating to a modern control system also allows remote access. With appropriate cybersecurity architecture in place, in this facility operators can remotely access their HMI content from a computer or smart phone. For a facility with a small operations team, this is extremely valuable. With this option, if operators receive an alarm in the middle of the night while at home, they are then able to check on their plant right away and assess the situation without having to drive to site. This additional functionality will save operations time and ensure they can be better prepared when they arrive on site to address alarms.

Modernization of your facilities can have a tremendous impact on the operations. Your operational capacity increases while your down time decreases, and your operators have an increased ability to interact with the system. If you need assistance in modernizing your control system, give ICI a call at 250-372-1486 or send us a message on our contact page

Jason Marchese

P.Eng, PMP