A smart panel revolution

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Global Automation offers a range of operator panels that provide high quality information to improve operational efficiency.

Operator panels, also known as Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), allow operators to interact with and control machinery, generally via a graphic user interface (GUI).

As John Thomson managing director of Global Automation told Food & Beverage Industry News, given that all food and beverage manufacturers have various types of packaging machinery and automation equipment, most have operator panels. As such, there are plenty of HMI panels on the market for manufacturers to choose from.

“Currently the way most HMIs on machinery used in manufacturing (and particularly in food and beverage manufacturing) work when creating reports is they create basic CSV files of data coming straight out of the machine’s controller,” Thomson said.

He said that when deciding on what operator panels to implement, food manufacturers should take into account the quality of information they provide on the machine floor. This is not just about HMIs interacting with their human operators. It is also about HMIs interacting with manufacturing systems.

Global Automation is the Australian distributor of Beijer Electronics X2 series of operator panels. According to Thomson, these units have advanced reporting features which sets them apart from its competitors.

“The X2 panels use internal SQL databases for data logging, recipes, audit trails and alarming. With their advanced reporting functionality, excel templates with embedded SQL queries can be easily downloaded as part of the HMI application. This translates to complete finished reports at the factory floor which are easily accessible via USB stick, CF memory card, email and FTP to production management teams. Nobody has to do any more work to them,” he said.

“Using the old way of getting raw data into your spreadsheet, somebody has to go in, interpret the data and create a report themselves.”

Moving to practicalities, Thomson pointed out that food and beverage manufacturing environments are harsh. The caustic chemicals often used in wash downs, coupled with the heat of cooking and the cold of refrigeration mean that hardware used in these settings needs be strong.

“X2’s Extreme range covers this requirement. Theses panels can handle high and low temperatures as well as high vibration. We also have fully-enclosed, fully-sealed units that can be out on movable arms and hosed down as well,” he said.

Advanced functionality

X2 operator panels come with iX-Developer configuration software included. The advanced functionality of the software is another strong point. For example, it includes an audit trail (FDA logging strategies approved) which allows for advanced process tracking, as well as user identification linked to time and place of process events, enabling recalls and rationalising of production processes.

The list of other functions is quite extensive. With the X2 software, developers can create and customise the functionality of a single action or the whole application using their own scripting in the C# script editor.

Software revolution

According to Thomson, things are set to change for the X2 range. This year Global Automation is releasing Warp Engineering Studio, a new piece of software that will be included with the X2 panels.

“Like a middleware software, it’s a rapid engineering tool which allows users to create integrated HMI, control, drives and data communication solutions in minutes instead of days. They will be able to download objects/code from Beijer’s smart store and WARP will implement this in your HMI application,” he said. “Like magic, it all happens before your eyes,” he said. “This will be a revolution.”