Breaking in to HMI, Suggestions welcomed!


Thread Starter

Brad Alan

Hello all,

I'm a young guy fortunate enough to have the opportunity to design a HMI for an industrial heat treating oven. I'm fairly new to the game, I've dabbled with Honeywell HC900's and PLC's (Eaton ELC, mainly).

I'm looking for suggestions on a nice HMI software and hardware setups that I can get my feet wet with, and not drown.

I'm looking for the ability to map a touchscreen and interface it with a PLC to start and stop motors, display process variables (mainly temperature and vacuum measurements), open and close valves/solenoids. As a bonus, PID control (with 4-20ma output) would be awesome. Though, I could always use a good old fashion PID controller to control heating if its too complicated to work in with the HMI.

Also, im working on a budget (of course, right? :D). The boss is letting me go out on a limb here with something new. (I'm tired of those big ole 30mm A-B push buttons and pilot lights!) So hopefully I can pull through on this and take a step into the future.

Any help, comments, and corrections are welcome and appreciated!

Thanks to everyone in the community in advance. I have no idea what I would do without helpful and insightful communities such as this one at I'm looking forward to learning, growing, as well as helping where possible.

I'm assuming you mean to use a prepackaged commercially available touchscreen type of HMI with a setup software?

I'd look into Red Lion. I have not used them yet, but from what I've read and talked to the salesman it meets my requirements:

- Free to download programming software that gets updated...

- Reasonable cost

- Easy to set up basic items

- basic to intermediate scripting

- Very open to protocols (You can even write your own simple TCP/IP or serial protocol natively in their software!!!)

- It will do protocol conversion between two different supported protocols, or user written protocol.

What more could you want from a simple boxed HMI?

We were going to use it to talk to a robot that does ASCII TCP/IP communication but doesn't support any common protocols. It does have a lot of precanned drivers with it.

I don't work for them, it is just that I wished I had purchased this product years ago instead of the Mitsubishi Hmis we have been fighting with.


James Ingraham

I second the Red Lion (note that their website is rather than .com.) Easy, cheap, and you can download the software for free to see what you can do with it. It will talk to virtually anything under the sun. It won't do PID directly, but then there are only a handful of HMI / controllers that do. Unitronics is the only one I can think of off-hand that does that.

BTW, is there a PLC in here somewhere? If those push-buttons are directly toggling circuit logic, you might have to factor that cost in as well.

There are a few others that I'd like to comment on. My company uses PanelView Plus / FactoryTalk View Studio for Machine Edition from Rockwell Automation. I think it is a very solid product, most of my customers request it specifically, and we're using a Rockwell PLC already. However, it is higher cost than some other solutions, and you pay separately for the programming software and the HMI itself. There's not even a demo version of the software.

Any discussion of low-cost automation products will inevitably include and their new-ish competitor Of the two, I think AutomationDirect has the better products, but your mileage may very. Cost on either is not bad, but I think you'll find the Red Lion extremely competitive. EZAutomation and AutomationDirect have the advantage of (a) posting their prices on their website and (b) having online stores you can just order from with a credit card rather than having to go through the whole hassle of setting up a vendor and creating a PO, etc.

Finally, while I've never actually used on a job, I really thing that Beijer makes a hell of a nice HMI. I haven't compared their pricing lately, but I suspect they are more than Red Lion, AutomationDirect, or EZAutomation.

Hope that helps.

-James Ingraham
Sage Automation, Inc.
Wow thanks for the detailed responses, I didn't expect to receive such thorough replies.

Before I dive in;

I was researching HMI a bit more. Its looking as though I may need to know programming languages? As I was browsing, some sites were talking about Javascript, C++, My SQL, etc. I'll be honest, I don't have programming skills.

However, I may not need to know these languages due to the simplicity of the project. Yes, I will need to connect the Touchscreen to a PLC. I'd mainly like to use the touchscreen for a fancy way of turning on and off motor starters, and starting process cycles via the PLC. As well as showing what motors are running. There shouldn't be any complex mathematical functions or heavy programming needed.

Or is there? :)

James Ingraham

Trying to do this with a "traditional" language will be much more difficult. Not because they are inherently more complicated, but because they are targeted at different things. An HMI panel already has everything you need built in. It understands buttons and PLCs and indicators. In JavaScript, you don't have these as base features, so getting it to work, even with libraries and sample code, is much more work. Also, maintaining any kind of PC on the factory floor is a pain. I stick by my recommendation of Red Lion.

-James Ingraham
Sage Automation, Inc.
IDEC is my HMI of choice, they have gone to new levels with the contrast and the programming is fairly easy. They even offer training classes where you get a small HMI and one of their mid grade PLC's for abotu $399 which includes 3 days of training (last year price). They are comparable to Red Lion but they seem to offer better support at the local level.

William Sturm

Most HMI packages can do simple widgets, such as pushbutton and pilot lights, without any "programming". You typically set up communication ports, create PLC tags (addresses), drag and drop buttons and lamps, and assign them to PLC tags.

Bill Sturm

William Sturm

It also sounds like you will not need a PC based HMI package, you probably need something along the lines of a Panelview terminal by A-B. Many companies make these types of products including, A-B, Exor, Maple Systems, Red Lion... It might be easiest to start with a HMI from your PLC vendor, this way you only have one number to call if you are having issues.

Bill Sturm

Darrell Smith

I currently use IDEC micro series, and eaton plcs, as for the hmi's the only ones I could get at a price I could talk the boss into was maple systems, they work well and have several in the field now, although I have just begun interfacing with the eaton, the idec is a no brainer, as maple has idec drivers built in, and I am having to use modbus rtu for the eaton. Seems like you are in the boat I floated around in last year, but after the project was complete and functional under budget I have a lot less trouble getting them to let me try something new. Good Luck to you in your adventures.