Secondary packaging specialist Meurer has developed an innovative HMI solution that sets new standards in the operation of complex machinery. The universal solution applies advanced technologies to simplify operation across a variety of machine platforms, and – thanks to the use of HTML5 – it can be easily adapted to each customer's needs. With its Panel PC 2100 in a stainless steel housing, Meurer found the perfect hardware platform for its innovative Human Machine Interface (HMI).
Gesture control is the way of the future. At least that's the clear statement that Volkswagen made in 2015 at the world's largest consumer electronics exhibition, the CES in Las Vegas, where it presented the new Golf R Touch. With the exception of the steering wheel, the concept car's futuristic cockpit is entirely devoid of buttons and switches. Instead, the driver interacts exclusively via hand gestures and touch screens. What for Volkswagen is still a conceptual design aimed at medium-term implementation, Meurer already offers today as a standard feature.
The HMI solution developed in close cooperation between Meurer and B&R has almost no hardware control elements except for those required by regulations or specified by customers. In addition to conventional touch screen operations, it also offers smartphone-like gesture control. "Our goal is to minimize and streamline the operator's interaction with the machine," says Thomas Düvel, who is in charge of automation product development and heads Meurer's HMI department.
Where Volkswagen developed proprietary gestures for its Golf R Touch, Meurer relies entirely on commonly known gestures. "We only use well established gestures that are understood almost universally – after all, we deliver machines all over the world."
One of the available gestures is two-finger zooming (pinching and stretching), which is used when viewing a PDF file embedded in the visualization. Another is swipe and slide (short and quick or long and slow dragging), which allows the user to scroll through a carousel list of available machine modules on the edge of the screen.
In order to have gesture control, you need a camera and/or a multi-touch screen. On its machines, Meurer uses projected capacitive touch screens like the ones found on the iPhone and similar devices. The glass panel makes these screens much more robust than conventional resistive touch screens and less sensitive to surface damage and environmental factors. They are perfect for use in demanding industrial applications, while also offering the cost benefits of a consumer product.
With the second generation of its Automation Panel series, B&R offers users considerable advantages. The multi-touch Automation Panel 900, for example, is available in 16:9 format in sizes ranging from 15.6" to 24". Each display unit is equipped with a compact link module, which allows it to be converted into a full-fledged Panel PC 2100 by simply exchanging the system unit.
For its universal HMI solution, Meurer selected a 15.6" display unit combined with a dual core system unit.
"The generously sized display of the Panel PC 2100 in 16:9 format, together with its HD resolution and gesture control, have allowed us to design a graphical interface with even greater clarity," says Andre Wewering, assistant director of automation product development at Meurer. "This is a decisive factor with machines growing in size and complexity all the time."
The powerful – yet fanless – system unit offers enough reserves for Meurer to continue to use the selected platform, even as requirements increase over time.
"This reduces our long-term costs for engineering and parts inventory," adds Wewering, "while also allowing us to react more quickly and easily to customer requests for uniform and integrated operation across the entire production line."
B&R enclosed Meurer's panel in a custom stainless steel housing that stands out with an elegant and hygienic design free of dust-collecting edges. "This design was a decisive factor for us, since around 90% of our machines are used in the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries," says Wewering.
Easy installation and maintenance were among the top priorities for the designers from B&R and Meurer. The only thing that needs to be adapted from machine to machine is the back panel of the housing, including the cable grommet. "The back panel can be installed early in the production process, while the display itself can be added in just a few easy steps whenever it is actually needed," explains Düvel. "By dividing the HMI hardware into a machine-specific back panel and a standardized main unit, we have reduced the variety of replacement parts we need to stock and made it easier to replace devices in the field."
The Panel PC runs the ARwin runtime environment, which supports Windows® Embedded Standard and other professional operating systems in addition to real-time applications. This was a key criteria for Meurer, who uses a standard browser to display the HMI software written in HTML5.
"HTML5 brings us a whole array of advantages," reasons Düvel. "As a standard with ongoing development, HTML5 offers a rapidly expanding range of functions. We also benefit from the growing community of programmers who are proficient in the language." Among the advantages of HTML5 is its support for style sheets, which Meurer uses to quickly adjust the appearance of the entire HMI application to the needs of the user without having to work on each page individually.
With the switch to HTML5 and complete modularization of the HMI application, Meurer was able to define standard interfaces for connecting higher-level systems such as line controllers or ERP systems. "The effort involved in connecting to existing customer systems has been reduced considerably," says Wewering.
For communication between the control and HMI applications, Meurer originally used UDP telegrams. Thanks to the modular software, they were able to switch over to OPC UA very easily when the necessary libraries became available. This further reduced the effort of connecting to different controllers, which vary from customer to customer and region to region.
Meurer can look forward to even more advantages when the controller has a B&R logo on it, according to Düvel. "As a system supplier, B&R assumes total responsibility for all delivered hardware and software. That includes providing the certifications required by companies in the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries. With our packaging machines being purchased all over the world, that makes our lives a whole lot easier."
"The generously sized display of the Panel PC 2100 in 16:9 format, together with its HD resolution and gesture control have allowed us to design a graphical interface with even greater clarity. This is a decisive factor on machines that are growing in size and complexity all the time." Andre Wewering, Assistant Director of Product Development - Automation, Meurer Verpackungssysteme GmbH