As metal coating and finishing technologies become highly automated and more technically challenging, they require precision equipment and advanced chemistry.
Surface Finishing Technologies (SFT), meets these needs by delivering specialty and cutting-edge machines (Fig. 1) used to electroplate, electropolish and anodise various materials and products for the semiconductor, aerospace, printed circuit, and general metal finishing industries.
SFT has been delivering customized part plating machines, web plating machines and semiconductor wafer plating equipment for more than 40 years to customers all over the world. Servicing these machines was becoming a problem due the wide geographic dispersion of the equipment at various manufacturing plants.
To address this issue, SFT installed InduSoft Web Studio HMI software to provide remote access to our machines. The goal was to improve service response times, cut travel costs, and leverage the expertise of our technical experts.
Finding the right solution
While reviewing HMI software options, we considered several factors. We needed an HMI solution that was flexible and provided remote access over the Internet, but wouldn’t lock us into one controller vendor. This meant the HMI software had to have the flexibility to communicate with most machine controllers, even if SFT decided to change the type of controller, or use customer-specified controllers.
In addition, we wanted to offer customers all the functionality they required without being forced to pay for additional software modules when and if customer requirements changed. We had also been encountering an increase in customer demands for an HMI that included data logging and the ability to visualise online historical data trends, so any solution we considered needed to include these capabilities.
Web Studio HMI software provides the capabilities our customers require, without the need to purchase extra modules or integrate third-party solutions. InduSoft also offers a library of over 240 drivers, which gives us the flexibility to use machine controllers from a wide range of vendors. If custom communication interfaces are required, the software provides a means to easily create the custom code, and to integrate this code into the HMI platform.
The software also allows us to effortlessly provide recipe and batch capabilities for customers who need these options. Finally and most importantly, it has very powerful remote access features.[Page Break]
Worldwide remote access
Internet-based access allows us to remotely modify the PC-based HMI and machine controller programs after our equipment is installed and running at a customer site, or to access these programs for troubleshooting purposes.
This saves our company time and money and, more importantly, gives our customers faster results when they have a problem. InduSoft fully supports remote access by allowing program modifications and file backup of the HMI project files to be performed without interrupting HMI operation.
Remote access saves us time if we have to diagnose and address any issues, or make program changes or upgrades. It also allows us to remotely upgrade the Web Studio software or any other software on the PC to the latest revision level if that is deemed necessary or beneficial.
Remote access is especially beneficial when controller programs must be modified, as these types of changes directly affect machine operation. Because the controller programming software is installed on the machine PC, remote access to this software eliminates the risk of losing control of the PLC or other controller during a program transfer.
We install the Web Studio HMI software on the machine’s PC. On the same PC we then install all the programming software for the controller, servo systems and any other automation components. This makes it easy for SFT to perform revision level control and associated documentation.
Not all of our customers use the data logging and trending that is installed on their machines, but we often use these features when asked to help solve process-related issues. Because we also sell the process chemistry, and in many cases design the chemical process for use on our electroplating machines, we’re often asked to diagnose process problems (Fig. 2).
In these situations, the first thing we do is remotely download the data logs from the machine to review the historical record of process conditions in detail from our home office, or from any other convenient location. This feature lets us solve most chemical process problems without the expense of technicians visiting our customers’ plants, and without interrupting customer operations for testing to recreate the problem and gather data.
Each piece of equipment from SFT is customized for a specific work piece and process, but all our machines fit into a few basic categories. By standardizing controller code and associated HMI objects, we were able to make the process of customising the HMI software for a specific customer application a matter of assembling an array of previously proven programs in the specific configuration required for that customer’s process. Web Studio provides features that enable this type of software development without excessive effort on our part.
More standardization in the controller and HMI programs, along with a more common appearance and functionality of the operator screens, makes it easier for support people from other branches of our parent company to become familiar with our various machines. It also helps them quickly understand how to support a machine that they haven’t seen before.
SFT has seen a steady increase in the proportion of equipment sold to users outside the U.S. This means increasing demands for foreign language HMI screens, and multiple language support. SFT expects to make greater use of InduSoft Web Studio’s built-in language translation capabilities to implement these features for our overseas market.
The ability to view screens remotely through Web Studio’s web server feature will let us push operator and information screens to users outside of the factory floor. While our customers haven’t utilised this feature very much up to this point, it’s good to know this capability exists, as we can see its potential.
Importantly, remote access with Web Studio doesn’t require each user to purchase and install expensive software to view and interact with the HMI software, as remote access is through any web browser. The HMI software not only supports this browser access, but also provides a high level of security through multi-level password protection. The software also provides optimized views from web browsers, very similar to what is seen at the machine’s PC.
Upgrading to a new HMI solution has lowered our costs while allowing us to provide our customers with a variety of new features, most important full-featured remote access. We now have a flexible HMI platform that lets us integrate controllers from a wide variety of suppliers. Along with our customers, we look forward to expanded use of these HMI features to provide continuing high levels of performance and support.
Kim Ground is Senior Electrical Engineer with Surface Finishing Technologies division of Technic. www.surfacefinishtech.com
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