The new iX from Beijer Electronics helps Peter Blomberg and his automation colleagues to create a graphical interface that makes decanter centrifuges and other sophisticated equipment from Alfa Laval as easy to use as today’s mobile phones. The user-friendly interface is appreciated by customers, as well as the new HMI solution saves time and money in installation and service.
Australia – it says on the consignment note of decanter centrifuge just being packed into a large wooden box. High quality is one of the reasons why the machines from Alfa Laval´s production plant in Søborg, (DK), are exported successfully to all over the world.
Peter Blomberg has been three years as automation manager at Alfa Laval. He explains that the company puts a great pride in producing reliable and cost-effective machines with a long life time. The strategy also includes that their machines must be easy to use: ‘The goal is to make our machines just as intuitive to use as today’s personal computers and mobile phones’.
After arrival and installation at the Australian buyer, the decanter is operated from a Beijer Electronics 15-inch touchscreen panel. In order to function even in dusty and damp industrial environments, the panel is fitted with an IP67 seal at the rear.
Simplicity in operation
Simplicity in the operation of machines is both a selling point and a quality issue for Alfa Laval. And the latest tab-based graphical user interface 2Touch, created with the help of the iX Developer, is in perfect line with the fundamental intentions. ‘The idea is that all information should be readily available when it´s needed’.
By pressing a finger at any of the tabs on the screen, the operator open menus to see operational data, adjust parameters, acknowledge logged alarms or maybe change the menu language. Yellow labels for each choice, explain the different hand grips.
On the screen, icons to start, pause and stop, has the same symbolic language as on the DVD player in your living room. A few clicks on the screen are enough to browse through the electronic manual that describes the machine, or to see an instructional video. Alfa Laval is without doubt inspired by more consumer-oriented products and is now in the lead with increased ease of use. Peter Blomberg is clear on why this effort has been made. ‘HMI solutions with different colored push buttons and cryptic text messages on oversized screens belong to yesterday’.
While the simplicity is quite obvious, he is open about the challenges to get this far. The decision to update the automation platform, while creating the new graphical operator environment was taken before the launch of iX – Beijer Electronics’ largest and most ambitious development effort. ‘By starting in an early stage, we have not only gained a unique knowledge, but also a significant advantage over our competitors’.
Already more than fifty models of the new generation of decanters with the new user interface have been delivered to customers globally. Decanter centrifuges are not the only machines equipped with 2Touch: ‘Other types of machines in our three product areas (heat transfer, separation and fluid handling machines) will be upgraded to the new platform’.
Evaluation of more than a dozen different HMI concepts
Although there have been teething problems to overcome, He does not regret that Alfa Laval was early with iX. The decision was well founded. The project began with nine intensive month´s evaluation of more than a dozen different HMI concepts. ‘No other vendor could offer the same features and graphic possibilities within the framework of an open architecture’.
Alfa Laval has customers and employees spread all around the world. Another important issue in the selection was also the fact that Beijer Electronics is a well established and globally active company with a strong focus on technology.
Customizing to Alfa Laval’s visual identity
The development tool iX Developer is a well structured tool for configuration and documentation. Deeper HMI experience is not necessary to create a basic application in the Windows environment – something that actually does not need to take more than a few minutes.
Existing projects can be reused. In addition to this, Beijer Electronics also offers a range of ready-made and tested icons and modules. Companies, unlike for example Alfa Laval, who does not want to create custom icons, can benefit from the comprehensive component library’s standard set. ‘We have put a lot of work to customize the interface to our visual identity’, says Blomberg, ‘who among other things appreciates the vector graphics capability to create crisp, clear images at any magnification’.
In addition to openness and graphics, the flexibility speaks for iX. He notes that the HMI solution works with most control systems. This is unlike the competitors that were evaluated, where the link between HMI and PLC products often were very dense. ‘Although we are currently using controllers from B & R, the flexibility is crucial to us. Customers may have existing control systems or requests for other PLC brands or industrial computers’.
The support for OPC, provide completely freedom to choose communication protocol. This is significant in cases where Alfa Laval’s products are integrated with equipment from other suppliers in the same process line. Switching between different protocols is actually possible in real time.
A technology shift with more advantages
The decanter centrifuges touch panel facilitates not only the operator’s work through improved overview of the process. The technology shift is also an advantage for Alfa Laval’s technicians: ‘End-users are satisfied and at the same time as we obtain simplified installation and maintenance services,” according to Blomberg , “time is money, if a machine fails’.
Today Alfa Laval’s engineers reach all functions and information via the operator panel. It is no longer necessary, as before, to connect a laptop by cable for troubleshooting. Updating a machine’s system software is as easy as to put a memory stick in panel USB connector. The ability to monitor and address the machine or process line remotely via modem is another plus value. ‘With an aesthetically pleasing HMI solution that works today and has a modern feel in the years to come, we have reached our goal’, he summarizes.
Operator panels with 2Touch make even other machines from Alfa Laval easier to manage. In addition to separators and decanters, other products for cooling, heating and fluid handling belongs to the company’s range of bestsellers.
Decanter centrifuges consist of a rotating screw conveyor that separates solids from liquids. The basic idea is the same as in Gustaf de Laval’s classic separator which for more than one hundred years ago formed the foundations of the company. Alfa Laval has over the years evolved into a publicly held global company with 11.500 employees, twenty production units and a turnover of around 26 billion SEK.
The decanter is adapted to different process environments by varying the design, height, etc. The difference between a decanter and a separator is the ability to separate out larger particles. Application areas include everything from dewatering of sludge in sewage treatment plants to food and oil production.
RTU products supports remote communication such as IEC60870, IEC61850, SNMP, Modbus.