Developments in Thin Client-Based HMI

The new VisuNet GXP remote monitor from Pepperl+Fuchs is an extra-large multi-touch display with a compact, light, and modular design

  • Figure 1: VisuNet GXP: The latest thin client-based remote monitor HMI generation for Zone 1 and 21 applications.
    Figure 1: VisuNet GXP: The latest thin client-based remote monitor HMI generation for Zone 1 and 21 applications.
  • Figure 2: VisuNet remote monitors are thin client-based HMI systems, enabling direct access to conventional and virtualized process control system computers via Ethernet.
    Figure 2: VisuNet remote monitors are thin client-based HMI systems, enabling direct access to conventional and virtualized process control system computers via Ethernet.

With the complexity of production processes continually growing, virtualization is becoming increasingly important. The demand for thin client technology, which enables easy access to virtualized process control system computers and applications, is growing accordingly. Pepperl+Fuchs in Mannheim recognized the potential of this technology early on. Back in 2007, the company launched the first network-based thin client solution for hazardous areas - the VisuNet remote monitor (RM). Since its inception, the company has continued to develop this innovative technology and is now setting new standards with the new VisuNet GXP and the current RM Shell 4.0 firmware.

One key advantage of the new VisuNet GXP remote monitor becomes obvious when installing the device. Even at first glance, it is clear that this thin client-based remote monitor solution for Zone 1 and 21 is designed to make life easy for the installer. At 30 kilograms, the GXP weighs considerably less than a traditional Zone 1 HMI, making it a true light-weight in its class. This means it can be installed by one person, allowing for faster and more economical commissioning.

The modular design of the HMI, consists of three main components (display, power supply, and thin client computer unit). The simple, modular design enables field maintainability and allows operators to replace the components independently on site in the event of a fault. With its modular design, this significantly reduces costs for maintenance and operation.

A large, light-weight multi-touch display

When developing the VisuNet GXP, the only concessions made were in terms of weight. In contrast, the display ended up with generous dimensions. The 54.61 cm (21.5 inch) screen and the Full HD resolution (1920x1080 pixels) in 16:9 format is equivalent to the widescreen format common today. This guarantees an optimal display of process images.

The multi-touch display has been optimized for use with gloves and is located behind thick, hardened protection glass, so it is extremely durable and scratch-resistant. The capacitive multi-touch sensor enables modern, touch-optimized user interfaces to be used, similar to familiar smartphone and tablet interfaces. This means that important safety aspects can be incorporated for critical processes. It is possible to specify that a function can be performed only by touching two contact points simultaneously, making inadvertent activation virtually impossible.

The stainless steel housing makes the thin client solution resistant to chemicals and detergents commonly found in the industry. Furthermore, the surfaces and finishing of the HMI was designed without gaps or horizontal surfaces, to prevent an accumulation of liquid, dirt, or bacteria. The full glazing of the display ensures rapid, optimal cleaning, so the demanding requirements of the life sciences industry are met and GMP guidelines are satisfied. The device is under certification for ATEX and IECEx Zone 1 and 21.

Secure, Reliable, Convenient - RM Shell 4.0 Firmware

The new VisuNet GXP offers forward-looking hardware design and innovative software. Each device is equipped with the latest version of RM Shell 4.0 from Pepperl+Fuchs. Security, reliability, and user-friendliness were the focus in the development of this next-generation firmware. To guarantee maximum security, the system was based on Windows® Embedded Standard 7. This means that mechanisms such as Enhanced Write Filter (EWF), a firewall, and protection against access on USB memory devices are used in the RM Shell 4.0. This virtually eliminates the risk of infiltration or saving malware on the device.

In addition, the user friendly interface makes it incredibly simple to integrate the thin client into any process control system. The Windows® desktop has been completely replaced by RM Shell 4.0. The RM shell displays only those aspects of setup that are required for configuration.

RM Shell 4.0 supports the latest versions of all common remote protocols, such as Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) Version 8 with RemoteFX and VNC protocol. The embedding of the latest communication protocol generations enable an even higher image transmission rate. This gives users the impression that they are sitting in front of the process control system computer itself. In addition, the new firmware can integrate manufacturer-specific protocols for access to virtualized process control systems. As the world's first thin client-based HMI system for explosion-hazardous areas, VisuNet remote monitors with RM Shell 4.0 allow direct access to virtualized Emerson DeltaV process control systems (Emerson DeltaV 12 and higher) using DRDC. No additional KVM module or thin client is required in the secure area. This direct access to the process control system significantly reduces hardware costs and minimizes setup times.

RM Shell 4.0 features an auto-connect function that safeguards system reliability. The remote monitor can be configured so that the connection to a host system is automatically established, without any user interaction. The connection between the RM and Host server is constantly monitored in the event of a network fault or server failure occurs, the RM automatically establishes a new connection to a predefined backup server. This guarantees the error-free display of process images and maximum uptime.

As more and more SCADA and manufacturing execution systems (MES) support access via websites the RM Shell 4.0 offers an optional, secure web browser. It can be configured so that the user can access only approved websites. The restricted web browser prevents the access of unauthorized websites, which greatly increases system security. At the same time, flexibility in the field is increased, as users have access to an extended range of company resources and information sources.

Combined with the current RM Shell 4.0 firmware, the new VisuNet GXP is a cost-effective and future-oriented thin client solution for explosion-hazardous areas, in particular for use in the life sciences and fine chemicals industry.