The modern industrial landscape is shifting rapidly. Today’s manufacturers must embrace a digital transformation that leverages intelligent solutions like human-machine interface (HMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. These tools have proven invaluable for helping companies monitor, control, and analyze their industrial processes and machinery. Understanding how to implement and benefit from these automated solutions is the most reliable strategy for keeping your warehousing business up-to-date and competitive.
While you might have heard of HMI and SCADA systems before, separating their differences from similarities can get confusing, especially given the other similar automated manufacturing platforms on the market. In this article, we’ll cover how the two solutions are distinct and a few areas where they overlap. The two systems have a lot in common, and this article will help clarify the key differences between them both. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll have a better idea of how to tell the two systems apart.
SCADA vs HMI: What are their key differences?
Let’s start with supervisory and control data acquisition or SCADA. This system title describes precisely what it does. A SCADA system monitors information across multiple areas of your production and throughout your entire full-sized manufacturing plants and distribution centers. SCADA systems rely on a combination of technologies such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), various sensors, and remote terminal units (RTUs) to enable real-time data acquisition capabilities.
The information captured from the interlinked technologies described above is sent to a centralized SCADA unit that integrates its own human-machine interface (HMI). The fact that SCADA systems incorporate an HMI causes many industry professionals to believe the two solutions are the same or account for a newer technologically converged product.
HMI units are, in fact, distinct from SCADA systems. HMI systems form only one aspect of SCADA, but SCADA systems do not inform any one necessary function of an HMI. Your main SCADA, in other words, deploys an HMI unit to monitor and control any information coming into the system. HMIs, in comparison, are stand-alone units that companies deploy for tasks like communicating with their PLCs to complete their closed network systems. Conversely, SCADAs account for remote systems that warehouses and factories use to communicate and collect operational data.
HMIs are local machines that constitute the user interface connecting operators with information collected by systems such as SCADA. HMIs locally accomplish many of the same tasks as SCADA systems and account for the same interface that connects operators with the core devices and machinery at your manufacturing plant. HMIs give operations managers and floor operators data visualization of a specified area of their warehouses for improved understanding and control.
A prime example of an HMI is the computer tablet. A tablet shows you information and processes, giving you an ability to control them. However, to attain that degree of functionality, your HMI unit must be connected to another system, such as a SCADA, that provides an in-depth means of monitoring and controlling your valuable warehouse data.
SCADA and HMI are, indeed, similar. And they each play a prominent role in the industrial manufacturing sector. The two rely on a well-engineered network for the efficient and continuous flow of information. SCADA and HMI units depend on connectivity platforms like Ethernet, fiber optic connections, and wi-fi to operate. The physical size of a SCADA system varies and depends on factors like the distance between RTUs and other field instrumentations. The amount of space a SCADA system consumes also determines the network infrastructure for the application.
HMI stations vs Central SCADA
Another reason manufacturers find themselves confused when attempting to distinguish between HMI and SCADA systems is that industry professionals commonly refer to an HMI station as Central SCADA. Central SCADA usually refers to the centralized computing application responsible for processing warehouse information attained from the RTUs. The HMI station or Central SCADA is where operators access this data on a centralized display to conduct their analysis and adjust their system controls accordingly. The HMI shows core data indicators like equipment status, system levels, alarms, and virtually any other essential warehouse information you think you should capture.
So, while these two terms and their definitions are frequently conflated, the reason for this is that the intended use of an HMI and a SCADA system is basically the same. A SCADA is a comprehensive system that relies upon physical devices in the field and a centralized information unit facilitated by an HMI. The HMI is merely one component of the SCADA, and HMIs don’t require SCADA systems to achieve the same tasks locally.
HMI and SCADA systems are conclusively different
Both SCADA systems and HMI units require human-operator interaction to achieve similar, if not the same, results. Yet, as automation concepts, HMI units and SCADA systems are still very much distinct, particularly concerning their respective operating requirements. Each solution helps manufacturers gather and display valuable operational data and was engineered specifically to improve warehouse production processes through automated information controls that foster more reliable, data-informed decision-making.
HMIs bring more flexibility and understandability to complex SCADA systems, but the bottom line is that the two systems are fundamentally different. HMI units supplement both PLC and SCADA systems in a similar way to optimize their performance. However, SCADA systems are more versatile than HMIs because they can gather a lot more data. Both solutions help to ensure your operators don’t follow the wrong steps and give you better operational monitoring and improved efficiency.
The outlook for HMI and SCADA systems
Technology is progressing swiftly, and we may see a full convergence, at least by its technical definition, of the two solutions somewhere down the line. The prospects of this happening are reasonably plausible, considering the number of industrial software providers always looking to shorten the automation stack.
Are you yourself how to find industrial automation companies near me? Learn more about how leading-edge industrial software solutions from EZSoft can bolster your warehouse operations by dialing (484) 568-5040. Or, fill out our online request for contact form now and EZSoft representative will get back to your right away.