My view of Point of View

Monday September 29, 2014
Written by
Sept. 29, 2014 - AutomationDirect’s “Point of View” (POV) Windows-based software is a feature-rich industrial HMI with SCADA tendencies designed for machine control as well as plant floor enterprise. To be clear, AutomationDirect has licensed the core of a third-party technology and value-added to it to create POV.

It is hardware dongle runtime protected.

I thought that level of runtime protection was obsolete, but the cost — from US$495 — almost demands it.

I installed the product on XP SP3 and it took me a few tries since certain Microsoft components needed to be installed first. Once completed, the install went without a hitch. I installed it standalone since POV comes as a client-server as well.

The one thing that an HMI must do is communicate with various hardware platforms, which leads us into OPC drivers. POV supports AutomationDirect hardware, but also most of the mainstream PLCs and PACs with native drivers. Worksheets can be created for OPC components, however.

The interface is slick — very Office 2013 with ribbons, menus and right click content, and a tabbed screen area. The help system is voluminous; however, I found it a bit rudimentary in places. Context-sensitive help is available and is accessed by pressing Shift-F1. It brings up a ‘?’ cursor to select what you need help with. I would have expected that POV would know when I pressed the keys what I needed help with. A bit unorthodox.

POV does everything you would expect a SCADA system to do — it handles alarming, data logging and optimized communications due to native drivers. It has an interface with rich symbols and colour palettes, as well as security levels for user interaction.

One very cool feature is you can program the application that you develop to start as a service, which means that when and if the computer the application is installed on goes through a power cycle, the application will run. If this is a server (POV supports remote web users and remote management), then the remote users will still have access to their data and interfaces.  

I created a basic project and screen. Since I have Rockwell hardware in my lab, I created the application around the PLC-5.

There are a few things that are not intuitive. Most SCADA systems have scan classes for data logging and tags. This allows the developer to create timing demarcation points for different data types, such as temperature and pressure. Temperature can be updated every ‘x’ seconds, while pressure may need a faster update in the data logs. The default is 600 MSecs. You have to create a new communication worksheet to change the timing or manually edit the project file.

Be aware of the web clients and mobile clients. Application scaling isn’t automatic. You don’t have to totally recreate the application for a web client, but the application doesn’t scale for mobile. It’s best to create a tabular application for mobile users.

Creating a standalone application (HMI) is fairly straightforward. I created a screen and a startup script to produce a “Hello” message, and populated the screen with some runtime symbols, such as motors and buttons. They were animated with the lab PLC-5.

Tags were manually created, but you can import project tags using a CSV or text file import.

The symbols are named oddly. For instance, arrow left is arrow6. Select the symbols using the symbol menu by clicking on the directory name under system symbols to access.

The animation of the symbols is a little odd as well. POV is object-based and doesn’t assume anything, so if you want a symbol to rotate, you need to add that animation to the symbol directly. It’s easy to do, but part of the learning curve.

Symbols can be created by merging symbols into a new one. Screen groups can also be created to minimize screen creation. Creating a menu screen and a user screen, then putting them together in a usable screen, allows the menu screen to be repurposed in a different group.

If you use linked symbols, changing the master symbol changes all instances of the symbol. Use unlinked symbols if you want independency.

AutomationDirect’s claim to fame is service and support. I had a conference call with the product team so I could ask some questions. Three of them spent an hour with me, which suggests to me that they are dedicated to helping.

Deploying POV as an HMI or smaller-scale SCADA system can be recommended, but give yourself some time to go through the learning curve. While I found the product slightly unintuitive, once it is learned it can provide the user with a solid platform.

This column originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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