What You Need to Know about the ISA 101 HMI Standard: Empowering the Operator

Updated on April 5, 2017 

A HMI by itself is only a tool.

To be useful, it needs to be used — and that involves an operator. The ISA 101 group understood this, dedicating considerable space in the standard explaining how the makeup of HMIs should be designed to accommodate the operator.

I strongly believe one of the best things we can do in life is teach others how to accomplish a task. Teaching is a noble profession, perhaps the most noble around.

Somebody had to go through the trouble of learning the lesson before passing it on. Imagine how tough life would be if we had to learn and re-learn things over and over, constantly starting from scratch. Imagine if nothing was documented and there was no direction.HMI

If we want to learn how to do something today, we go to YouTube and select one of the dozens of tutorial videos available online. It’s nearly inconceivable to think of Googling a “how-to” problem and nothing popping up on your screen.

It’s because people spend the time to document and upload these lessons in order to pass on the knowledge that they’ve learned, saving the rest of the world from painstakingly trying to start from zero.

The ISA 101 HMI committee, a group formed to establish guidelines for human-machine interfaces in manufacturing and processing applications, published a set of standards for the industrial user interface that does just that.

The standard serves as an exhaustive set of guidelines created to help organizations design, build and operate effective HMIs. According to the authors, the primary purpose of the standard (and its accompanying technical reports) is to “help users understand the basic concepts” of a HMI and “more readily accept the style of human-machine interface that the standard recommends.”

The standard isn’t meant to be an out-of-the-box, by the letter set of guidelines for companies to follow. Rather, the standard is more of a set of criteria that gives organizations direction on how to create a set of standards for human-machine interfaces.

When all aspects and guidelines are taken into account, the ISA 101 group suggests they will contribute to reducing human error.

With respect to the actual device and its environment, the ISA committee included various suggestions ranging from guidelines for ambient lighting to density of displayed information and more.

It also outlines guidelines for user cognitive limits, offering suggestions for dealing with how a HMI’s design could impact cognitive processes that allow the operator to transform, reduce, store, recover and use sensory input.

The ISA 101 standards group committed much time setting up some guidelines for the way an operator physically interacts with HMIs, a practice commonly referred to as human factors engineering (HFE).

The HFE aspect of the standard provides guidance on how to design HMIs with respect to an operator’s needs. This guidance includes, but isn’t limited to, how the HMI functions intuitively, if it supports both normal and abnormal tasks— such as those experienced in alarm situations— and how it provides controls and information appropriate to specific tasks.

The goal of the standard’s recommendations on setting guidelines around how a HMI impacts the operator and vice versa is to improve their awareness of what’s happening in the process now and what will happen in the future. Inadequate situational awareness, ISA 101 group said, is a leading contributor to accidents that are attributed to human error.

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The work is based on decades of experience, includes several suggestions based on best practices and has a number of strong guidelines for specific situations.

Throughout the course of the standard the ISA 101 committee addresses the philosophy, design, implementation, operation and maintenance of Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) for process automation systems. Much time is spent on the user, dedicating guidelines to improve the user’s ability to detect, diagnose and properly respond to abnormal situations.

The 61-page standard was a collaborative effort written by a group of veteran automation professionals including end users, integrators, academics and solution-focused professional services engineers, such as myself.

While the document provides a breadth of knowledge, there are a few important highlights in the document you should know about if you are someone who works with a HMI on a regular basis.

The Big Three: HMI Philosophy, Style Guide & Toolkit

A large portion of the document includes the creation of a system standard for HMIs, which establishes a lifecycle model for packages and provides a roadmap for how they should be developed and managed properly.

This management system serves as a sort of “standards gatekeeper” for HMI display and major system changes. The punch list of guidelines acts as a must-have set of standards, assuring major system changes adhere to agreed-upon guides or the existing pre-ISA 101 HMIs are continuously improved when display changes are made.

The management system is comprised of three parts: HMI philosophy, style guide and toolkit.

1) HMI Philosophy

As it pertains to the managed lifecycle of a HMI, the ISA 101 committee suggests a philosophy that provides “a foundation of concepts” that lets new developers and users understand devices better. The ISA asserts if the person understands the what, why and how of a certain device, that person will in turn create and maintain an effective HMI.

The HMI philosophy should be a strategic document, the standard states, which addresses guiding principles governing the design structure of the HMI. Suggestions for guiding principles are provided such as operational requirements, design standards and guidelines, work practices and more.

2) Style Guide

This provides the guidance for designing and building displays.

The HMI style guide includes the specific standards and guidelines for the design and implementation of the configurable HMI, drawn largely from the specifications set by the appropriate company or facility.

Since the standard is additive by nature, the style guide should incorporate and reinforce the guiding principles in the HMI philosophy, general design rules for displays and their associated applications, as well as provide guidance on usage of scripting, embedded logic and the use of color.

3) Toolkit

The standard lays out guidelines for a HMI Toolkit, the collection of design guidelines for use within a given platform.

The toolkit is designed to meet style guide requirements and includes display templates, pop-ups and faceplates, as well as static and dynamic graphic symbols.

Included in the standard’s document is a roadmap detailing guidelines for the process design, implementation and operation of HMIs.

Empowerment Through Knowledge: A List of Common Terms & Guidelines for Training

The standard suggests organizations should wrap HMI training into its existing training processes and follow relevant change management procedures for adjustments to the instruction just like any other training.

Training is broken into four areas: operations, maintenance, engineering and administration and management.

Operations: The ISA 101 standard recommends outlining training for operational tasks associated with the HMI such as interaction with the control system under all modes of operation, using the alarm system, retrieving historical data and more.

Maintenance: With respect to maintenance, it suggests training plant or site maintenance staff to be prepared to use the HMI to accomplish required tasks, as well as vendor documentation for both HMI hardware components and configuration tools, in addition to other things.

Engineering and Administration: On the engineering and administration side, training for the implementation or modification of the HMI should include familiarity with operation functionality, diagnostic tools, system backup and recovery procedures and more.

Management: The standard touches on management training by suggesting education of access to high-level production and plant-operating information.

Common HMI Terms & Acronyms

Included in the standard is an exhaustive, long list of industry terms and acronyms. From “alarm” to “yoking,” the document contains 46 terms with detailed definitions and another 16 acronyms.

While the list might seem a bit excessive for veteran automation professionals, its thoroughness plays a dual role. Both sides support the purpose of the standard.

Defining a term provides an accepted, agreed upon set of terms for the things we use on a daily basis that can provide guidance to newer engineers. It also clearly explains what the term means in simple, straightforward terms. This states what the term is, but more importantly defines what it is not.

It­­ spells out the 16 most common acronyms automation professionals encounter in the industry, providing a much-needed reference for the abbreviations that color so many conversations like HMI, SCADA, I/O and more.

Again, defining an acronym goes a long way towards clearing the confusion between automation and general computing. An example is the acronym “FAT.”

FAT translates to “Factory Acceptance Test” in an automation conversation, and means “File Allocation Table” when referencing the file system structure in general computing terms.

Apart from providing clarity, the definitions included come from a place of experience. So, it’s a far better reference for knowledge than an internet source with no attribution, such as Wikipedia.

Even with the intuitive design of most modern HMIs screens, the navigation and usage can be daunting for those new to the industry. The ISA guidelines on training users helps spread knowledge in an effort to create and empower all operators to be the best operators.

Looking Towards the Future: ISA 112 SCADA

The newly formed group ISA 112, SCADA Systems, is expected to release a series of ISA standards and technical reports in the not-so-distant future.

It will provide guidance on system design, implementation, operation and maintenance of SCADA systems by showcasing case studies of best practices within a range of industries.

The focus will be on companies and utilities within water and wastewater, power, oil and gas, as well as other industrial organizations that rely on SCADA systems.

Currently, there is no set release date as it’s still in the drafting process. I’ll be providing more information once it’s available in early May after the ISA Spring Leaders’ meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina.

With the popularity of the Industrial Internet comes pressure that you have to change now to survive.

Embracing data and analytics as the driving force of your transformation is key, and that’s where I come in to help.

Transformation is Now

I’m looking forward to helping you take the first steps to becoming a digital, industrial company.

Join me for my on-demand webinar Transform Your Operation: Vision Before Action.

Let me demystify the beginning of the digital journey for you. Through my expertise, I’ve helped guide some of the most innovative companies through digital transformation.

Curious about how the GE Transportation Brilliant Manufacturing project started? How about the biggest mistakes companies make in the beginning, or what the next step is?

Getting insights that unlock unprecedented efficiencies and allow for process optimization is the goal of all industrial companies.

Everybody wants to thrive in the digital world, let me help you get there.

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TechHub: Industrial Market Growth, Advancement in Smart Cities & Homeland Security Urges Cyber

The Industrial Market Opportunity

Manufacturing and industrial companies are the backbone of the U.S. economy. With the advancement of the digital age, more factories and utilities are looking to cut costs, decrease downtime and streamline operations.

This industry’s operations are extremely different from IT enterprises and rely on partner companies that specialize in operational technology in order to connect and protect their assts.

GrayMatter was highlighted in CRN, a news analysis online publication for technology companies.

“We help customers in these markets connect their factories, connect their big expensive assets,” said James Gillespie, CEO of GrayMatter, in CRN. “Those are things we’ve been working on, to digitize the information, and to help customers get better results.”

Jim Gillespie, CEO of GrayMatter

The article explores various aspects from the operational issues companies face, to a continuously growing partnership with GE and the possibilities the Industrial Internet has for companies.

Part of that partnership is collaborative engineering on cutting-edge ideas like Brilliant Manufacturing by GE Digital, a suite of software enabling predictive analytics on a scalable intelligent system powered by the cloud-based operating system Predix.

“It’s enabling digital transformations at a scale that would have been harder to do in the past,” said Gillespie. “Predix is like the iOS of the operating systems and now there’s people coming together to write apps — there’s a whole group of people emerging in a community of developers and solution providers.”

Cloud technology is now in an advanced place where it’s becoming universally affordable, dependable and reachable. The community around the operating system is pushing the industry forward, and everybody needs to jump on board.

View all of the technology services GrayMatter has to offer:

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Homeland Security Urges Industrial Cybersecurity

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) issued an alert about a malicious BrickerBot permanent Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack.

BrickerBot exploits hard-coded passwords in Internet of Things (IoT) devices to cause a permanent denial of service, locking operators out of their systems.

The team encourages asset owners to know that their control systems are deployed securely and not exposed to threats through open internet connections by thoroughly auditing their networks.

Control systems often have devices accessible to the internet without operators knowing, leaving them at a greater risk for an attack. Completing a vulnerability assessment allows operators to know what devices are connected, how strong authentication methods are, vulnerable firewalls and use of unauthorized remote access.

To learn more about cyber security for the OT, download the GrayMatter cyber security guide for operational technology:

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The Advancement of Smart Cities

San Diego announced a new partnership with GE to deploy the world’s largest Internet of Things platform using smart streetlights. This will reduce energy costs by 60-percent and transform them into a single, connected digital network that can optimize parking and traffic, enhance public safety and track air quality.

Over 3,000 smart sensors will be deployed, with a potential to expand an additional 3,000 in the future, to upgrade over 14,000 city lights.

By reducing energy needs, greenhouse gas admissions will be reduced. Light pollution will also decrease with the implemented new technology enabling dimming and brightening features either automatically or remotely, depending on natural light conditions.

GE’s intelligent lighting in San Diego. Image: GE Lighting

The GE Current CityIQ sensor nodes will support a range of applications varying from gunshot detection, to smart parking and air quality control.

“This technology is powerful. Downtown visitors will be able to find parking easily and in real time using a smart phone, and the environmental and transportation data will help Downtown meet the goals of the Climate Action Plan. This is a huge win for San Diego,” said Kris Michell, the President & CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

Deployment of the platform will begin in July and is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

It’s expected to save the city over $2.4 million annually in energy costs.

TechHub: Cyber in oil and gas, over 1,000 tech jobs created & more

ISA Director to oil & gas: “The time to act is now.”

Patrick Gouhin, Executive Director and CEO of the International Society of Automation (ISA) spoke at a Bloomberg Live conference in Texas on the future of cyber security in the oil and gas sector.

Patrick Gouhin cyber tech hub

Patrick Gouhin, ISA Executive Director and CEO. Image: LinkedIn

ISA is a nonprofit professional association that sets the standard for applying engineering and technology to improve management, safety and cyber security of automation and control systems.

Check out GrayMatter’s cyber services for operational technology.

The focus of his presence, according to Automation, an online industrial news website, was to urge industry executives to protect their facilities from cyber attacks.

He noted the increasing number of cyber attacks on industrial facilities, which are crucial to the economy and national security, and that there are effective standards available today.

“The time to act is now — not years in the future,” said Gouhin.

Supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA) are used to monitor and control industrial networks, and are not designed to be resilient against cyber attacks.

The result? An attack can disable safe operations of these facilities, resulting in sometimes fatal consequences. Plant shutdowns, widespread blackouts, explosions, chemical leaks and more can result, according to Automation.

How much do you know, or not know, about your operational system? Take the industrial cyber security challenge to find out your knowledge level based on your score:

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New deal to add over 1,000 autonomous tech jobs within five years

General Motors announced plans to invest in autonomous vehicle technology startup Cruise Automation, with plans to double their current research and development facility and add 1,100 jobs over five years.

Currently Cruise is listed on Glassdoor.com as having under 200 employees, the deal increasing the company by 550 percent.

“As autonomous car technology matures, our company’s talent needs will continue to increase,” said Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise Automation.

cyber

GM CEO Mary Barra with autonomous Chevy Bolt in 2016. Image: General Motors

Cruise and GM engineers are testing more than 50 Chevrolet Bolt EVs, which are built at the GM plant in Metro Detroit, Mich., with self-driving technology in San Francisco, Scottsdale and Metro Detroit, according to Industry Week.

Let’s talk ROI: Business and the Industrial Internet of Things

The momentum of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is undeniable. The benefits are among real-time connectivity and sensors, allowing for access to the data you want when you want it.

Yet many executives are still hesitant when implementing IIoT technology. The cautious attitude is due to the complexity of data architectures and massive enterprise-wide investments that require extensive engineering with long-term commitment, according to Industry Week.

This leaves them lost on measuring the value they’re receiving from their investment, and second-guessing whether they’re investing in the right approach for their company.

The answer? Finding a company that will work with customers to help find finite and scaled options to lower the risk of adopting to the new technology, yet still reap the benefits of the IIoT.

By integrating to IIoT platforms, it empowers plant operators to leverage their data and technologies to improve reliability, safety, energy management and overall operation performance for a price and level that works on an individual as-need basis.

cyber

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TechHub: The Internet of Energy, Digital Solutions in Water & Brilliant Manufacturing

The Internet of Energy: Big Data & Electrons

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an industry-wide term for connected and smart devices within a network of connectivity that allows them to collect and exchange data.

A new and not-so-understood concept, being dubbed the “internet of power” by Forbes, is applying the use of big data, machine learning and IoT technology to replace the one-way, current model of energy delivery.

GE Power, that supplies 30-percent of the world’s electricity, has been developing this opportunity in an effort to revolutionize the electricity industry.

“The electricity industry is still following a one-hundred-year-old model which our founder, Edison, helped to proliferate,” said Chief Digital Officer at GE Power Ganesh Bell in Forbes.

Bell believes that can change, and that the answer is to take advantage of the current grid-based generation and delivery mechanism, increasing it with the flow of data.

This will take that linear model and move it to a networked model; taking every electron, associating it with a data bit, and optimizing it.

Creating this new system of “smart” energy distribution will pave the way for innovative structures in the future such as a reliable network of energy for charging stations, aiding society in the move away from fossil fuels.

This adoption of IoT technology will transform the power industry to a $1.3 trillion field within the next 10 years, according to Forbes.

Join us in Chicago on April 10th for Digital Day to learn more about the digital, industrial transformation and connect with top thought leaders from companies like Johnson & Johnson, Gray Matter, GE and more.

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Brilliant Factory in Grove City Puts New Life in Old Engines



The engine remanufacturing plant in Grove City, PA, has been operating for 5 years, occupies 440,000-square feet and employs more than 400 people.

The facility has made a huge transformation from being a food packaging plant into being one of GE’s first seven high-tech “brilliant” factories.

Gray Matter, through a partnership with GE, has helped implement advanced technology such as sensors that allow workers to measure and see real-time data at a glance. This improves reliability, has reduced downtime by 10 to 20-percent and boosts productivity.

The Grove City plant refurbishes diesel engines, taking old engines and give them life again.

This used to require works to manually tighten bolts in a repetitive motion by hand, using machines weighing in at 40-pounds on 41,000-pound engines, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

This new technology allowed them to have an automated way to uniformly tighten the bolts in a sequence, preventing possible injury to the workers and creating a standard for all of the bolts.

It also gives plant managers the ability to call up data on a tablet or smart phone rather than touring plant operations on foot, allowing them to address problems sooner and supervise workers remotely.

Join Gray Matter on April 18th for our Toronto Seminar and learn more about digital innovations in manufacturing, water and energy.

Connect with leaders from companies such as GE Digital, CyberX, Eramosa and more for a full day of discussion, followed by an optional Blue Jays v. Red Sox game.

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Partnering Digital Solutions & IIoT Technology to Benefit Water


The ultimate goal for water and wastewater utilities is to always be safer in order to protect the communities they serve.

GE Water put out on social this week a piece written by Steve Davis, a business development leader at GE Power, Water & Process Technologies.

It discusses the problems of the world of water and how the solutions lie within industry partnerships.

According to Davis, there is no single company in the water industry that can provide connectivity, platform, software and analytics all in one.

A quote from Gray Matter VP of Water in Water Innovations: Creating a Better Living.

The solutions to these problems are exist, however are still in their infancy and fragmented.

By uniting experts within the industry, a combined commercial effort is created through a mutually beneficial relationship.

By connecting top industry thought leaders, the partnerships cultivate into innovative ideas that can excel the industry and pace of the digital revolution. It simplifies data integration, and takes away the once overwhelming feeling for customers by interconnecting platforms.

New technologies are giving people hope that they can achieve better standards of living, and Gray Matter is helping to lead the way in the water evolution.

Download our white paper Water Innovations Create Better Living to read real customer success stories of increased efficiency and profits through innovative technology.

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TechHub: Digital Disruption, IoT Expanding Digital Footprints and More

Digital Disruption Transcending Industry Borders

With the first quarter of 2017 coming to a close, it’s clear that the exponential growth within the technology industry is not slowing down.

25,000 new information-related jobs were created in February this year alone, according to Forbes.

As this tech push continues, we’re seeing more and more of the Digital Twin emerge as physical and digital worlds blend together.

The Digital Twin is the computerized companion of physical assets, using data sensors to show real-time data analytics.

The adoption of this trend is becoming increasingly popular as companies realize the countless benefits that the Industrial Internet of Things provides, and Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence become mainstream.

The biggest mistake companies are making right now is assuming these technologies won’t influence their business or impact their industry.

Industry 4.0 is real, and it’s here.

Smart technology is becoming integrated into every facet of life, resulting in customers having the ability to buy anything, anytime, anywhere.

“The convergence of cloud, mobile, social and data have ushered in a new wave of business models that will present unique challenges for various industries,” said Bob Weiler in Forbes.

With this new technology comes new challenges and questions emerging for industry leaders.

To stay ahead of the competition— and win— organizations will need partners who can provide a new level of knowledge and experience within the industry, according to Forbes.

Rethinking business models within critical industry operations is necessary to maximize performance.

The pace of change is accelerating fast. Organizations need to jump on board and embrace emerging digital technologies.

To learn the first three questions to ask in your digital transformation, join our webinar on Thursday, April 6, at 2:30 PM EST: Transform Your Operation: Vision Before Action.

Gray Matter Director of Professional Services John Benitz will demystify the beginning of the digital journey for you using his expertise on various transformations like the GE Brilliant Manufacturing process.

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Digital Transformation: Solving Big Manufacturing Problems

The top problems manufacturers are struggling with are visibility into operations, sharing information across one or multiple plants and allowing the right people to access the necessary data.

The solution? Digital transformation of plant operations.

“Digitizing production processes is more about running an efficient business than it is about jumping onto the next technology bandwagon,” said Industry Week.

Automating processes and storing big data on the cloud allows for a single connected platform with production visibility. It allows for a single-set of accurate data and increases the control plant operators need, according to Industry Week.

Instead of having information documented on manual paper processes like Excel spreadsheets, it can be accessed in real-time across one or multiple plants.

Access to product information, inventory, quality data and more increases the productivity and decreases downtime throughout the plant.

Automating the plant is also automating the communication, in turn freeing up people and resources. Instead of having to track down the necessary information and data, workers have instant access to it at a moment’s notice.

Going paperless and automating processes is a critical step within the industry, and lays the groundwork for future innovations.

Gray Matter has a new solution to help transform manual data entry processes into digital insights for manufacturers, utilities and energy companies.

Mobility@Work digitizes information that would have been buried in stacks of paper and puts data in a format that can be used for big picture analysis.

Hauling manifests, inspections, scheduling, incidents, inventory and time sheets are all transformed from piles on someone’s desk to an easy to read digital presentation.

“There are a lot of correlations you can make if you have the data working for you instead of in a stack of paper.” – Kemell Kassim, Gray Matter VP

Download the free white paper to learn how Gray Matter solved the manual data entry problem and helped save a leading energy company nearly $1 million in just the first year.

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IoT Devices Expanding Digital Footprints & Vulnerabilities

Security Week defines IoT devices as convenient.

They allow us to have access to data remotely and process it faster than ever.

However, with the convenience comes risk, and most people aren’t locking down their systems like they should be.

There are more avenues now than ever for cybercriminals to breach systems as more devices are connected and the digital footprint of plants are expanded.

The reality of IoT hacks is eminent. Recent research highlights how PLC controllers can be hacked and potentially taint water supply, according to Security Week. Not enough devices are accounted for, and too much personal and business data is intermingled.

The top recommendations to fix this are to get a clear policy in place, designate accountability and segment your network.

By having clear rules, placing risk and responsibility on people or teams and designating sections of your network help block the threat of cybercriminals. It makes finding an easy path into the network nonexistent.

IoT devices have a lot to offer in the world of operational technology and plant management, the risk just needs to be mitigated and vulnerabilities need to be tracked.

Gray Matter offers a vulnerability assessment for OT networks that creates a security baseline for each asset with an IP address.

In a recent interview with ARC Advisory Group, Gray Matter VP Kemell Kassim detailed recent cyber initiatives and ROI case studies.

Download the Q&A Here