Design is how it works!
A new generation with new functionality: the MCU 3000’s control and remote monitoring system - which features modernised UXD - means that both AC and DC power supplies are even more straightforward, more user-friendly and more reliable than they were. This is another step towards safer and more cost-effective operations.
As power supply systems come to incorporate more and more functions, we need improved control and display capabilities to be available so as to ensure the straightforward and safe use of complex systems thanks to specific man/machine interactions.
And this is the only way to achieve real added value. After all, it was Steve Jobs who pronounced, as long ago as 1993: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Keep it simple
The new interface design is ergonomic and object-centred. Accordingly, it draws upon a typical characteristic in the human brain which helps us to cut out any needless complexity, to make logical connections more quickly and to achieve further practical application of previously learnt knowledge or experience. The outcome is enhanced efficiency and safely when we use the MCU 3000 to operate the power supply system.
To that end, one strategy involved reducing the MCU 3000’s UI (User Interface) to the essentials. Leaving out any elements, colours, shapes or textures that were not really needed. This minimalistic approach enhances user-friendliness. An example of this is where a screen display, in its present configuration, now presents the user with nothing more than the information actually needed for the requirements of the relevant types of user and combinations of tasks. And the various types of users involved will have various help levels available in their respective UI. Content is displayed in the form of readily understandable icons or symbols that denote functions and system statuses. Whilst keeping the option of fading in additional help content or explanatory notes. Skilful use of blank space means that the presented content is easy to take on board, mentally. The design achieved makes the user feel relaxed and in control.
Now, the priority is placed on maximum system availability and profitability, in addition to a UX that provides guidance for the operator of a power supply system. That system does, after all, represent an investment that was made in order to protect the procedures critical to his business.
POWER News (PN) was glad of the opportunity to have a chat with BENNING Product Manager Stefan Kleefeld about how influences and connections surrounding availability and cost-effectiveness issues were incorporated into the MCU 3000’s UXD.
Clarity of design reduces complexity as seen from the user’s viewpoint and makes for ease of access to all functions via a user-friendly interface. The start-up screen was intentionally stripped to the essentials, and consists of an isolated single-line comprising the main measurement values and system statistics. The guidance gained by the user is enhanced by the sparing use of colours, by clarity of navigation and by the straightforward facilities for interaction.
Controls have been packed into a 10-inch touch display, and you can also swipe in the same way as you would with a smartphone or with a tablet.
PN: Mr Kleefeld, in your capacity as product manager you were crucially involved in the MCU 3000’s development. What would you say is your understanding of User Experience Design and how would we apply this in terms of controlling a power supply system whose primary function is to ensure the supply of energy and thus readiness for operation of connected consumers – when it comes to issues or failures in mains power?
Kleefeld: Yes, it goes without saying that the prime concern is that the power supply must be operational! And this is just what the UXD provides in the new MCU 3000. We only have to consider the servicing procedures that are carried out – depending on the required service level – not only by the operator’s employees but also by external providers. Changes in plant configuration can be applied whilst operations are ongoing. The UXD ensures the correspondingly required transparency, reproducibility and safety of operation. In the process, it simplifies and expedites servicing tasks on-site if – in the context of regularly recurring servicing processes, for example – it should be necessary for system information or log files to be output or if selected portions of the system have to be switched off or restarted altogether. In parallel, intuitive controls mean that learning times are reduced. That has to be good for safety and cost-effectiveness of operation.
PN: High availability is crucially dependent on faults and their causes being detected rapidly – followed by the necessary response. The corresponding signal processing is brilliantly integrated in your interface design. But what is it based on, at a technical level?
Kleefeld: The MCU provides all of the necessary data in logbook form, as it features chronological storage of all incidents, fault reports and system reports. Each dataset which is stored contains not only the corresponding value but a timestamp. This means that data can be organised and correctly analysed at all times. The necessary processes will be triggered on the basis of limit values, filter options and assigned priorities. As early as the project management stage, we determine which limit-value overshoots will trigger an alarm. Automatic, event-driven response are achieved as these statuses are combined with actions. Furthermore, a hysteresis range or a threshold value can be defined for alarms and reports. All alarms require reset or cancellation,this is how we make certain that the alarm has been noted.
PN: Quick response to reports and alarms means that shutdown times are avoided, and that the whole process chain’s efficiency is maximised. How is this supported by the MCU?
Kleefeld: In the age of Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory, the topic of connectivity was a central prerequisite for development. There is intercommunication between power supply, consumers and batteries and consequently there will be changes in the demands not only on the power supply but also on the operator himself. To meet this challenge, the MCU 3000 supports all communications protocols currently recognised in the energy industry, such as DNP 3, profibus and modbus, for example. Accordingly, this robust, high-performance controller is accessible from all directions: whether it is connected into a power supply within a windfarm, in a hydroelectric power station or in any other market segment. Whatever its location at any given time, it will report back to the operating personnel and keep them informed. All required information is made available irrespective of location, via webserver: mobile access.
PN: So, assuming that the operating staff have already received the alarm: how does the MCU contribute to rapid troubleshooting
Kleefeld: The locating of faults has been significantly speeded up and simplified. The MCU provides information about faults, short-circuits and shorts to earth. Signals from safety devices are incorporated and integrated in order to highlight the positions (or the directions) of faults. The location of the fault is unequivocally displayed by clear line colourations and corresponding markers on the circuit display. Accordingly, the service engineers’ task of isolating and rectifying the faults is speeded up. It may make more sense to call either the in-house service engineers or external support, depending on the type of fault. However, not every alarm may have been triggered by a fault. Monitoring of limit values also provides the means of taking preventive action before a fault situation even occurs. The net result we arrive at is an improvement in the quality and continuity of supply.
PN: In other words, the MCU essentially specialises in locating, fixing or proactively avoiding fault situations. But why do you regard the “logbook” as being so important?
Kleefeld: From our viewpoint, the deployment of service doesn’t end with troubleshooting. You have to track faults down to their origins in order to ensure continuous, safe operation. For example, why did a power failure arise in the first place? To that end, we need to reconstruct situations historically. The database which is provided by our logbook makes it possible to achieve rapid analysis of incidents and disruptions in conjunction with the respective operating statuses of the power supply, batteries or switch gear. On that basis, it is then possible to develop a concept such as to avoid future recurrence of the corresponding type of fault.
PN: Accordingly, the logbook is another component which is central to the assurance of maximum reliability of operations together with cost-effectiveness; and that goes for the long term view as well. This is something that must be welcomed by users of the new MCU generation. And we are very much looking forward to finding out what other innovative developments your engineers are going to present us with in the future. Many thanks for this exciting and informative Interview, Mr. Kleefeld.
The controls for future BENNING power supply systems are centred on the following main criteria, amongst others:
- Use of multi-touch HMIs
- Integration of smartphones & tablets into control concepts
- Use of mobile communications technology in a working context
- Reducing the time spent on documentation, thanks to mobile terminals
- Mobile use of current system data
- Early notification so as to avoid disrupted processes
- Use of a responsive website with the following objectives:
- For configuration
- For logging of measurement values
- For alarm and status displays
- For troubleshooting