X2 series - The next generation HMI

When Beijer Electronics launched the new X2 series of operator panels in August 2016 it was their most ambitious product launch to date. Together with their supporting software tools iX Developer and WARP Engineering Studio, the X2 series offered customers an integrated HMI solution with a huge range of panels to fit any requirement.

Here, members of the Beijer product team, Sharon Nordgren (Product Manager – iX Developer), Axel Gustafson (Product Manager - HMI Hardware) and Mats Carlsson (Product Manager - WARP Engineering Studio) look back at the last 18 months and explain how the X2 family continues to drive Beijer Electronics’ vision of “Making the complex simple” for their customers.

The X2 series was launched in August 2016. What has happened since the release?

Axel Gustafson (AG): The X2 has been our most successful product launch ever - both in terms of the number of customers adopting it and the feedback we have received from them. We are fully in line with our overall quality goals, and the X2 range has given us several benefits compared to previous generations.

The X2 pro has our first ever 21-inch display giving customers significantly more screen real estate to present extra information in an industrial HMI environment.

We have also introduced customization of the panel fronts enabling customers to expose their own brand and visual style on the product itself.

With the X2 pro 7 2E we have provided two ethernet ports, allowing customers to run two distinct networks off the same hardware.

With new software versions, all these new features have been a result of customer feedback and, in keeping with the idea of “Making the complex simple”, we have been able to add increased functionality and performance without impacting the price or the levels of set-up complexity. We are definitely making clients’ lives easier.

What are the strengths of each of the products in the X2 family and what are the synergies between them?

AG: The X2 has a broad range of options from the X2 base - the cost-effective solution - right through to the X2 pro for the more industrial environments and the X2 marine for marine applications.

"When we released X2, iX got a real boost. It is much more powerful than the previous generations of hardware. It means you get a much better performance from iX for the same amount of money which has really accelerated our position in the market."

The latest addition to the X2 family is the X2 extreme which can be used in the most hazardous and inhospitable locations an operator might find themselves in. It functions in extreme temperatures and tough environments, such as diesel engines where there is a lot of vibration, or the sawmills of northern Canada where the temperatures drop to -30 degrees.

One particularly important addition is the X2 control which leverages all the benefits of using the iX visualization software, but is also compatible with the CODESYS control software that is used by many companies in the industrial segment around the world. This means you can incorporate a complete combined HMI and control solution in one X2 hardware unit.

An important benefit of the X2 product line as a whole is that there is no need for any re-engineering of the original software application. A customer can continue to solve their visualization problem using iX Developer, and then, depending on the hardware requirements they have, select the X2 model that best suits their application.

This flexibility is unique in the marketplace. There are very few HMI vendors with such versatile hardware products that work with the same software and offer the same design and look and feel.

What’s the relationship between X2 HMI’s, iX Developer and WARP Engineering Studio?

Sharon Nordgren (SN): iX Developer is the tool a customer uses to build the visualization. WARP is then used to configure the solution. It’s like the three products together form an ecosystem that offers our customers huge time-saving benefits and ease of use. They enable a customer to come up with a solution of their own knowing there will be a panel in the X2 range that suits their need.

For example, if a company wants to connect a controller and a X2 pro, they can configure the visualization using iX and the project layout using WARP. WARP will create all the hardware settings and generate code automatically making it ready in just a few seconds. Before WARP there was a lot of manual work required to produce the final application.

When we released X2, iX got a real boost. It is much more powerful than the previous generations of hardware. It means you get a much better performance from iX for the same amount of money which has really accelerated our position in the market.

Mats Carlsson (MC): WARP Engineering Studio is a configuration tool for the different X2 panels and complementary products. Basically, it’s a visual product catalogue. The software guides the user to which panels are available and how they are compatible with other products in our portfolio. WARP is a framework where you can save a lot of time in the set-up of your application. You can decide the HMI you want to use and WARP will then help the user launch the right iX version or CODESYS software and create the application with everything setup correctly from the start.

What are the highlights of iX Developer and WARP Engineering Studio?

SN: We released the first version of iX back in 2008. It was a generational leap in the sophistication of our software. For the first time it allowed customers to add their own functionality, script code and so on. It really changed our position in the market because we were suddenly able to work with almost any application or control device. Yes, there has been a lot of progress since then, but the cornerstone of iX is the same today as it was when we released it. The focus has always been nice-looking graphics, a user-friendly development software and the flexibility of allowing customers to add their own functionality.

MC: WARP Engineering Studio also has a feature called Smart Objects which includes iX and CODESYS functionality packaged in a ready-made object. This means, if the customer needs to add a PID regulator for controlling something, he can just drag a Smart Object from the library and place it into the X2 control unit. This will create a graphic representation of that regulator - including all the underlying PLC code - so that the customer doesn’t have to do anything else. This drastically reduces engineering time and almost completely eliminates the chance of errors. It is a unique capability of WARP compared to other engineering studios on the market and is the embodiment of “Making the complex simple” using smart engineering tools. It is at the center of our entire strategy.

What can we expect of the X2 series, iX Developer and WARP Engineering Studio in the near future?

AG: The whole company is working towards IIoT and cloud connectivity which will allow our HMIs to connect to the cloud. The ultimate goal is for us to be able to configure and deploy an IIoT system in a customer’s organization within ten minutes. X2 becomes a gateway in that solution. It will provide all the data and will be the device that connects to the cloud.  iX and WARP will contribute with smart functionality to support this.

We are planning a pilot program with some test customers in May, and will then be able to gather feedback on how easy it is to use. Our goal is to launch it this year.

This will be an exciting and crucial step towards realizing our vision and helping customers to gain insights from their data.