October 2015

The Three Advancements in HMI Technology Changing Upstream Oil and Gas Operations

Due to the physical separation of control and site operations, upstream oil and gas applications have been at a disadvantage in comparison with other industrial operations in energy where advanced HMI and IPC technology can be more easily deployed and used by floor operation teams. This has been due to the lack of availability of highly portable, powerful, and industrialized HMI solutions that can offer processing power along with the industrial functionality required on the rig platform floor. However, that limitation is now changing, and is driving down the operational costs and risks of upstream oil operations. With advances in industrialized HMI and the IPC sector, the power of the control room switch house is now at the fingertips of the Rig Managers Driller and Derrickhand.

In this article, we discuss the technologies that have enabled oil and gas companies to do more with less by leading the oil and gas industry in the direction of increased field-level control.

1. Industrial HMI Interface

HMIs tend to provide very poor visibility in direct sunlight and the lack of “multi-touch” command technology made them hard to use and counter-productive. However, unprecedented advancements in HMI interface technology have begun to redefine the capabilities of the HMI in upstream oil and gas applications.

Resistive and Capacitive Interface Technology

Resistive touch is the common technology used in IPCs and industrial HMIs because of the more durable screen material that this technology can provide over capacitive touch screen technologies. Additionally, resistive interfaces can be operated just as the name suggests—by resistance. In short, resistive interface technology allows oil and gas HMIs to be used while wearing gloves, which is very important to upstream oil and gas drilling applications. However, this has also been a limiting factor in the development of mobile computing in upstream oil and gas.

Industrial Capacitive Interface

Industrial capacitive touch is the new gold standard for UL Class 1, Division 2 HMI technology. This technology has allowed a handful of leading HMI manufacturers to offer the oil and gas industry ready-access to the computing technology of the enterprise, with industrial reliability. Moxa’s new EXPC-1519 exemplifies the industry’s best-in-class attributes when it comes to industrial reliability, functionality, and usability of this technology. Of these attributes, a highlight is the innovative approach to multi-touch capacitive interface technology that allows the panel to be operated with the dexterity of a consumer tablet computer while wearing a rigger’s glove.

2. Industrial Design

In the world of technology, processing speed and features can often distract manufacturers from sound and resilient form factor design. At its core, design is the foundation of a great product. For HMI and IPC design, this is no different. Considerations must be placed on unit resiliency and serviceability before an HMI’s features can be deemed useful for a control application. Any modern HMI and IPC should be operable in a -40 to 70°C temperature range and carry all required industrial certifications, including Class 1 Division 2, ATEX Zone 2, IECEx, and totally sealed NEMA 4X/IP66.

HMI Modularity

A key best practice in IPC and Industrial HMI design is robust, industry-certified Ex and UL Class 1, division 2, modular construction. Fewer assembly parts equates to faster, cheaper, and easier asset repair and service. Most high-end IPCs have a backplane, front plane, and motherboard, with the option for an external cable gland for normal I/O, Cable, Zone 2, and dual AC/DC power supply connectivity. True modularity enables out-of-the-box functionality, with the ability for customers to stock replacement parts for quick onsite procurement.

Thermodynamic Construction

In upstream oil, rig operations are often located in some of the world’s most remote locations and extreme temperatures. An HMI or IPC design that operates under warranty in -40 to 70°C temperatures without internal cooling or heating mechanisms is a product that is ideally suited for the upstream oil and gas vertical market.

3. Processor Performance

A modern HMI or IPC should include a powerful processor that is capable of supporting the influx of data from a growing network of sensors. For example, the Moxa EXPC-1519 IPC comes with a high performance Intel® 3rd generation Core™ i7-3555LE or Celeron 1047UE CPU and up to 2.5 GHz processor so that customers can bring the control and insights of the control room to the drilling rig operation.


The definition of HMI for upstream oil applications is evolving due to the way various aspects of the control room are broken down. The three key advancements in industrial HMI technology—capacitive touch interface, industrial design, and simple processing performance—make it clear that benefits to empower upstream oil and gas are numerous. With this said, selecting the right HMI and IPC features can have a monumental effect on the resilience and operational benefits of your operation.

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