HTML5 is Here: What Industrial Manufacturers Need to Know

One of the newest technology buzzwords to penetrate the industrial manufacturing space is HTML5. HMI platforms are beginning to be based on HTML5. Analysis tools for MES, configuration software, and other products are touting their HTML5 compliance. HTML5 is getting a lot of attention.

But what does HTML5 mean for the average manufacturing plant? Here are answers to common questions about the new HTML5 to help you understand what it is, what it offers, and what it doesn’t.

Q. What is HTML5?

A. HTML5 is the fifth major version of HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language. HTML is one of the “core languages” of the Internet. The previous version of HTML was 4.01, and was released just before the year 2000. HTML5 was published as a recommendation by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 2014. 1

When you browse the Internet and see web pages on a PC, tablet, phone, TV, or other device, it’s very likely that page is being displayed by your device processing HTML code.

Q. Why has HTML5 been developed?

A. In the years since HTML4.01 was standardized, web developers have pushed the envelope of what can be seen, used, and interacted with when browsing the web. The other “core languages” of the internet, JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) went through multiple iterations and advanced. Other software like Adobe Flash provided additional media distribution features, like the ability to play videos or video games from within a web browser.

HTML5 adds new features to the HTML standard, but nothing that HTML5 does is itself a new concept. These new features are implementations of what has already been done with other technologies. For example, instead of needing to use Flash to play a video, HTML5 has video as a feature built-in. YouTube has been using HTML5 to distribute video for years.

Q. What does HTML5 bring to the table?

A. The new features in HTML5 make it quicker and easier to develop rich, interactive web pages. Marking how portions of a screen or page should lay themselves out when viewed on PC, mobile, or other device is simpler to accomplish. The Geolocation API makes it possible to update the content of pages based on location-specific information. In the past, storing data on a client to persist settings and other information across sessions was accomplished with cookies, while HTML5’s new web storage feature can store much larger amounts of data, and increases data security on the data itself.

Q. Why does HTML5 matter to industrial manufacturers?

A. HTML5 is important in manufacturing because your vendors are moving toward it. Many software packages depend upon ActiveX objects for displaying interactive graphics, and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) for scripting non-standard logic. These packages may require proprietary client-side applications in order to use the software. In the industrial space, this has been standard for a long time.

But these technologies have limitations:

  • They don’t easily port to mobile phones. Add-on packages are required to manipulate the software and make it accessible. Even then, the result may only work on some devices. Maybe one employee is able to interact with an HMI package on their particular model of Android phone, and other employees on iPhones cannot.
  • To make matters more difficult, the base technologies and frameworks are becoming obsolete. Microsoft abandoned further advancement to VBA in the late 1990s and in 2015 published its goal to discontinue ActiveX.2

In order to work across all the different platforms users have today, keep up with supported technologies, and continue to look and feel like modern products, vendors in the industrial space are choosing to follow a universal standard as the basis for graphics and interaction. That standard is HTML5.

Q. If I buy an HTML5 HMI software package, will I be able to use the HMI screens on my phone?

A. This is a common question and the answer isn’t always clear.

One option available with HTML5 is templating web page layouts that can responsively change for different devices (such as a PC or a phone).

The ability to render on mobile or other devices existed before HTML5. Plenty of social media, news, and other websites supported mobile before 2014. However, just as websites and software applications prior to HTML5 didn’t necessarily work on mobile, HTML5 websites and software don’t necessarily work on mobile either.

Just because a software package is HTML5 compliant, this does not mean it will work properly on every device. The software vendor must still choose to use the functionality that allows a website to be cross platform. HTML5 makes it easier to implement that functionality and standardizes on ways to do so, but does not require it and does not enforce it.

Q. Are there any risks to implementing HTML5 to access with my mobile phone?

There are other considerations to factor in when accessing HMI packages and other software via mobile devices. HTML5 does nothing to add to security or prevent malicious attacks on your control system. Websites and mobile applications render on devices in such a way that makes portions of the pages and logic easy to disassemble. Programming of code to enter usernames and passwords, communicate with the control system or enterprise databases, and other critical functions must be designed, implemented, and tested with security in mind.

Adding mobile access may present an additional set of concerns completely unrelated to the mechanism of how screens and graphics are programmed or displayed. If your goal with an HTML5 software package is to easily access plant data while external to a facility, the typical information security issues of firewalls, VPNs, and passwords apply.

We advise our manufacturing customers to avoid making assumptions about HMTL5 compliant vendor products and industrial automation solutions. The safest bet is to thoroughly evaluate vendor packages before implementation.

Q. I’ve found new software for my plant that’s based on HTML5. Can I just get the upgraded software and be good to go?

A. Before taking on any software upgrade, it is important to evaluate your current systems and make sure they can handle the upgrade. This is as true for an enterprise or corporate system as much as it is for a control system.

In order for a client machine to view a web page that uses HTML5, the client machine must use an “HTML5-compliant web browser.” This means that the software on the client needs to be new enough to run the new software.

Microsoft Windows is the most common series of operating systems used in manufacturing control systems.  Internet Explorer is the default web browser that comes with many versions of Windows. The earliest version of Internet Explorer that has a usable degree of HTML5 compliance is version 9, released back in 2011.

Newer versions of Windows either come with IE11 or Edge, Microsoft’s newest browser. If you have an older version of Windows (Windows 7 or a derivation of Windows Server 2008), IE9 is not included by default. An upgrade is required. And if you are running legacy versions of Windows (Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, or earlier), an upgrade to the latest Internet Explorer isn’t even possible.

If your systems do not have a modern web browser, the systems cannot properly use or benefit from HTML5 applications. There are, of course, other web competing browsers that can be used: Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera are also available with HTML5 compliance. But you may not have them installed in your control system.

The best way to be sure your manufacturing process control system is ready for HTML5 applications is to do an evaluation of your system and software. The engineers of Matrix Technologies can assist you with an evaluation and manage any upgrades needed for your plant to benefit from HTML5.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing systems and solutions capabilities, contact John Lee, Strategic Manager of Manufacturing Intelligence.

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Tags: / Automation Integration  / Automation Solutions  / HTML5  / Industrial Automatoin Solutions  / Manufacturing Operations Management  / Manufacturing Process Control  / Process Design  / Upgrade  / Improvement 

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