Two Polish software developers engage in conversation weekly on The Podcast. One wrote the original version of Nozbe the Getting Things Done app I use. Michael Sliwinski talked of using open source software to help him write his app and start his company. His Apple developer Radek Pietruszewski in episode 157 discussed how they wrote a piece of database code they dubbed WatermelonDB and released it into open source on GitHub.

I talk about the benefits of open source as an introduction to things I gleaned from last week’s annual trip to the Sacramento, CA area and the Inductive Automation Ignition Community Conference. Community was the operative word as the gathering of several hundred (I never heard an exact count, but the rumor was there were more than 600) integrators and users crowded into the Harris Center in Folsom for conversation, training, and updates.

On a side note, I’ve been unusually swamped with my annual project of assigning referees to high school and US Soccer youth contests. It seems as if half of the preliminary work I put in assigning before the season were washed away in an unusually wet late summer. Rescheduling is hell. Referees are tired of hearing from me. But I have only 2.5 weeks left in the high school season and two weeks beyond that will close the club season. Then I take a six-month break. Therefore, my energy level for writing has been sapped and the frequency here and on my podcast have suffered.

Founder and CEO Steve Hechtman betrayed his usual laid back demeanor talking about company growth and especially the latest release—Ignition 8—to be released in a few months. I have few details, but developers solved many platform problems caused by integrators pushing the envelop of HMI SCADA software.

Chief Strategy Officer Don Pearson told how the company has always embodied the OT/IT convergence meme with Hechtman coming from an OT background as an integrator and co-developers and now co-directors of software engineering Carl Gould and Colby Clegg were trained in IT technologies.

Pearson began the discussion of open source that continued throughout the conference. While Inductive Automation has always been a proponent of open standards—it still fully supports OPC UA, for example—it is also an open source user and contributor. The technologies strongly promoted at the conference were MQTT (a transport protocol) and Sparkplug (an information carrier in this case used to communicate Ignition tag information from source to consumer). Developer Cirrus Link has placed Sparkplug in the open source Eclipse Foundation.

Speakers talked with assurance about open source, but there was a thread of defensiveness in the discussion, too. Pearson quoted Maeterlinck, “At every crossroad on the way that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.” Eclipse Foundation Executive Director Mike Milinkovich proclaimed, “Software is eating the world, and open source is eating software.”

I like both open source and open standards. They both have propelled industry enabling innovation and limiting lock-in. I remember downloading the first Java JDK in the 90s and trying out the eclipse platform in early 2002. All pretty cool stuff. The Inductive Automation adoption of open source is refreshing in the industry.

Here are a few bullet points from the Carl-Colby show introducing Ignition 8:

  • Building on the past, but with a new beginning
  • New platform:
  • Revamped tag system to reduce memory overload
  • New scripting app
  • Subscription and data model
  • Extensibility
  • Dynamic writable UDT parameters
  • Deployment architecture, true project inheritance
  • Project resource management
  • Ignition perspective, new mobile module, built up from ground new

I really should add that while Ignition is very good software, most of the people at the conference told me that they were enticed into the system by the pricing. From the beginning, Inductive Automation decided to upset the software pricing model prevalent in the industry. It is a growing company…

Sepasoft

Inductive had acquired an MES company, integrated with Ignition, and has now spun it off into a separate company run by Tom Hechtman, brother to Steve. Its modular software includes many typical MES applications such as track and trace, workflow, OEE, recipe management, and more. Hechtman discussed a Lean Six Sigma tool kit. He noted the staff has doubled in the nine years since acquisition. It is an ISA 95 and B2MML solution. And also now a MESA International member.

Other notes from the conference

Table top exhibits from the conference sponsors were always packed with curious engineers seeking solutions.

Opto 22’s VP Marketing Benson Hougland told me they can’t build the Groov EPIC PLC fast enough for demand. That product combined with Ignition is a powerful control and SCADA platform—as sales attest.

Albert Rooyakkers, founder/CEO of Bedrock Automation told me that his sub-$1000 controller is selling well. Bedrock specializes in secure and hardened controllers—ideal for power, pipeline, and other such applications. He told me, “Secure SCADA with Ignition is coming.” His key word is secure.

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