Can HMI SCADA Be A Good Manufacturing Business?

Can HMI SCADA Be A Good Manufacturing Business?

HMI SCADA software builds the platform of the Industrial Internet of Things. Yet, many of the traditional companies apparently are not pursuing it as actively as in the past as they spend more time on somewhat “higher end” software—business intelligence and analytics.

So, is there money to be made in this business?

To that end, I have been watching the growth of Inductive Automation for more than ten years. It has introduced the Software as a Service, or cloud-based application, to the industrial space greatly lowering costs for customers. At the same time, everything it builds is IT-friendly. So the OT people can make friends with the IT people.

Well, business has been good enough that Inductive Automation has purchased a building for its corporate headquarters that’s 2½ times larger than its current space. The fast-growing company will remain in Folsom, and will move into its new location in July.

Inductive Automation makes industrial automation software that’s used in virtually every industry and in more than 100 countries. The company’s key product is Ignition by Inductive Automation. Ignition is an industrial application platform with fully integrated tools for building solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

The company has grown rapidly since its inception in 2003. Since the launch of Ignition in 2010, Inductive Automation’s revenues have grown at an average annual rate of more than 60 percent. The company’s growth has been fueled by powerful software and an unlimited licensing model, which together remove economic and technological barriers for industrial organizations seeking more data from their operations and processes.

“We’re committed to Folsom,” said Steve Hechtman, president and CEO of Inductive Automation. “When we first moved here from Sacramento, we had 20 employees. Now we have more than 100, and we look forward to continuing our growth at our new site. The larger building will allow us to expand to about 300 team members, as we continue to serve the global marketplace in industrial automation.”

Folsom community leaders are very happy with the company’s decision to stay in Folsom. “We are pleased that Inductive Automation calls Folsom home,” said Evert W. Palmer, city manager for Folsom. “We celebrate their success, and we are thankful for their contributions to Folsom’s strong and growing ecosystem of industry-leading technology companies.”

“Inductive Automation is a shining example of strong leaders with a well-defined vision to grow their company strategically and profitably,” said Joe Gagliardi, CEO/president of the Greater Folsom Partnership. “Their commitment to stay in Folsom and build their business is adding energy to the already-strong job growth we are experiencing in 2017. All segments of the Folsom economy benefit from the success of Inductive Automation.”

Can HMI SCADA Be A Good Manufacturing Business?

Industrial Software at Siemens Automation Summit

Software platforms that provide specific “apps” for industrial applications was the theme of the week for me. I received a better look at Siemens’ Mindsphere along with a competitor’s app that I’ll discuss in a later post. Tuesday and Wednesday this week found me in Las Vegas at the 2016 Automation Summit—Siemens US users group. There were many sessions and quite a lot of training for customers.

The keynote was given by Klaus Helmrich, a member of the managing board of Siemens. He continued the theme repeated during Hannover Messe—digitalization. His point was that digitalization enhances competitiveness, time to market, flexibility, quality, efficiency. You design in the virtual world; take it to real world; receive feedback from real world to the virtual world to assure design is current to reality.

Although I’ve been told that Europeans are not fond of the term “ecosystem” in this context, Helmrich uttered the “e-word”. The Digital Enterprise Ecosystem enables customers toe realize their wish to interact with the production process making their product.

Memorable quote—“using software is key to realization of Industry 4.0.”

Maintenance and Reliability

Terry O’Hanlon CEO of and Uptime magazine invited me to a panel presentation he was on. From the description in the program, I’d probably have never looked a second time. Plus, I’m not fond of panels. Usually each one talks for 10-15 minutes and then there is 10-15 minutes at the end for questions.

This one went against that grain. Each panelist gave about 2 minutes of their interest in the topic, then moderator Bob Vavra, editor of Plant Engineering magazine, proceeded directly to asking questions of the panel. The panel did not just sit back but each chimed in appropriately.

They did hope to hold questions to the final 15-20 minutes of the 105-minute session, but the audience would have none of that and started waving hands to ask follow up questions soon after the beginning.

The other panelists were Jagannath Rao, President of Siemens Industry Services; Brian Clemons, process automation manager at Dow Chemical; and, Keith Jones, of Prism Systems—an integrator.

It was a wide-ranging discussion. So, here are some quotes that capture some of the flavor of the discussion.

O’Hanlon, “What maintenance delivers is capacity.”

Clemons, “We bring a new process into the plant, but we’re still dealing with the same people.”

Clemons, Reliability usually talks MTBF, but what is really important is MTTR (repair or recover).

Rao, “Technology Suppliers more than component sellers, but look at larger solution.”

Jones, “Big data going to analytics is a difficult proposition—both doing and defining.”

O’Hanlon, “You need sensors that are appropriate to the health of the asset. That’s why you need predictive analytics.”

Jones, “IoT increasing traffic on network is a burden and sometimes affects production.”

O’Hanlon, “Reliability as a function of the business case.”

Data Analytics — Mindsphere

MindSphere is Siemens Cloud for Industry built on SAP HANA. It is a platform, which Siemens, customers, and OEMs can build software apps (App Store) on top of.

Speakers acknowledged that some customers are still uncertain about the cloud, but the cloud is where analytics run.

One app already developed is control loops. Customers can connect selected control loops, send data to cloud, analytics check for status of tuning and other things. The customer gets a dashboard. The analytics can even see stiction in valves.

This solution (like many) moves the software expenditure from CapEx to OpEx (note: look for this as a theme for how technology suppliers are beginning to price software).

This formula:
Domain Knowhow + Context Knowhow + Analytics Knowhow = Customer Value
is the foundation of app development.

Siemens has a product “MindConnect” secure data acquisition box. This is a similar idea to the Dell IoT Gateway or Advantech. These edge computing and communicating engines are the current IoT trend.

Current apps include:
Drivetrains (gearboxes)
Machine Tools
Control Loops

HMI SCADA At the High End

HMI SCADA At the High End

I’m still pondering the whole HMI/SCADA market and technologies. I’m still getting a few updates after the Inductive Automation conference I attended in California and the Wonderware conference in Dallas that I missed.

The two have traditionally been referred to in trade publications together.

Today, I think three or four things are blending. Things are getting interesting.

SCADA is “supervisory control and data acquisition.” The supervisory control part has blended into the higher ends of human-machine interface. Data Acquisition software technology is a key platform for what we are today calling the “Industrial Internet of Things.” I’ve heard one technologist predict that soon we’ll just say “Internet.”

Data acquisition itself is a system that involves a variety of inputs including sensors, signal analyzers, and networks. The software part brings it all under control and provides a format for passing data to the next level.

HMI also involves a system these days. Evolving from operator interface into sophisticated software that includes the “supervisory control” part of the system.

Some applications also blend in MES and Manufacturing Intelligence. These applications, often engineered solutions atop the software platforms, strive to make sense of the data moving from HMI/SCADA either using it for manufacturing control or as a feed to enterprise systems.

Wonderware has been an historical force in these areas. Its original competitor was Intellution which is now subsumed into GE’s Proficy suite. The other strong competitor is Rockwell Automation. All three sell on a traditional sales model of “seats” and/or “tags.”

Inductive Automation built from enterprise grade database technology and has a completely different sales model. It is driving the cost of HMI/SCADA, and in some ways MES, down.

Competitors can meet that competition by either pursuing a race to the bottom or through redefining a higher niche. The winner of the race to the bottom becomes the company built from the ground up for low individual sales price.

Wonderware announcements

All of that was just an analyst prologue to a couple of items that have popped up from Schneider Electric Software (Wonderware) over the past couple of days.

timSowellTo my mind, Tim Sowell is addressing how some customers are taking these platforms to a new level.   Writing in his blog last weekend, Sowell notes, “For the last couple of years we have seen the changing supervisory solutions emerging, that will require a rethink of the underlying systems, and how they implemented and the traditional HMI, Control architectures will not satisfy! Certainly in upstream Oil and Gas, Power, Mining, Water and Smart Cities we have seen a significant growth in the Integrated Operational Center (IOC) concept. Where multiple sites control comes back into one room, where planning and operations can collaborate in real-time.”

I have seen examples of this Integrated Operations Center featuring such roles as operations, planning, engineering, and maintenance. But this is more than technology—it requires organizing, training, and equipping humans.

Sowell, “When you start peeling back the ‘day in the life of operations’ the IOC is only the ‘quarterback’ in a flexible operational team of different roles, contributing different levels of operational. Combined with dynamic operational landscape, where the operational span of control of operational assets, is dynamically changing all the time. The question is what does the system look like, do the traditional approaches apply?”

Tying things together, Sowell writes, “Traditionally companies have used isolated (siloed) HMI, DCS workstation controls at the facilities, and then others at the regional operational centers and then others at the central IOC, and stitched them together. Now you add the dynamic nature of the business with changing assets, and now a mobile workforce we have addition operational stations that of the mobile (roaming worker). All must see the same state, with scope to their span of control, and accountability to control.”

The initial conclusion, “We need one system, but multiple operational points, and layouts, awareness so the OPERATIONAL TEAM can operate in unison, enabling effective operational work.”


Here is a little more detail about the latest revision of Wonderware Intelligence to which I referred last week and above.The newest version collects, calculates and contextualizes data and metrics from multiple sources across the manufacturing operation, puts it into a centralized storage and updates it all in near-real time. Because it is optimized for retrieval, the information can then be used to monitor KPIs via customizable dashboards, as well as for drill-down analysis and insights into operating and overall business performance.

“Wonderware Intelligence is an easy-to-use, non-disruptive solution that improves how our customers visualize and analyze industrial Big Data,” said Graeme Welton, director of Advansys (Pty) Ltd., a South African company that provides specialized industrial automation, manufacturing systems and business intelligence consulting and project implementation services. “It allows our customers to build their own interactive dashboards that can capture, visualize and analyze key performance indicators and other operating data. Not only is it more user-friendly, it has better query cycle times, it’s faster and it has simpler administration rights. It’s an innovative tool that continues to drive quality and value.”

Wonderware Intelligence visual analytics and dashboards allow everyone in the operation to see the same version of the truth drawn from a single data warehouse. The interactive and visual nature of the dashboards significantly increases the speed and confidence of the users’ decision making.

Can HMI SCADA Be A Good Manufacturing Business?

Present and Future of SCADA

Last month I wrote an article about whether SCADA is the future industrial technology given its enabling of the Industrial Internet of Things.

Then I wrote a piece that I hoped would stir up some controversy over SCADA suppliers and business models. Didn’t get much response, though.

This week I had an opportunity to discuss and learn more about these topics. I’ve been in Folsom, CA at the Inductive Automation “Build” Conference. I could have gone to the Profibus meeting in Phoenix as I’ve done for 12 or more years. But I had already committed to Inductive before I received notification of that event.

Schneider Electric Software (Wonderware) only informed me of its conference, also this week, a few weeks ago. Once again, I was committed to this trip. I’m trying to learn what is going on there. I’ve seen a couple of news releases. I thought there was going to be a “show daily” but I’ve seen nothing.

This is the third Inductive Automation user conference. I had heard good things about the last two. About 400 people attended this year. Conference sessions were packed—maybe because they limit the number of sessions. Some conferences are so broad and have so many sessions that it is unusual for a session to have more than 20 attendees. Not so here, where sessions were lively and packed with 100 or more.


Inductive Travis CoxTravis Cox, co-director of sales engineering, highlighted the many applications publicized at the conference using the company’s Ignition software. The company has long held training sessions at its Sacramento and now Folsom headquarters. Answering demand for training that did not require a week’s missed work and travel expenses, Inductive built the online Inductive University. This site had 4,000 new users during past year. It has also initiated global training centers–run by integrators.



Inductive RobotAn engineer at partner INS built a homemade robot using Ignition as control and HMI platform.






Tech trends

Chief Strategy Officer Don Pearson discussed the company vision of empowering people through unlimited connections.

Unlimited connections thoughts lead to thoughts of the Industrial Internet of Things. Pearson acknowledged hype on IoT. He dubbed it “a network of intelligent computers, devices, and objects that collect and share data, aggregated in the Cloud, and sent to users. But he noted that raw data is of low value. Analysis is needed for making decisions and providing solutions. A four-step chart became the meme of the conference—data, information, knowledge, wisdom/innovation. “At the end of the day, some human must be empowered,” he concluded.

Taking a poke at existing HMI/SCADA suppliers, Pearson noted in 2003 when Inductive started competitors said it’s a mature industry and there is no innovation left. But they innovated. Competitors said there was no way to get growth out of SCADA (see my blog posts referenced above). But Inductive Automation has been growing consistently since its founding now numbering 100 people.


Inductive Steve HechtmanSteve Hechtman, founder and president, said IIoT seems to be about data acquisition. Ignition is an enabling technology. The three parts of an IIoT system include open connectivity, unlimited storage, agile applications. Of the three, the last one is vital. And not just development but also deployment. Open connectivity in Ignition includes MQTT and OPC UA at the core. As for the store part, “Ignition is the king” working well with such standard databases as MySQL, PostgreSQL, IBM db2, Microsoft SQLServer, Oracle, and MariaDB. “Ignition doesn’t care if you use Oracle or Amazon or Azure.”

Regarding agile, Hechtman referred to Metcalfe’s Law—Network Value=the square of connected users. Ignition’s technology and pricing model reflect the company mantra of three 10s—10 times as much for one tenth of the resource, and ten times as fast.

Hechtman concluded, “Our mission is to create industrial software that empowers our customers to swiftly turn great ideas into reality by removing all technological and economic obstacles.” And executing that, Inductive is the “fastest growing SCADA company in the world.”

HMI SCADA At the High End

SCADA or Automation?

What is going on in the area of automation?

When I helped start an automation magazine some 12 years ago, the talk was about moving the discussion from control to automation. Engineers were busy automating processes, machines, systems, lines.

A few years ago the conversation seemed to start moving again toward information and networking.

This thought blended well with the media coverage of the newly coined phrase “Internet of Things” which GE and others modified to “Industrial Internet of Things” for our particular purposes.

Recently I’ve seen two articles by respected end customer engineers about how SCADA (perhaps without the SC) needs to supercede automation. Then I saw another article from another respected source saying the problem isn’t technology. The problem is information and people.

[Note: SCADA=supervisory control and data acquisition; without the SC, maybe we only need the data acquisition]

I am seeing less talk about advances in automation and control technology. The conversation now centers on connections:

  • Connecting machines to other machines
  • Connecting machine data to manufacturing information systems
  • Connecting machine data to enterprise information systems
  • Connecting process information to people using all available tools from desktop to mobile phone
  • Connecting companies and suppliers
  • Connecting people

The name of this blog and my company was not chosen at random. The conversation for the next several years will be how companies derive the greatest benefits and effectiveness from all these connections.


Follow this blog

Get a weekly email of all new posts.