Smart App Embedded with Artificial Intelligence Improves Operations in Real-time

The popular press dithers over Artificial Intelligence and the “young ladies” Siri and Alexa spy on your every word. However, there are real, practical applications of AI that can help us operate and maintain our manufacturing and industrial operations. Here is one from AVEVA, a company that seems to have dominated my news this summer.

It has launched AVEVA Insight OMI app infusing real-time artificial intelligence into an operator’s decision-making. This app presents real-time anomaly detection in a context-aware OMI visualization display.

The AVEVA Insight OMI app introduces AI capabilities into the AVEVA System Platform, formerly Wonderware, and leverages predictive early warning and automatic detection of unusual operational behavior. This provides users with early notification so they can quickly resolve issues before they become critical business problems such as unplanned downtime and production losses.

A simple management interface enables operations, maintenance and production teams to quickly train the AI engine to adapt to the enterprise’s specific implementation. An intuitive thumbs-up or thumbs-down confirmation ensures AI-driven notifications are relevant to the needs of the user and support overall enterprise objectives, with no programming or data science knowledge required. This closed-loop feedback improves the accuracy of the AI prediction engine over time and enables users to see what matters. As anomalous patterns are identified, they can be captured and presented by the app within an organization’s on-premise HMI/SCADA solution, delivering insights directly where operators need it.

“IIoT applications have driven a massive increase in the collection of real-time operations and manufacturing data. As a result, operators face alarm overload and often cannot effectively react to or distinguish between process-critical situations and false positive alarm conditions, resulting in the loss of operational time and resources. By harnessing the power of AI and advanced cloud analytics, AVEVA is enabling operators to take proactive action, before process and maintenance problems occur,” commented Rashesh Mody, Vice President, Monitoring and Control, AVEVA.

“In today’s climate of increased demand for innovative technology solutions, the launch of our new AVEVA Insight OMI app is a significant development because it serves as a single interface into operations by bridging the information technology and operational technology divide for increased agility and situational awareness. We are very excited to introduce a solution that will help our customers manage critical operations and improve decision support for maximum profitability in these fast-changing times,” Mody concludes.

Connecting Plant to Execution to Business

When it was time to leave paid employment and head out on my own, I looked for a domain name I could buy with “connection” in it. Surveying the landscape of technology and applications in 2013, I saw that despite a couple of decades of thought on connecting sensors at one end to business systems on the other this was still the future.

I also thought that I’d make a living in the MES space. Wrong! That space has never supported media or analysts. But Internet of Things came along and changed the conversation. And the technologies that evolved with IoT have enabled connectivity at new levels.

Here is the story of plant level (Ignition SCADA from Inductive Automation) to the execution level (Sepasoft MES) to business level (SAP).

In brief, Sepasoft launches Sepasoft Business Connector & Interface For SAP ERP Modules for connecting Ignition to business systems. Easy-to-integrate toolset democratizes connectivity between manufacturing and the enterprise.

Sepasoft Business Connector and Interface for SAP ERP is a suite of modules for connecting Ignition by Inductive Automation to business systems like SAP ERP. Connecting the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Manufacturing Execution System (MES) layers of manufacturing operations, the Sepasoft Business Connector provides intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces for developing business logic, transforming data, and mapping data between Ignition and other systems.

The combination of Sepasoft and Ignition by Inductive Automation becomes a first-class MES and connectivity platform for the enterprise.

To ensure that the new product suite would present a unique offering and adhere to industry best practices, Sepasoft teamed up with 4IR Solutions due to their deep expertise in enterprise and SAP integration. “The Sepasoft Business Connector offers increased flexibility and substantial cost savings versus existing solutions. When factoring in licensing, maintenance, training, engineering, and support, customers can expect to pay an order of magnitude less compared to leveraging other middleware or developing custom solutions,” said Joseph Dolivo, Principal of Digital Transformation at 4IR Solutions.

“The Sepasoft Business Connector will allow our customers to improve their operations while reducing their costs,” said Keith Adair, Product Manager at Sepasoft. “The Sepasoft Business Connector can link directly to SAP via the Interface for SAP ERP module and provides built-in templates for common data exchange scenarios. With the addition of our Web Services module, the Sepasoft Business Connector can communicate with other ERP and business systems that support SOAP and RESTful endpoints.”

“We’re very excited to welcome a native SAP connector and business connectivity tool to the Ignition ecosystem,” said Don Pearson, Chief Strategy Officer for Inductive Automation. “As an integrated part of the Ignition platform, the Sepasoft Business Connector supports familiar idioms like drag-and-drop, tag binding, and scripting, while requiring minimal configuration of third-party systems.”

4IR Solutions Corp is the leading provider of Life Sciences and enterprise integration consulting services for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and beyond. 4IR’s consultants have decades of experience providing companies with enterprise-wide connectivity, partnering with leading vendors to capture and encapsulate that experience into new and innovative products.

Inductive Automation Releases Ignition Maker Edition

Companies once upon a time gave me copies of their software to play with and try. Software has become so large and complex over the past 20 years, that I haven’t been able to play with software for a long time.

Enter an interesting idea. Imagine a version of a powerful SCADA, HMI, IoT software that you, yes you, can try out at home. Build a home automation system. Do a bill-pay routine. Let your imagination take you places.

For, yesterday, Inductive Automation announced the release of Ignition Maker Edition. This new software platform gives people free, personal access to the industrial-grade Ignition by Inductive Automation. Ignition is an industrial application platform with tools for building solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Ignition is used in virtually every industry, in more than 100 countries.

Ignition Maker Edition is free for non-commercial users and takes just three minutes to install. It enables people to bring innovation home, allowing them to easily create their own “control rooms” for personal use. “I use Ignition for my home automation system and to manage my bills,” said Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering at Inductive Automation. “Ignition is an ideal tool because it connects to anything and gives me the flexibility to customize the solution the way I want it. And I can access it anywhere.”

Ignition Maker Edition is not intended for industrial, professional, or commercial use. It was designed as a free tool for hobbyists, students, and individuals wanting to familiarize themselves with the Ignition platform. It is cross-platform, and uses trusted technologies like SQL, Python, OPC UA, and MQTT — allowing users to connect to just about any kind of database, PLC, and device.

People can use it to automate the lights in their home, manage a personal weather station, or to build projects for other personal activities. The software is so flexible, it can be used to turn all kinds of ideas into reality. Users can add charts, tables, voice notifications, sophisticated logic systems, and more. Ignition Maker Edition gives users the power to create customized dashboards. Users can collect data, get real-time analytics, and manage multiple devices.

Ignition Maker Edition is nearly identical to Ignition and includes many of the same core modules that make Ignition so popular with industrial users. It includes the Ignition Perspective Module, which brings powerful new capabilities to phones and tablets. Other modules, also included, enable database connections, alarm notifications, OPC UA functionality, tag historian, reporting, and more. The software also supports MQTT modules from Cirrus Link Solutions.

Ignition Maker Edition is the perfect personal tool for those who use Ignition at work. “The same individuals who are using Ignition every day to optimize production lines, track energy usage, and monitor operating conditions can now apply all that knowledge to their personal projects,” said Colby Clegg, vice president of technology for Inductive Automation.

The release was announced today on Ignition Community Live, a weekly series of webcasts featuring Inductive Automation experts and special guests. A recording of the presentation about Ignition Maker Edition will be available soon at Inductive Automation’s Videos page and YouTube channel.

Open Source Faces Off Versus Proprietary Software

Open Source Faces Off Versus Proprietary Software

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.

Evolving HMI SCADA Business Models

Evolving HMI SCADA Business Models

The HMI SCADA software space continues to evolve into areas unthinkable only a few years ago. The competitive landscape is similarly evolving as some larger companies face corporate challenges and smaller players are finding new ways to compete.

Inductive Automation’s growing Enterprise Integrator program is a case in point. The company has built its distribution with integrators and has been adding partners. While I’ve been on the road, I’ve learned of two additions to this program. Grantek Systems Integration joins as a new member of the Enterprise Integrator Program. Inductive Automation defines Enterprise Integrators as those with a high level of Ignition certification, a global presence, the ability to take on enterprise-wide projects, and 250 or more engineers, among other requirements.

“Grantek has been working successfully with Inductive Automation for many years,” said Ian Tooke, chief innovation officer for Grantek. “The Ignition platform allows us to provide our clients with integrated solutions for MES, HMI, SCADA and the IIoT. Being an Enterprise Integrator will allow us to deliver even more value to our clients. The addition of an Ignition solution to our suite of enterprise-level offerings will bring great benefits to customers across the globe.”

Grantek has provided large-scale solutions in numerous industries, including food & beverage, energy, pharma/life sciences, and consumer packaged goods. The company focuses on smart manufacturing, automation, industrial networking, and industrial safety. Solutions include serialization, ERP integration and IIoT.

“We’re very pleased to designate Grantek as an Enterprise Integrator,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “Grantek has proven its expertise with our Ignition software platform on a variety of projects. The people at Grantek have done outstanding work, and we look forward to working with them on many more large projects in the future.”

A second integrator joining the program is ATS Applied Tech Systems.

“We are proud to be associated with Inductive Automation as a leading global partner,” said Rob Valent, managing director of ATS. “Being part of the Enterprise Integrator Program is a testimony to our strong engagement with Inductive Automation. ATS has delivered projects all over the world, and we’re leveraging Ignition to create scalable and flexible Industry 4.0 solutions for our customers. With this formal recognition from Inductive Automation, we look forward to a more powerful partnership delivering a smart digital transformation everywhere!”

ATS is one of the world’s premiere automation integrators and advises its customers independently on the best product portfolios for their technical and business needs. The company serves clients in a variety of industries, including aerospace & defense, automotive, electronics, food & beverage, life sciences, and metals & mining. The company has offices in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and numerous other countries.

“We’re very pleased to designate ATS Applied Tech Systems as an Enterprise Integrator,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “ATS has shown over the years that it really understands its customers, and how to leverage the Ignition software platform to benefit those customers. ATS has done some terrific large projects, and we look forward to working with them on many more in the future.”