Using Software Technology To Be Competitive In An Industrial Market

This is a story about Bill Johnson, vice president of operations for Madison, WI-based Madison-Kipp Corp. (MKC). The company makes precision machined aluminum die castings and subassemblies for the transportation, lawn & garden, and industrial markets. The company faced two objectives to enhance competitiveness—to bring down costs and raise efficiency.

“Technology is very important to us,” said Bill Johnson, vice president of operations for MKC. “We have to keep ahead of our competitors in many different areas. Using Ignition and taking real-time data from our processes helps us understand our data — which helps us make better decisions.”

Note: I very seldom write this type of story anymore. When we laid out the editorial direction for Automation World back in the day, I wanted stories about the intelligent application of automation with the people doing the work as the hero of the story. Typically, these stories come from the marketing department of supplier company. They write about what they know—the hero of the story is their product or service. Since these stories are so hard to come by, I decided not to pursue them for The Manufacturing Connection even though stories are more powerful than a bunch of bullet points.

Back to the story. Unfortunately there are no specific numbers about savings, but Johnson describes the “before” scene—that is, before they implemented Ignition by Inductive Automation, 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).

“Some of the results we have are in the cost savings realm, and we’ve also seen improved efficiency,” said Johnson. “Before, engineers had to collect data on their own. This would take a long time. Now, we’re able to pull that data in and look at it and solve problems very quickly.”

“Using the built-in connectivity, the Ignition platform has filled a void for us between multiple manufacturers and platforms,” said Jay Sandvick, senior automation controls engineer at MKC. “It’s given us interoperability that we didn’t believe we could have. We now have accessibility to data streams we didn’t have before. And we have the ability to generate seamless reports from machines that were previously thought unconnectable.”

Dotti Jacob, industrial integration engineer at MKC, adds, “We are now allowed us to use different programming languages, and tie into all sorts of different systems, without being held back by proprietary issues.”

The platform’s interoperability has allowed MKC to streamline its systems. “Before Ignition, we were reliant on various software packages that were frankly a nightmare to maintain and pay for,” said Sandvick. “With Ignition, we have a single-point interface, a single cost, and it has more than exceeded our expectations in talking to various machines.”

Remote access has been greatly improved. “Before, if I was at a different facility and there were troubleshooting issues, I would have to travel there to help out,” said Jacob. “Now that we have Ignition, I can access the SCADA from anywhere and see in real time actual images of the different machines and what they’re doing, which is very helpful for troubleshooting. Having real-time data, we can access from anywhere allows us to see and address the issue a lot more quickly than we could in the past — which saves us time and money.”

You can use your software platform to allow customers visibility into the production of their orders. “Our customers really enjoy the ability to see real-time data on their products being produced,” said Scott Sargeant, vice president of sales for MKC. “It allows them to understand things without having to travel to our location — which of course saves them time and money. We’re talking about a paradigm shift in information sharing. It really gives our customers a window into the production environment. And our ability to provide this helps differentiate Madison-Kipp from other manufacturers.”

Sargeant adds, “Now our customers can see that data, can understand impactful events, downtime, and other important issues in production.”

Ignition allows users to import CAD drawings of the plant floor as the background for screens. The screens show real-time movement of robots, so operators always have an accurate view of what’s happening. “Before, we had to use these cookie-cutter images that were not very accurate to what was actually happening on the floor,” said Jacob. “Now we’re able to take a CAD drawing of the equipment, and it can move in real time with however the equipment’s moving, and that’s very helpful.”

Training is a key differentiator for technology suppliers. Jacob said Inductive University—the free online educational center with hundreds of videos allowing users to learn at their own pace has been an additional benefit. “When I started with Madison-Kipp, I’d never heard of Ignition,” said Jacob. “I was able to get up to speed very quickly because Inductive University has videos that teach you anything you need to know in order to be successful using the software.”

Inductive Automation Announces Ignition Firebrand Awards

Inductive Automation Announces Ignition Firebrand Awards

Inductive Automation has selected the recipients of its Ignition Firebrand Awards for 2019. The announcements were made at the Ignition Community Conference (ICC), which took place September 17-19. I get to see the poster displays and chat with the companies at ICC. I love the technology developers, but it’s fascinating to talk with people who actually use the products.

[Disclaimer: Inductive Automation is a long-time and much appreciated sponsor of The Manufacturing Connection. If you are a supplier, you, too, could be a sponsor. Contact me for more details. You would benefit from great visibility.]

The Ignition Firebrand Awards recognize system integrators and industrial organizations that use the Ignition software platform to create innovative new projects. Ignition by Inductive Automation is an industrial application platform with tools for the rapid development of solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Ignition is used in virtually every industry, in more than 100 countries.

“The award-winning projects this year were really impressive,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “Many of them featured Ignition 8 and the new Ignition Perspective Module, both of which were released just six months ago. We were really impressed with how quickly people were able to create great projects with the new capabilities.”

These Ignition Firebrand Award winners demonstrated the power and flexibility of Ignition:

  • Brock Solutions worked with the Dublin Airport in Ireland to replace the baggage handling system in Terminal 2. The new system has 100,000 tags and is the largest Ignition-controlled airport baggage handling system in the world.
  • Corso Systems & SCS Engineers partnered on a pilot project for the landfill gas system of San Bernardino County, California. The pilot was so successful, it will be expanded to 27 other county sites. It provides a scalable platform with strong mobile capabilities from Ignition 8 and Ignition Perspective, plus 3D imaging from drone video and virtual reality applications.
  • ESM Australia developed a scalable asset management system to monitor performance and meet service requirements for a client with systems deployed all over Australia. The solution leveraged Ignition 8, Ignition Perspective, MQTT, and legacy FTP-enabled gateways in the field.
  • H2O Innovation & Automation Station partnered to create a SCADA system for the first membrane bioreactor wastewater treatment plant in Arkansas. The new system for the City of Decatur shares real-time data with neighboring water agencies as well as the mayor.
  • Industrial Networking Solutions created a new oil & gas SCADA system in just six months for 37 sites at ARB Midstream. The solution included hardware upgrades, a new control room, and a diverse collection of technologies with cloud-hosted SCADA, MQTT, Ignition Edge, and SD-WAN.
  • MTech Engineering developed an advanced real-time monitoring and control system for the largest data center campus in Italy. The project for Aruba S.p.A. had to work with huge amounts of data — and was done at a much lower cost than was possible with any other SCADA solution.
  • NLS Engineering created a single, powerful operations and management platform for more than 30 solar-power sites for Ecoplexus, a leader in renewable energy systems. The solution provided deep data acquisition, included more than 100,000 tags, and led to the creation of a platform that can be offered to other clients.
  • Streamline Innovations used Ignition, Ignition Edge, Ignition Perspective, and MQTT, to facilitate the automation of natural gas treating units that convert extremely toxic hydrogen sulfide into fertilizer-grade sulfur. The solution increased uptime, reduced costs, and provided access to much more data than Streamline had seen previously.
High Energy Exhibited At Manufacturing Software User Conference

High Energy Exhibited At Manufacturing Software User Conference

This week saw the annual incarnation of the Ignition Community Conference from Inductive Automation in Folsom, CA focused on application of manufacturing software. The level of user conversations and idea exchanges is higher than anywhere else I attend.

I entered the building walking down the hallway amongst the exhibits of partner companies. Immediately the strength of MQTT, Sparkplug, and embedded Ignition stood out. The stands of OEMs Opto 22, Wago, EZAutomation, Moxa, Bedrock Automation, and Stratus Technologies swarmed with curious engineers.

MQTT is a light-weight messaging protocol that is now an open standard. Originally developed jointly by IBM and Arlen Nipper, now CTO of Inductive Automation partner Cirrus Link, MQTT is also widely deployed in IT applications.

Family obligations cut my stay, but I got a sense of what is important. Last year’s focus was Ignition 8, a major update to the core product. This year’s focus included the various aspects of the ecosystem that has sprung up through some patient nurturing by Inductive Automation executives.

Free training has been a hallmark. Examples cited included college student interns at customer sites taking the online class and then developing a significant application–all during their summer internship. It’s that easy to learn and develop.

Inductive has expanded its university partnerships for additional training and has also greatly expanded its international presence. Partnerships include a growing number of OEMs who package Ignition within products and systems integrators out solving interesting problems for their customers.

This is called the “Community Conference” because of the intense community of users.

By the way, customers often tell me that the product is rock solid, but what convinced them to change software suppliers–not an easy undertaking–is the innovative pricing model originally developed by founder (and president/CEO) Steve Hechtman. The model drives cost of ownership down for customers, and, while Inductive Automation is a private company and does not release financials, when I pump Steve for information, he smiles broadly.

Oh, and competitors are trying to find a way to compete with their pricing. That should be interesting.

Many, if not most, companies I cover are earnestly trying to build an ecosystem of partners. Inductive Automation patiently assembled an impressive one.

[Disclaimer: Inductive Automation is my major sponsor, but I’m not paid to be anything but my usual objective, analytical self observing the industry.]

Inductive Automation Announces Ignition Firebrand Awards

Awards For Best Application of HMI/SCADA

It’s not the technology; it’s what you do with it. Here are companies (and their engineers) who have done some cool projects with HMI/SCADA software. Inductive Automation has selected the recipients of its Ignition Firebrand Awards for 2018. The announcements were made at the Ignition Community Conference (ICC) in September.

The Ignition Firebrand Awards recognize system integrators and industrial organizations that use the Ignition software platform to create innovative new projects. Ignition by Inductive Automation is an industrial application platform with tools for the rapid development of solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Ignition is used in virtually every industry, in more than 100 countries.

The Ignition Firebrand Awards are presented every year at ICC. The award-winning projects are selected from the ICC Discover Gallery, which features the best 15 Ignition projects submitted by integrators and industrial organizations.

“Once again, we had a lot of variety with the Firebrand Award winners this year,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “Many industries were represented — automotive, oil & gas, food & beverage, water/wastewater, and more. It was great to see quality projects in all kinds of settings.”

“It’s inspiring to see the creative applications people are building on top of the Ignition platform,” said Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering for Inductive Automation. “Every year, people create some really interesting projects, and this year was no exception.”

These Ignition Firebrand Award winners demonstrated the versatility and power of Ignition:

  • Brown Engineers (Little Rock, Ark.) took a unique approach to improving the filter backwash process for a water treatment plant at the City of Hot Springs. Brown used the Ignition SCADA platform to dramatically improve the automatic backwash, conserve water, improve water quality, and initiate collection of filter data needed to extend regulatory run-time limits. See the video here.
  • ECS Solutions (Evansville, Ind.) and Blentech Corporation (Santa Rosa, Calif.) partnered on a project that brought a unified platform to JTM Food Group’s new state-of-the-art plant in Harrison, Ohio. The result was a SCADA system that included the full spectrum of process automation. The Ignition application includes material management, formulation control, batch processing, and process control. See the video here.
  • Open Automation SRL (Santa Fe, Argentina) improved operations for a Cargill-owned animal nutrition plant. The project used Ignition to increase efficiency, productivity, and traceability without increasing labor. Greater access to data, less paper, and improved product quality were just a few of the benefits. See the video here.
  • Roeslein & Associates (St. Louis, Mo.) helped global automotive supplier Dana Incorporated increase productivity by 30 percent at some of its sites. The project provided real-time statistical analysis and visualization of machine data to enable better and faster decision-making. The flexible solution can be leveraged by Dana in numerous additional plants. See the video here.
  • Tamaki Control (Auckland, New Zealand) created a comprehensive clean-in-place scheduling system for the largest yogurt-manufacturing facility in the world: the Chobani plant in Twin Falls, Idaho. The solution increased visualization and made it much easier for operators to share information. It can also be leveraged for other uses at Chobani plants. See the video here.
  • Weisz Bolivia SRL (Buenos Aires, Argentina) solved weather-related data-communication problems for the largest offshore oil operation in Argentina. Results included better access to data, easier reporting to a government agency, and streamlined processes. See the video here.

Information on all 15 Discover Gallery projects can be found here.

Inductive Automation Announces Ignition Firebrand Awards

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.