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.]

Open Process Automation Forum

Open Process Automation Forum

Open Process Automation and IT/OT Convergence. Thursday, the last day of the ARC Forum, is not always all that well attended. The 2017 edition witnessed two sessions that held the attention of the later departing attendees. These two attracted a reasonably good attendance.

I didn’t do the IT/OT one, but I had great interest in the Open Process Automation Forum (Open DCS?).

This was my 20th ARC Forum. My first Forum featured another open control series of meetings on Thursday morning—The Open Modular Architecture Controller group. That group of engineers and managers sought to specify a PLC based upon the computing standards of the time. The culmination of that effort was a CompactPCI chassis cobbled together by an entrepreneur. It was not picked up. Meanwhile OMAC pivoted when end user companies principally P&G and Nestle moved the focus to packaging machines. The goal became machines that used standard states and HMI in order to reduce training time for operators as they moved from machine to machine.

ExxonMobil appeared at the Forum last year with an idea. It wished to reduce the cost to deploy and eventually upgrade its control systems. It had worked with Lockheed Martin to devise a plan from the avionics industry (FACE).

This session at the Forum updated attendees with progress. It has formed under The Open Group as the Open Process Automation Forum. Although driven by ExxonMobil initially, the goal is to form a broad alliance of owner/operators, end users, systems integrators, and suppliers developing this new automation platform.

Many people at the conference relate this effort to the old OMAC work. They see the end game as a customer trying to drive down the cost of the system. Especially a customer who faces two problems: the immediate problem of upgrading old technology; the long range cost of upgrading technology to newer levels.

Another way to view this initiative is more altruistic in the sense of driving disruptive change in the market for all users using standards.

I am conflicted in trying to understand the dynamics of the situation. As a proponent of standards, I applaud the effort to find ways to implement standards and interoperability. Interoperability has been proven in many industries as a driver for business growth. The idea of decoupling hardware and software holds great promise for future upgrades.

But if, in effect, the customers simply wish to drive automation components and software to commodity level, then I see problems. Such ideas have killed entire industries in the past.

I also look at the old PC technology when there many players developing cards for the PC bus to add on to an “IBM PC.” But over time, technology enabled chip manufacturers to incorporate all those features into the main CPU and the industry returned to basically a single source for a computer.

Predictions? I’m not making any right now. However…

This process is now more than a year old, and yet, the theme of the Forum in Orlando was a plea for participation. There were few other owner/operators. Even though almost all major suppliers have signed on, only two (Schneider Electric and Yokogawa) appear to be active. The leaders have put forth an ambitious timing plan. The group is going to have to build a critical mass of participants quickly.

One more point. There is an age-old tension between an end-user wishing to reduce procurement costs by being able to competitively bid everything. However that means that someone must assemble all the components. On the other hand, end user companies also like partnerships with suppliers for joint development and better service.

By decoupling end user from supplier, something or someone must fill the gap. That would be the system integrator, I guess.

There are many questions.

Without further comment, I’ll leave you with the Open Process Automation Forum’s Vision Statement.

Composed of a broad group of end users, product suppliers, systems integrators, and academics, the Forum will create a technologically appropriate open process automation architecture and specifications along with business guidance for its adoption and use.

  • This will result in a standards-based open, secure, and interoperable process automation architecture and instances thereof that have the following characteristics:
    Easily integrates best-in-class components to provide timely access to leading edge performance
  • Employs an adaptive intrinsic security model
  • Enables the procurement and modular interaction of certified conformant components into systems that are fit-for-purpose for the end users’ needs
  • Is commercially available and applicable to multiple industry sectors
  • Protects suppliers’ Intellectual Property within conformant components
  • Enables portability and preservation of end users’ application software
  • Significantly reduces the difficulty of future replacements and reduces the lifecycle cost of systems
Open Process Automation Forum

Dell Technologies Grows IoT Partner Program

Dell Technologies Internet of Things group just keeps expanding. It’s differentiating strategy is to leverage an array of partnerships building upon the Dell IoT platform. Here are more examples.

Dell announced that Systems Integrators (SIs) have now been added to the Dell Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions Partner Program, which currently has an ecosystem of over 50 Independent Software Vendors (ISVs).  These new additions to the program include Action Point, Datatrend Technologies, L&T Technology Services and Mobiliya.

This program expansion is reflective of Dell’s effort to build a holistic ecosystem of IoT solutions that span industries – from energy to manufacturing to transportation. With the addition of SIs, there’s now a broader selection of partners that can help customers navigate the fragmented IoT landscape, identify the right solution to address their needs and take projects from proof of concept to a robust deployment.

“We’re passionate about providing our customers with a comprehensive IoT ecosystem to help them innovate and move an idea from concept to reality,” said Jeff Brown, Vice President, Global IoT and Embedded PC Sales, Dell EMC, Global OEM Solutions. “By adding SIs into the mix, we are helping to bridge the gap between IT and OT, and transform IoT into a profitable market reality.”

Based on TECHnalysis Research’s Enterprise IoT survey, regardless of company size, many organizations are interested in working with systems and operations integrators that specialize in IoT. Dell’s continued expansion of its IoT Partner Program is designed to offer customers a broad spectrum of industry-specific expertise in conjunction with Dell’s reputation as a global leader in computing technology.

The program combines a global, multi-tiered (Executive/Premier, Associate/Preferred, Registered) network of experienced technology providers including SIs, ISVs, and IHVs, all supported by Dell’s broad portfolio of IoT-enabling assets, which are designed to help organizations develop, deploy and maintain leading-edge IoT solutions. By joining the Dell IoT Solutions Partner Program, partners benefit from:
• Increased market awareness backed by a reputable global leader in computing technology.
• Access to a robust and reliable product portfolio, including purpose-built, intelligent edge gateways and embedded PCs, security and manageability tools, data center and cloud infrastructure.
• Opportunities for incremental business growth and acceleration through Dell’s multiple partner tiers.

Supporting Quotes:
• “From our viewpoint Dell is the only global technology partner that offers as comparable and as comprehensive a range of IoT optimised solutions from the edge to the data centre to the cloud,” reflects Head of IoT, Ivan O’Connor from Action Point. “Dell’s clear commitment to and focus on being at the vanguard of IoT gives us as an IoT systems integrator and a long standing Dell partner the ability and the competitive advantage to build out cutting edge new IoT solutions to transform our clients businesses.”
• “Datatrend is excited to work with Dell IoT partners and customers to scale and accelerate their speed to market, delivering friction-free IoT solution deployment, including end-to-end IT infrastructure integration, connectivity and device installation, from data center to the edge of network,” said Charlie Cox, President, Datatrend Technologies.
• “Our  partnership with Dell will help engineer IoT solutions for global businesses to innovate, create fascinating customer experiences and  enable new revenue streams. We have over 30 R&D labs that specialize in smart product design, device and cloud security, sensor engineering and advanced data analytics,  said Amit Chadha, Chief Sales Officer & Whole-time Director, L&T Technology Services. “Our combined approach with Dell is simple – build on your existing devices and systems to make them smart, secure, and interoperable. Together, the possibilities we can create for the entire technology ecosystem are limitless.”
• “We are extremely excited to be collaborating with Dell on their innovative IoT Solutions Partner Program. With IoT demanding robust offerings across the technology spectrum, these kinds of partnerships are incredibly important,” says CEO of Mobiliya Krish Kupathil. “For IoT initiatives, Mobiliya provides its device-to-cloud system integration expertise along with deep knowledge in various IoT protocols and security. The combined competencies of both companies will provide significant value-add to customers across different industries.”

Open Process Automation Forum

Future of Industrial Software and HMI/SCADA at Inductive Automation

The industrial software market has changed dramatically over the past 13 years. One market disruptor hails from just outside Sacramento, California. I still remember meeting Steve Hechtman at an ISA show probably in 2003. He talked about developing HMI/SCADA industrial software in an entirely new way.

He told me that Inductive Automation was developing software written in Java and using IT-friendly technologies. Not only that, he would have a business model that totally disrupted the prevalent licensing by seats.

steve-hechtman-at-icc-2016Hechtman greeted a capacity audience at the 2016 Ignition Customer Conference Sept. 19. The 430+ attendees exhausted the capacity of the Harris Center in Folsom, CA. The company has experienced double-digit growth every year since it started. It has been profitable every quarter since the launch of its flagship product, Ignition, in 2010. Privately held, it has no debt and no investors.

The company’s mission has been to reduce friction. Reduce friction to use the product, to buy the product, to develop using the product. Or, to quote from the presentation, “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.”

The technology allows for a 3-minute installation. It is scalable from a Raspberry Pi to enterprise servers.

Rather than calling Ignition HMI/SCADA software, Hechtman refers to it as a platform. Not only does Inductive Automation build modules to sit on it, the company makes it easy for customers to build, and even sell, modules, too. Part of that removing friction thing.

Hechtman brought up the IIoT and the hype surrounding it. The Gartner Hype Cycle plots a curve from early thoughts to euphoria plummeting to the trough of disillusionment to a partial recovery where 20%-30% of companies use and gain benefit from the technology. He suggested that Ignition builds a bridge over the trough of disillusionment to beneficial application of the IIoT.

don-pearson-at-icc-2016Chief Strategy Officer Don Pearson followed with the other theme of the week—IT/OT convergence. ”We’ve been doing that from the beginning,” he stated.

Most people have talked about driving convergence from the IT side. That’s all backwards according to Pearson. The OT side should drive the convergence partly through adopting IT-friendly technology and learning from IT folks about their strengths such as security.

One last sign of growth—the number of partners exhibiting in the foyer. More than I can list, but start with Opto 22, Bedrock Automation, Cirrus-Link, Seeq. The company has vision and drive. And financial stability.


Here is a link to an interview I recorded with two of the original developers–Colby Clegg and Carl Gould. Owner/President Steve Hechtman was in the room, but I don’t recall that he said anything. I threw a digital audio recorder on the conference room table in early 2011. The company has grown into new offices and is now looking for more office space since then.

There was a lot of buzz at the conference. There were people from many countries, but many also were from large manufacturing companies. Several large systems integrators brought several engineers. The organizers asked if I would lead a “meet up” or round-table discussion on Monday before the actual kickoff. Wow–there were several really smart people in attendance. It was a great geek discussion.

If you are involved with developing applications with industrial software, you should check out next year’s conference. Even if you are not a customer, it’s worth it just to learn from others who come.


Control Systems Integrators Set Meeting

Control Systems Integrators Set Meeting


CSIA LogoControl system integrators and industry suppliers from around the globe will gather in Washington, D.C., U.S., April 29 – May 2 for the CSIA 2015 Executive Conference. This is a conference I’ve never been able to work into my schedule, but reports from many people testify that this is a worthwhile conference. I know that the association has been working hard to promote integrators and to boost their skills.

Economist Alan Beaulieu, president of ITR Economics, will open the conference with his latest economic outlook for manufacturing. This year, Beaulieu will be joined on the stage by Nick Setchell, CEO of Practice Strategies, for a “stump the experts” session, during which attendees can ask the speakers questions on external and internal financial influences on their business. Their presentations will be the first of more than 20 educational sessions offered throughout the three-day event.

New this year are two workshops that will be held in conjunction with the conference. The Best Practices Training workshop will be offered Tuesday, April 28 – Wednesday, April 29, for those who are interested in learning more about the application of CSIA’s best practices to improve their system integration businesses. The training will focus on the management areas that are most challenging for growing integration companies.

A second workshop created for project managers, control engineers and designers will be held concurrently with the Executive Conference. A Commonsense Approach to Automation Upgrades and System Migrations will be offered Thursday, April 30 – Friday, May 1. Workshop participants are invited to participate in all conference social events.

Those attending the conference will have multiple opportunities for networking, including an industry expo, awards banquet and a closing reception during which Executive Director Bob Lowe will be honored. Lowe is retiring in June.

Last year, a record-breaking 538 people attended the conference, including more than 80 system integrators, partners and guests from outside the United States. See the complete details and register at the CSIA 2015 Executive Conference website.

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