This blog is dedicated to open, interoperable manufacturing software and the coolest, latest and greatest things I see every day while conducting business under the banner of Inductive Automation.

Hello, my name is Steve Hechtman and I am president of Inductive Automation. During the span of one day there is more excitement, more discovery than I can possibly keep to myself. This blog is, therefore, my outlet. WARNING: This site is highly biased in favor of the most powerful, affordable manufacturing software in the world - Ignition by Inductive Automation!

The PLC Industry is about to be Disrupted by a Source you would Never Expect

Bedrock Automation.  Never heard of it?  That’s probably because they've come swinging out of
Silicon Valley where anything is possible.  In two short years they've built a cyber secure PLC with OPC-UA built-in.  The operating temperature rating  is -40℃ to +80℃.  

All power and communications through the backplane is completely pinless by use of  what they call Black FabricTM  technology.  Not a single pin!

Their goal is to have as few catalog numbers as possible (they stated to me no more than a dozen part numbers).  For example, there is a single module part number for a universal I/O module.  By software configuration alone you can choose any type of industrial input or output, discrete or analog, AC or DC.

I held this thing in my hand and I've never seen or felt anything like it.  It’s rugged!  It’s well built!  I was even told they tried to blow one up by putting it on top of a million volt Tesla coil but it kept working.  

I know you’re thinking by now they’re just a flash in the pan.  But I don’t think so.  They are a subsidiary of Maxim Semiconductor.  Maxim has a 7.57B market cap and 8,800 employees.  A brief description of the company follows:

“Maxim Integrated Products, Inc. designs, develops, manufactures, and markets various linear and mixed-signal integrated circuits worldwide. The company also provides a range of high-frequency process technologies and capabilities for use in custom designs. It primarily serves automotive, communications and data center, computing, consumer, and industrial markets. The company markets its products through a direct-sales and applications organization, as well as through its own and other unaffiliated distribution channels. Maxim Integrated Products, Inc. was founded in 1983 and is headquartered in San Jose, California.”

The real question is, will they be able to push this amazing product to the finish line?  If they can actually deliver the product at the price point they told me, which is about the price of a mid-range PLC, then the price won’t be an obstacle.  In terms of hardware, I think it’s already a slam-dunk. Probably what it boils down to now is software.  And for that, I think they have some very cool stuff up their sleeve.

Their choice to build-in OPC-UA is a masterstroke.  While incumbents wearily cling to “has been” protocols, Bedrock is pulling out into first place with its UA adoption.  Welcome to the 21st Century!

Disruption happens when you least expect it.  Frankly, I was shocked to see what Bedrock has accomplished in so little time.  But Silicon Valley moves at a different pace and this company has significant resources.  Commercial release is slated for mid-2015.  

What This Group Is, 500 Words or Less

I'm always trying to explain what we do more and more concisely and had to do so for a disruption award for SARTA (Sacramento Area Regional Technology ) in 500 words or less. Well, this is what I came up with...

Ignition by Inductive Automation® has completely disrupted the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) market, upending virtually all such old-school players which are mostly international conglomerates.

Whereas traditional SCADA solutions were developed in the mid-1990s, they have advanced little since then and are ill-suited to the demands of today’s industry.

Inductive Automation, and its elegant Ignition, all-in-one server-based solution, address well known frustrations of the automation industry.  These frustrations include having to deal with long-obsoleted technology, software instability problems, antiquated licensing models, foolish business practices, and poor support.

By contrast, Ignition makes deploying and maintaining an unlimited number of rich visualization clients from the central server just a mouse click away.  While they are similar to webpages and rely on web standards, they are actually rich clients particularly suited to the demands of the industrial environment.  Entire installation takes just minutes as compared to hours or days per client for traditional SCADA software. 

The modern enterprise normally has dozens of highly fragmented systems and data stores which results in “islands of information.”  Seldom does the right information reach decision makers in time, if ever.  Old school SCADA only contributes to the problem.  Ignition on the other hand unifies these disparate systems, consolidating data with agility and ease.  Data collection can be from anywhere, analyzed in meaningful ways, and made accessible to decision makers at every level of the organization.  But most importantly, the development, deployment and maintenance of such Ignition systems are affordable thanks to its unique architecture. 

A key distinguishing factor of Ignition is its platform and modular architecture.  The platform could be considered an industrial operating system while its plugin modules (which can be written by anyone) provide functionality, much like iOS is a platform and its apps provide functionality.  This plays a key role in future proofing the Ignition product since newer technology modules can run right next to legacy ones.  The industrial automation industry screams for software longevity, a demand which until now has been unfulfilled.

While the incumbent players all embrace Microsoft solidly, they ignore the larger global picture as we see increasing adoption of Linux and OSX.  Ignition is built with Java (not Javascript), which is fully cross-platform, so users can run on any operating system equally well out of the box.  While old-school Microsoft diehards are hacking away for six months or more, desperately trying to make their software run on the next version of Windows, we are already running on it from day one.  And with every hack, their systems become less and less stable. 

All of our innovative firsts would take a hundred pages to describe.  These include concurrent web-launched IDEs (Integrated Development Environments), single file backup of the entire system, seamless integration between modules, and on and on.  But, the ones described here are some of the overarching ones. 

Probably the most important innovative first, which is a radical departure from the rest of the field, is Ignition’s flat pricing model by the server.  One Ignition server license can replace hundreds of individual licenses required under the other guy’s model.   The cost differential is astounding.  This means unlimited visualization clients, unlimited database connections, unlimited plant floor connections, unlimited web service connections, unlimited IDEs, and more - all for one flat cost.

Industrial software projects are no longer limited by cost considerations.  So, now affordable, effective solutions can be rolled out which increase collaboration between all parts of an enterprise.  Metcalfe’s Law is in play here.  It states that the utility of any communications system is equal to the number of users squared (utility = users2).  A single Ignition server instance can service many users.

How did I do?