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!

Web-based HMI: An Emerging Trend?

Realization of Web-based Control
Once considered impractical for applications requiring responsive animation and real-time control, a new breed of web-based HMI system is starting to appear on plant floors and in manufacturing enterprises.

“Java (web) based systems can now deliver sub-second response, rich animation and natural integration with other parts of the corporate information infrastructure,” says Nathan Boeger of Inductive Automation.

Unlike traditional systems, these web-based systems can economically be extended to every aspect of a business such as QC, maintenance, logistics, plant manager, and so forth. Now every participant in the manufacturing cycle can have unprecedented access to vital plant production information.

It's easy to see why web-based systems are gaining popularity. Web-based systems install and run client applications from any web-browser and when users login they always get the most recent version of an application. There are no client licenses to manage, no tedious software installations, no application files to copy over and no communication configurations to setup. IT departments are willing to embrace technology they understand. All this is in sharp contrast to traditional systems.

The economic advantages of using web-based systems are compelling. The bottom line is, web-based HMI systems fit well with the rest of the enterprise and facilitate the smooth flow of information throughout an organization without unnecessary difficulty and expense.

Security Issues

When potential users first consider using web-based technology they usually ask about security. Just how secure are web-based systems? The question is especially valid now that post 9/11 committees have deemed HMI and SCADA security “one of the most serious risks to our national security.”

Traditional vendors rely heavily on “security by obfuscation” which has never been considered a safe practice. Web-based systems, on the other hand, are already positioned to leverage standard and proven web security techniques as administered by IT departments.

It’s only a matter of time before legislation mandating minimum HMI and SCADA security requirements will surface. Traditional providers will likely have to overhaul their products to come into compliance. They will welcome this day since they will sell lots of mandated security upgrades.

Seeing What's Next

Functionally speaking, HMIs haven't changed much over the past five years.

“HMIs that just do operator interface tasks are a commodity, and you can buy them dirt cheap off the Internet … The real action is in HMIs that provide web access, interface to higher-level enterprise software, perform MES functions,” says Rich Merritt, senior technical editor of Control Global, in his article, “HMI Software is disappearing”.

The book Seeing What’s Next by Christensen, Anthony and Roth, introduces theories to predict major industry changes. These theories are supported with interesting historical examples. Applying these predictive theories to this industry suggests incumbent HMI vendors will continue to service their large existing market without much change. They will probably not compete with their own model.

On the other hand, web-based vendors will find success selling where traditional vendors have failed; to those companies that refuse to spend big bucks on systems perceived as being unnecessarily complex, cumbersome and overshooting needs. This is likely to lead to explosive growth for web-based systems in market segments which have been unfulfilled by traditional systems.

Anyone familiar with manufacturing knows the majority of factories barely implement information technology at the plant floor level. There are exceptions, but when you see clipboards being used to record schedules, downtime and production, when you envision how things should be done, you finally come to realize this is a vast untapped market.

There is an accelerating pace of web-based systems being installed in what was essentially a non-consuming market. Users are finally getting what they want – the functionality of an HMI with the economics of a web browser. The real question is not whether web-based control systems are an emerging trend – they cannot be stopped, but rather which vendors are poised to jump on the bandwagon and deliver the technology.

Web Services and Ignition

Our modus operandi is to deliver what people want (sometimes sooner, and sometimes later, but always eventually if it is of general interest) . Recently there's been significant demand for Web Services so we undertook development of an Ignition Web Services module.

A definition of Web Services is in order. The following definition has been provided by the W3C Working Group:

Definition: A Web service is a software system designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction over a network. It has an interface described in a machine-processable format (specifically WSDL). Other systems interact with the Web service in a manner prescribed by its description using SOAP messages, typically conveyed using HTTP with an XML serialization in conjunction with other Web-related standards.

With that said, forget the acronyms SOAP and WSDL for now. We plan to make this an easy to use module requiring little or no knowledge of Web Services. The module will act as both a requester and provider of information.

So what can you use it for? You can integrate with ERP systems as large as SAP or small as Quickbooks Pro. You can also integrate with hardware devices such as the iLon SmartServer.

We have a lot of exciting things on our development timeline. This is just one of them. You will be hearing more about this one, and others, soon.

What is Inductive Automation's Market Share?

Funny question... one of our sales team got asked that question today so I had to get up and give a lecture about it. My immediate response was, "market share of what?" We're talking apples and oranges here.

Look at it this way. $20,000 might buy you a real nice SCADA client, a developer seat and a historian with support for 5,000 tags. And at the end of the day, no matter how you look at it, that's all you have.

But what about Inductive Automation? $9500 buys a SCADA server that can support 200 clients, 10 developer seats, a historian with support for 50,000 tags, plus support for fifty or more simultaneous projects (actually each are arbitrary quantities because the truth is, it's limited only by hardware).

Okay, so if you had to buy the other guys' equivalent of that, how much would it cost? I computed it using one company's recent prices and came up with about $1.3 million.

So you have to normalize for that. What is the equivalent value in terms of the other guys' prices that we deliver with even a single Ignition server? When you consider we have thousands of installations (in over fifty countries), what is our market share?

To be fair, not every Ignition Server is going to deploy 200 clients. But the point is, they could. And that is why you can't really compare market share. The value delivered by a single Ignition server is determined by the size of the deployment. The bigger the deployment, the greater the value delivered in terms of the other guys prices.