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!

News Flash re OPC-UA

My recent post "Imagine OPC-UA Everywhere" has been one of the most active posts ever which indicates the high degree of interest in UA.  In that post I said once hardware providers start integrating OPC-UA into their products it will be a beautiful world, but I also said there is little motivation for them to do so.  Well the floodgates might be opening up sooner than I thought.  Invensys just made the following announcement...
"Invensys has also embedded OPC UA communications with its Triconex Trident and Triconex General Purpose safety instrumented systems. OPC UA maximizes interoperability between systems and streamlines connectivity through open platform architecture and future-proof design. The new communications interface module contains an embedded OPC UA server that supports up to 10 concurrent clients, delivering high performance and secure, reliable communication of real-time data, alarms and historical events."

The announcement just came out today.  The way I see it this is a major development in the forward progress of OPC-UA.  Who's next?

New SECS GEM Driver Availability

I've been working on a special project to develop a SECS driver for some time and it's almost here.  We'll be entering the beta test period soon.  If you aren't familiar with SECS it refers to Semiconductor Equipment Communications Standard.  Or from Wikipedia:

"The SECS/GEM is the semiconductor's equipment interface protocol for equipment-to-host data communications. In an automated fab, the interface can start and stop equipment processing, collect measurement data, change variables and select recipes for products. The SECS (SEMI Equipment Communications Standard)/GEM (Generic Equipment Model) standards do all this in a defined way."

SECS/ GEM Ignition Module
The GEM/SECS Module can stand alone in the Ignition Server for use with third-party applications or work seamlessly with other Ignition modules and projects to create rich applications. Third-party applications interface with equipment nicely by use of SQL database tables as the interface mechanism.

By use of a simple definition file any SECS message (including custom ones) can be supported.  Messages can be sent to equipment simply by  inserting a row into the NewMessage table.  Responses are stored in the Message table.  

Handling Complex Data

SECS messages can contain complex data structures in that they can have any number of items within lists and any number of lists within lists. For this reason SECS messages are serialized into JSON (JavaScript Object Notation, in this case it has nothing to do with Javascript) strings before they are inserted into the database. JSON is a human readable data-interchange format. JSON is well supported in most languages which is why it was selected to represent complex data.  Within Ignition JSON structures can be encoded/decoded to/from native structures like lists by using built-in scripting commands.

Handling Real-Time Data

Some SECS messages provide for streaming real-time data.  By configuring the message definition file, data can be marked for real-time usage so that equipment responses not only enter the message table but also the real-time table.  Rows only get inserted once and get updated when new data arrives.  So there is only one row for each monitored value (or complex data structure) and it always has the most recent data .  This way the real-time table never grows beyond the number of monitored values and keeps the table size manageable and query times low.  Eventually the real-time table will be reflected out into Ignition SQLTags for drag and drop ease of use.

This driver should be generally available the second quarter of 2013.