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?

ICC 2014: Talk Shop & Share Ideas

In a few weeks the Ignition Community Conference 2014 will be held in Folsom, California, and our attendance trajectory is double the number of attendees from last year.  Integrators and end users will gather, talk shop, share ideas, and learn more approaches to solving problems in the field.

I am looking forward to getting into conversations with end users and integrators from around the world, and even though our marketing team hasn't promoted it - cross-pollination still applies. A single good idea gotten at the conference could repay the cost of attendance in spades.

ICC runs September 22 through 24 with 24 Automation sessions and plenty of time to participate in productive forums while networking with other members of the Ignition community.  

Why your SCADA system should be more like your smart phone

There is a better model for how a SCADA system should be designed. A good example of this better approach is probably sitting in your pocket. It’s your smart phone. Your smart phone runs on a set of powerful, yet independent apps. Why is that a smart idea?

  • You can add or delete apps without restarting your smart phone.
  • Apps can be easily upgraded while the other apps continue to operate.
  • If an app crashes, it doesn't take down the entire system. 
  • You can select the exact apps you need to provide the exact functionality you want on your phone.
  • Smart phone apps are relatively inexpensive without requiring large annual licensing fees.

Compare that to how SCADA systems have traditionally been designed:

  • Adding software requires a complete restart of the entire system.
  • Software upgrades not only require everything grinding to a halt, they can often break another part of the system causing a cascading need for upgrades.
  • If a piece of software crashes, it freezes the entire system.
  • Often you must pay for functionality you don’t use or need.
  • Annual licensing fees for software can be astronomical.  

There is another advantage to having a modular approach to manufacturing software. That’s that third parties can also develop specific applications that add powerful functionality. Look on your smart phone. Many of the most popular and useful apps are not created by Apple or Google. They are created by third party developers.

That’s why Ignition was created using a modular approach. In addition to the key modules that the Inductive Automation team creates, other companies are creating some very cool modules that you can easily add.  It makes a system more versatile and powerful. I think it just makes sense.

Technology is constantly advancing. Isn't it time that SCADA moves up to the New SCADA standard?

Thousands of SCADA users on a high wire without a net.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of HMI, SCADA and MES systems lost their safety net. The problem?
Microsoft no longer supports Window XP.

Granted that XP is pretty old, but it still runs on more than a quarter of PCs worldwide.  And there is probably a greater portion of SCADA systems still on it.

According to the Microsoft website: “After April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or technical support for Windows XP. Security updates patch vulnerabilities that may be exploited by malware and help keep users and their data safer. PCs running Windows XP after April 8, 2014, should not be considered to be protected, and it is important that you migrate to a current supported operating system – such as Windows 8.1 – so you can receive regular security updates to protect their computer from malicious attacks.”

Of course Microsoft believes that everyone should always upgrade and buy the latest version of their OS. But for most users running HMI, SCADA and MES software it's seldom a simple upgrade.

Most users would prefer two weeks of army boot camp followed by a dental visit for a root canal compared to what they now face.

I believe the problem with traditional SCADA software has to do with developers veering too far from Microsoft's mainline API, such as using newfangled features before they really gain widespread acceptance, so they get deprecated.  An example of this is Silverlight.  Silverlight is dead yet so many software vendors bet the farm on it.  The main point is this... Upgrading a SCADA system from one version of Windows to the next is usually a crap shoot.  

That’s why we decided to make Ignition cross platform from day one. That means that it runs on Linux, Unix, OSX, but most importantly, any newer version of Windows right out of the box.  So far, we've been ready day one for each new release of Windows.  And do you have to pay for an upgraded version of our software to do so?  Probably not.

So the real question is this... are you ready to get off the merry-go-round and solve the real problem once and for all?  Seriously, next time you are ready to upgrade to a new version of Windows, try Ignition - costs nothing to try  - and you'll be glad you did.  

OPC-UA goes mainstream

From presentation of February 2014
One of my most popular posts was Imagine OPC-UA Everywhere.  Since that post Triconix was reported to have integrated UA into their Trident safety PLC product.   Now two other significant events tell me OPC-UA has taken root firmly and we'll see soon OPC-UA embedded in most PLC controllers.

One event was the announcement today in Control Engineering - Europe entitled OPC-UA client function blocks for IEC 61131-3.   In that announcement was the following excerpt "...adding the OPC UA client functionality in the controller by defining a set of Function Blocks for IEC 61131-3.  This specification has just been released, making the controller an intelligent part in the IT communication."

The other announcement is even more significant in my book.   It's the release of the a new ControlLogix OPC-UA module made by OLDI.  I missed the Rockwell webinar about it yesterday and the information on OLDI's site is sparse, but it obviously sits on the CLX backplane so would seem to have access to at least a single controller's tags and maybe even more.  

The latter release will likely pressure other PLC manufacturers to do the same, and then I think the snowball really begins.

VOIP Alarm Notifications - Another Solution

When we developed the Ignition alarming module and its voice notification system, we opted to do the modern thing; we based it on VOIP.

The old hardware cards you install on a PC back-plane are so '90's, so we skipped them.  VOIP delivers unprecedented power and flexibility, is inexpensive, and exceedingly easy to setup and use.

What this means is you can connect Ignition to all types of VOIP services.  Ignition looks just like a VOIP telephone handset.  But maybe you've never dealt with VOIP before.  So here's what you should know. Skype is a big VOIP server in the sky - and you can connect to that.  If the phone sitting on your desk has an Ethernet port, it's probably VOIP.  So you would have your phone system administrator configure a new extension and provide you with the username/account/extension_number, password and server's IP address so you can configure that in Ignition.

There are other cases where you would want to connect to a POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) line.  POTS lines are highly reliable and work even when utility power is down.  And that might be the only thing you have available.  To address that we mentioned that we discovered a couple of inexpensive (~$200) VOIP servers, but several customers have mentioned delivery and support on those items are problematic (they are sourced from China).  Well, we discovered yet another option -  it works better and costs less.

Enter the Grandstream HT-503 analog phone adapter.  It's not even a VOIP server.  It just interfaces between VOIP protocol and a POTS line.  It has better voice quality and costs about $50 from Amazon. Colby ordered one from Amazon and got it in a couple of days (Grandstream is located in the US).

Colby wrote a how-to guide to configure this little box (pictured above).  He did add the caveat that you need to set the minimum time between calls  for 5 seconds or more (as shown to the right) since the POTS system requires this.

The information for setting up the HT-503 is included in this KB article  from the support section of our site.

The ways of leveraging VOIP are endless.  We aren't endorsing this Grandstream solution particularly, other than to say we tried it and it worked, the sound quality was excellent, and we were able to obtain one quickly and inexpensively.  Like the rest of of our technology choices in Ignition, the VOIP standard is open, so your possibilities are endless.


When we describe Inductive Automation and Ignition, there's just so darn much to say.  But I've found a way to boil it down to three words ----- The New SCADA.  You'd be missing the point if you thought I was just talking about new features. What I'm really talking about is the New User Experience.  What I'm really talking about are the Four Pillars we're built on, which are the reason why we're the fastest growing SCADA company in the world.

What are the four pillars?  1) New Technology Model,  2) New Licensing Model,  3) New Business Model,  4) New Ethical Model.

Let's start with the last one, New Ethical Model.  How many SCADA companies have sold out? And what happens to their end-users, integrators and employees after they do?  What happens to the vision and innovation after the founder is gone?  What are the ethics when a few people become enriched at the expense of an entire user base and thousands of supporters?  We've been approached several times and we aren't selling out. We're all about reinventing the industry and delivering the New User Experience and that's what motivates us.

How about the New Business Model?  Most SCADA companies are just Marketing Companies.  Is there any real innovation?  Well I don't see anything meaningful.  Our New Business Model balances Development (new innovation), Quality Assurance, Marketing, Sales, Support, Accounting, Training, and about 20 other functions into a well functioning pipeline all focused solely on delivering the New Customer Experience.

Now let's talk about the New Technology Model.  We're not talking about new or more features - that's just background noise; what we're talking about is a whole New Paradigm.  ARC Advisory Group says we're disrupting the whole SCADA industry.  They're right.  Who else can do a fully featured install in about a minute?  Who else can run on practically any OS (including any version of Windows)?  Who else developed an elegant system from the ground up with a holistic approach, rather than a short-sighted, bolted-on, hacked up and unmanageable mess?  If I were to list all our innovative firsts it would take a hundred pages but all these are just different aspects of the same thing - a totally new and sensible Paradigm.

Finally, there's the New Licensing Model.  It's the zero hassle licensing model.  An unlimited licensing model, sold by the server, with a single affordable price no matter how many clients or tags are used.  And we're not talking about flimsy web browser clients.  We're talking about real client applications that launch as easily a web page (it's pure magic).  The conventional licensing models out there are antiquated and only deliver marginal value.  We have a sales tactic - you might as well know it - get people talking about their experiences with conventional licensing.  We get a bird's eye view of thousands of really pissed-off people.

The three words - The New SCADA - aptly define Inductive Automation and Ignition.  I didn't just wake up one morning and say "Hey! I have a great idea, let's start a SCADA company!"  No!  If even one SCADA company had even a semblance of the four pillars, I would have used it and Inductive Automation would never have been born.

I love the software and company we've created.  But more, I love the Community that's formed up around it.  If you missed our ICC in 2013 then you missed something HUGE - the Community.  In twenty-five years I've never seen anything like it, and frankly, I'm completely taken aback, and humbled, by your faith in us. Thank you.  That's why we're here and that's why I get out of bed in the morning. If sometimes I seem a bit gruff, it's not motivated out of greed - rather, it's motivated by my sense of responsibility to keep the show on the road.  It's more about managing risks so that we can keep this phenomenon going and growing, and so you'll still find us here, an even better company, in twenty years.

I think the madness of grow fast or fail fast, and then sell if successful, is just that - Madness.  What about the people who made it successful? Well, we're not going down that road.  We love what we do, we love this Community and we really do want to make the world a better place!

So there you have it - The New SCADA!