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!

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.