At its 2021 virtual Ignition Community Conference, Inductive Automation highlighted the steps it has been taking over the past year to position the Ignition industrial automation software platform for its next steps, indicating that several new updates will be forthcoming in the next few months.
Carl Gould, director of software engineering at Inductive Automation, said, “Our primary area of focus for the software development team is on quality and process improvements.” He said the company has been staffing up the quality team to achieve a “nearly one-to-one staffing ratio of software engineers to test engineers. We're also building up our QA (quality assurance) infrastructure with automated test infrastructure and automated benchmarking so that every release we put out has undergone a rigorous set of testing to ensure that Ignition can be as stable and defect free as possible.”
Two industrial automation technology trends having a big impact on Ignition are mobility and data access, said Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering at Inductive Automation. With a greater focus on mobility, developers are extending automation systems to smartphones and tablets to take advantage of mobile device capabilities such as GPS, the built-in camera, NFC (near-field communication) and Bluetooth, and “leverage those features to build the bigger solution,” he said. Inductive Automation’s Ignition Perspective module allows users to build industrial applications to monitor and control production processes from a mobile device, desktop, or touch panel.
As for the data access trend Cox noted, he said industry’s increasing interest in leveraging edge computing and MQTT communications is targeted at bringing [production floor] data into a modern infrastructure and the cloud for additional applications, such as analytics and machine learning. “We're seeing a lot of customers leveraging AWS and Azure and their asset modeling tools to go a lot further with the data they collect,” he said.
A fixture of the Ignition Community Conference is its Discover Gallery, where key Ignition implementations are spotlighted to show off the software’s capabilities as an automation platform. In part of his keynote presentation at the conference, Cox noted several applications in this year’s Discover Gallery, including:
- A project system integrator DMC completed for Ginkgo Bioworks. Cox said Ginkgo Bioworks expanded its automation capabilities to increase its nationwide diagnostic testing capacity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of this implementation was to prepare COVID-19 test samples for DNA sequencing and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing for the virus. “At the heart of this new lab is Ignition SCADA, with nearly 50 separate PLCs, lab equipment, quality vision systems, and robots [connected to Ignition and] all triggering actions that impacted the samples,” said Cox. “All of this occurred while the biological processes, physical lab layout, and system requirements were changing daily due to pandemic, [which is why Ginkgo Bioworks] required a solution that was agile and scalable.”
- Cox also noted an Ignition Perspective implementation built by BHP for the remote operations center of its Minerals Australia business to monitor and manage the status of critical technology infrastructure across Minerals Australia’s operations. “The solution [using Ignition Perspective] allows the Minerals Australia team to leverage off-the-shelf software with traditional SCADA functionality alongside modern mobility and IoT connectivity options,” Cox said. “They’re monitoring more than 30 sites with 20 network domains, and tens of thousands of devices with nearly 9,000 data points. Their solution is one that uniquely integrates the IT world in the OT space for the mining industry.”
- One application showcasing all of Ignition’s features in one massive system is a project by integrator CPM Beta Raven for Smithfield’s hog feed production. Smithfield needed to completely automate its hog feed production plant, as the feed mill was working entirely with push button control systems, relay circuit boards, and physical labor. Using Ignition to handle Smithfield’s materials receiving operations, recipes, inventory tracking, product loadouts, historian data analysis, notifications, and visualization, Cox said Smithfield operators now “have the capability to focus on ingredient and product accuracy and production times for the best results.”