5 common questions manufacturers ask about the new Ignition HMI/SCADA software.
Ignition software is a tool created using automation and controls wisdom but leveraging the power of the IT environment. It is powerful, it is new, it is clean, and promises to be a game changer for manufacturing businesses across the world.
It is a game changer because its central philosophy is to give more power, more speed, and more connectivity to the end user in order to drive their innovation and agility. Its openness, its licence structure and its support framework are designed to meet 21st century needs.
As of mid-2014, ICT engineers have been working with this product for approximately two years. Our applications to date have delivered primarily OEE, dashboard and other reporting capabilities rather than the traditional SCADA/ HMI offering.
The following questions are some of those most commonly asked of us when discussing the Ignition product.
Q1: Ignition seems to incorporate some great new IT features compared to traditional SCADA products, but what do you have to watch out for/ be prepared for?
One of the key objectives of the creators of Ignition was to create an industrial product which would make best use of the powerful software environment already available on our PCs and the power of “open source” software tools. Key elements of this have been their use of the Java software framework and SQL databases.
A core requirement for the installation & operation of Ignition is thus the installation and maintenance of Java. Java is free to install however there are some watch outs.
Network & PC security is an important issue for any control system network. Java brings a new set of management issues that control system administrators may not have dealt with before, including potential new security vulnerabilities and Java’s self-update management process. Established best practice security processes should be more than capable of dealing with these challenges. Ensuring regular updates of Java is fundamental to this.
Ignition derives much of its power from its database connectivity. Compared to more traditional SCADA products, it makes working with databases easy. A useful feature is that you can use the relational database of your choice. Integrators may however need to brush up on their database management skills since Ignition takes no responsibility for database administration tasks.
Sounds easy at first but ensuring your data is still online and available in years to come, without loss of system performance is not necessarily so straight forward.
Q2: Through your implementation experience, do you think the advertised benefits of the software are realised?
Quick and easy installation: Provided everything within your plant is on Ethernet, Ignition indeed gets up and going very quickly. Once Java is installed, new Clients just start wherever needed, including the development environment. Creating connections to PLCs (or other devices) and gathering data from existing databases is quick and easy to implement. System modifications are made without interruption to the users – Client PCs just update on the spot, no restarting or recompiling required.
Report facilities: Ignition offers a great environment to produce and publish reports. This overcomes a significant deficiency of previous generation SCADA products as all of the necessary IT infrastructure is already part of the product. This makes it especially easy to provide access to your control systems data (live or historic) outside your controls network and onto your corporate network.
Q3: With great power comes great flexibility – How can you avoid hanging yourself with the long rope that you are given?
This is a valid concern and demands some care and discipline to manage well. As with any automation and control platform there is no substitute for good professional practice and a culture of quality. It is the thinking one does before the programming that is key to project success.
With anything new, it is best to do the training first. Ignition is no exception. There are some new concepts under the hood that are not present in other SCADA packages and understanding these concepts first is a must.
There are two programming languages available, but if you keep it simple, you can avoid writing script most of the time. This focus on simplicity is no different to our normal recommended practice. A heavy reliance on custom code is a sign that you may not be using the right product, or may not be applying the right strategy for the job at hand.
Q4: Ignition looks more like an IT product than an Automation product. Can my Automation staff configure it or do I need to engage specialised IT resources?
Although configuration of the Ignition product requires new skills in high level language programming and database configuration, it is our view that it is still a job for an automation professional rather than an IT professional. In the end the knowledge most critical to the success of the project will be the core application design. This will be best handled by an automation engineer and includes everything from the specifics of the industrial data sources, the need for manipulation of that data once collected, and the needs of specific users for presentation of that data.
Day to day support requirements of an Ignition installation are low, and the nature of work is less demanding. Staff with an automation or IT background can usually learn the necessary skills quite easily. How effectively and efficiently they do this depends largely on the training they receive, the quality of the initial design and naturally the quality of documentation provided for the installation.
Q5: Ignition is perfect for remote client access – but how do I secure my control systems network to ensure it is safe?
The Ignition Server (gateway) talks to its clients via HTTP. As with any remote network connection, allowing access to your control system from the Internet exposes you to a security threat. Based on its heavy use of Java, Ignition could be considered to introduce more risk in this area than traditional systems. To mitigate this risk, be sure to enable and utilise Ignition’s secure communications via its inbuilt HTTPS server. For all systems we recommended that IT best practice security measures be implemented. This may include “active” or “application” aware firewall and monitored connection policy and procedures.
What has been your experience? We welcome your comments. Feel free to drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call.