Followers of my posts are likely very aware of my interest in how embedded hardware advances have been changing the face of automation. Last September, I reported on how this trend is now extending to include software pre-installed on automation devices designed to be embedded into manufacturing systems and machinery. One could say that the software is being embedded into the embedded systems themselves.
At the ARC Forum 2018, Don Pearson and Kevin McClusky of Inductive Automation formally announced the Ignition Onboard embedded software program that I first reported on in the fall by highlighting eight new participants in addition to Opto 22 and Hilscher, which were included in my initial report. The newly announced partners include Advantech B+B SmartWorx, Moxa and EZAutomation, who are putting Ignition Edge on their products, as well as KEBA, Brown Engineers, Azul Systems, Nexoforge and Tyrion Integration who are embedding the full version of Ignition.
McClusky expects more companies to join the program soon. “Around a dozen additional companies have shown real interest,” he said. “We’re actively working with many of those right now.”
Pearson noted that Inductive Automation and its partners’ efforts around the Ignition Onboard program are in direct response to industry’s need for help in creating an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) strategy for their companies. He referenced World Economic Forum research data indicating that 84 percent of business leaders expect IIoT to disrupt their business, yet only 7 percent have a comprehensive IIoT strategy and 73 percent admit to not having any kind of IIoT strategy in place.
Explaining how Ignition can be used to support IIoT strategies, Pearson noted four key reasons:
- The software’s open, modular and vendor agnostic design means that it can connect to any system and, as highlighted by the Ignition Onboard program, be installed on virtually any device;
- Ignition decouples devices from applications via its use of MQTT;
- The software can be used to build and deploy any kind of industrial application; and
- Ignition’s unlimited licensing model makes scaling its use for IIoT feasible.
Demonstrating the simplicity of getting Ignition up and running, McClusky installed a trial version of Ignition with the MQTT module via the hotel Wi-Fi in just a few minutes. He then used the software to connect securely to an Opto 22 groov device and an Advantech Uno via an MQTT broker that the devices were publishing to. Once connected to the broker, the Opto 22 and Advantech edge nodes, along with all their accompanying data, appeared in Ignition’s MQTT Engine folder. With that connection, McClusky showed how users can then connect to those devices and their data through interfaces built via drag-and-drop with Ignition Designer.
Spotlighting Ignition Edge on groov (as well as the company’s just introduced EPIC), Benson Hougland of Opto 22 pointed out that the device has connectors to Rockwell, Siemens and Modbus devices, as well as many others. The speed with which groov can connect to any of these disparate devices is enabled by MQTT. The messaging protocol inherently decouples a device from any IIoT application needing its data by having the application acquire the data from the broker the device is publishing to, rather than having the application poll the device directly.
This decoupling resolves one of the biggest IIoT security issues, said Hougland. “Security concerns come into the picture when you’re accessing ports and VPNs. With MQTT, there is no need to have device ports open in the field.”
Hougland said another big advantage provided by MQTT is that it puts power back into operations’ hands by allowing them to choose the systems and devices they prefer because MQTT allows those devices to publish their data to a broker for use by the enterprise or an IIoT application. “This means that engineers can spend time creating value with the data rather than having to build elaborate systems to convey device data to the enterprise,” he said.
After demonstrating the speed of MQTT by showing how Ignition can be used to discover more than 1,400 devices with some 58,000 tags in seconds, Cirrus Link’s Arlen Nipper, who co-developed MQTT, announced Cirrus Link’s addition of cloud modules for Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure, as well as support for AWS Greengrass for Ignition. Cirrus Link is an Inductive Automation partner that develops the MQTT features for Ignition. Nipper explained that the Cirrus Link cloud modules allow for any tag data in Ignition to be sent to AWS and/or Azure for Big Data analysis.
Greengrass extends AWS to devices so they can act locally on the data they generate, while still using the cloud for management, analytics and storage. Greengrass allows users to employ familiar languages and programming models to create and test device software in the cloud, and then deploy it to devices. Nipper noted that Greengrass can be programmed to filter device data and only transmit necessary information back to the cloud. The technology also authenticates and encrypts device data at all points of connection so that data is never exchanged between devices when they communicate with each other and the cloud without proven identity.