Just as process controls spent recent years freeing themselves from hardware constraints, some supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are freeing themselves from the restrictions of traditional display software.
One of the most notable is Ignition software from Inductive Automation, which is an industrial software platform built for HMI, SCADA and MES applications. It includes real-time control and analytics, rapid development and hot-pluggable modules. Ignition is affordable because it's licensing allows unlimited clients, tags and connections. It's also scalable because its server-centric architecture lets users launch clients from web browsers, make one-click changes to all clients, and operate across platforms.
Swiss Army knife for HMI development
David Lewis, software design services engineer at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif., reports his company has used Ignition for about 10 years. "We started using Ignition because the massive, opaque PLC solutions weren't customizable enough and were very expensive," says Lewis. "We began by testing it in a small CO2 recovery system, and it worked well, so we expanded it to our brew house, filtration, packaging and utilities. We started using it for data acquisition (DAQ) and moving data, and then used it for software development and building new SCADA, MES, ERP, sales and marketing, and warehouse applications."
Lewis reports that Ignition's main benefits are its flexibility in addressing different SCADA challenges. "Previously, we had to struggle or buy a costly solution, but Ignition helps us gain better insight into our processes; maintain better production efficiency, product consistency and quality; find inefficiencies more quickly; and achieve a factual basis more easily for our decisions."
Lewis reports that Sierra Nevada used Ignition to build a statistical process control (SPC) module that it uses to examine process issues such as temperatures, bottle fill heights, oxygen pickup before capping and other parameters, before they drift out of spec. Likewise, because Ignition's DAQ functions can track, record and report on anything that generates a signal, and then populate an SQL database that can be correlated with other plant activities, it helped the brewery find air leaks in its compressed air system. "We've expanded our Ignition application massively; we add to it all the time; and it just keeps getting better," says Lewis.
How to attach controls to interfaces
Ken Bannard, president of Koerr Inc., an instrumentation, electrical services and system integrator in Edmonton, Alberta, reports his firm uses Ignition to create HMIs and SCADA hosts for the oil and gas RTUs, telemetry units and other custom, distributed products it builds. "We began using Ignition about seven years ago when the software costs for third-party providers became cost-prohibitive," says Bannard. "Ignition isn't patched into the back end of an HMI database. Its database structure is inherent to its software, which allows it to connect to any database, and integrate information from multiple data sources."
Bannard adds that control architectures can be attached to Ignition, so it can interface with logical controls, which enables users to run monitoring and control functions through it. "We wrote custom apps to expand beyond traditional HMIs, and perform asset management in Ignition," explains Bannard. "We can pull a whole project within an HMI using our Ignition-based Construction Completions Tool. All the drawings, schedules and histories that used to be in binders or Excel spreadsheets are now living documents in our control systems. This removes many limits, and Ignition can also link to other software packages, use communication drivers to talk to PLCs, and bring in all their data via an HMI one platform."
Big SCADA for big data
Because it can integrate numerous databases, PLCs, computers and enterprise systems, Ignition was recently used by Trimax Systems Inc. in Brea, Calif., to help oil and gas producer Pioneer Natural Resources in Irving, Texas, to develop a SCADA system and gateway area network (GAN) module for about 45,000 devices and 4-6 million tags across 14,000 sites.
"In the past, it would have cost about $16 million and 40,000-50,000 man-hours to complete a project like this with regular, distributed SCADA," says Walker Reynolds, senior control systems engineer at Trimax. "Ignition enabled us to do it for $205,000 and 10,000 man-hours. This software allows us to say ‘yes' to our customers."