I’ve been with Grantek in the automation space for 19 years, and over that time I have seen software packages come and go, while some just last and last and last over that time. Currently, I am the product manager for Grantek’s Label Verification and Label Printer Control Solutions, which gives me a different perspective than my previous integrator role. As product manager, I have to pick an architecture and, with our engineering group, design our system for the present but also be able to handle change in the future. In my current role, I vet vendors similar to how manufacturers vet system integrators. I find myself behaving like a customer when I look to pick a vendor who can not only set Grantek up for the future but can also deliver a reliable and proven product today.
I can clearly see advantages offered by Ignition from Inductive Automation. Inductive Automation makes its own software, whereas competing vendors generally acquire companies then, in many instances, messily attempt to integrate them into their ecosystem. Even worse, some vendors fail to invest in or maintain their software, forcing them to do another acquisition 10-15 years later.
Inductive Automation vs. Other Major Vendors
In 2018, we did a comparison of the Ignition SQL Bridge Module, a tool for moving data between a PLC and a database, with similar software from two major automation software vendors. To be kind, we’ll refer to those two vendors as Vendor 1 and Vendor 2. I personally used Vendor 1’s software in 2003 when I started my career and found it confusing and buggy, but they pretty much fixed those issues in the next version. Given that this software had been around since at least 2003, it’s fair to compare it to the Ignition SQL Bridge Module, which was released in 2003 under the name FactorySQL.
Inductive Automation’s application had far superior configuration options, settings, and features, as well as embedded scripting (a huge difference). A key sign of vendor investment in the product was support for updated Windows OSes and database software. In 2018, Vendor 1 only supported SQL Server 2012, whereas Inductive Automation supported 2016. Vendor 2’s SQL-connection software was rejected out of hand by my engineering team after they reviewed it and found outdated and obsolete DLLs.
Moving beyond SQL-connection software to core SCADA, I’ve seen huge differences in longevity and migration options over time. One vendor had a robust but simple application which I personally helped install around a hundred licenses for over several years across major customers. The software that replaced it didn’t support scripting in the same way and had a very different architecture, making migrations a challenge to say the least.
Now we’re looking at the same vendor's third-generation software, and since it’s an acquisition there’s going to be a period of risks and bugs from the software being absorbed by the vendor, and a period of retraining our people to a completely new tool yet again, in a different development environment.
Handling Paradigm Shifts in the SCADA Market
Sometimes major changes do happen and there are paradigm shifts that drive big changes in how the software needs to work. Inductive Automation again has advantages to handling these versus a big company who handles change by acquisition. Since Ignition is modular, you’re only learning one new piece when change happens.
In response to the need for web-based SCADA systems, Inductive Automation released the Perspective Module. Developing screens in this is quite different from traditional SCADA. It uses CSS and is more akin to web-page development than SCADA. That said, the tag structure, scripting engine, and the rest of the application remain the same as previous Ignition versions. In contrast, when other major vendors acquire a company to meet the latest paradigm shift, it is completely different software.
As a vendor who builds its own modular, fully integrated application, Inductive Automation has proven to better update and maintain its software, as well as handle new features or paradigm shifts in the SCADA market.
In Favor of Frequent Updates
Inductive Automation’s continuous effort to improve is also very important to Grantek and our customers. There is a new release of Ignition every five to eight weeks which includes bug fixes, performance enhancements, and new or improved features. This ensures Ignition-built solutions are always in the great position to perform and deliver for our customers.
Outside of emergency security fixes, other providers typically only update their software on a yearly basis, and those yearly updates are often minor.
Thanks to Ignition’s in-house development, it’s far less risky and challenging than software resulting from acquisitions. Additionally, its frequent updates and adaptability to changes in the SCADA market keep organizations on the cutting edge. For these reasons, I favor Ignition to confidently provide customers with a powerful solution for success in manufacturing, both now and in the future.