Enhancing the Student Learning Experience Via Ignition Software

8 minute read
Enhancing the Student Learning Experience Via Ignition Software

By George L. Pinchak, JD, Graduate Student - Mechanical Engineering, Washkewicz College of Engineering, Cleveland State University and Managing Partner, Watts Law LLC, Cleveland, OH


Dr. Saeed Farahani, an Assistant Professor of Smart and Hybrid Manufacturing Systems at Clemson University, provided a dynamic real-world learning experience that reinforces engineering theory for automotive and mechanical engineering students with a semester-long class project utilizing Inductive Automation’s Ignition software platform. Ignition is a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) platform that has been widely adopted in a variety of industries and provides unparalleled real-time data acquisition from plant equipment, analysis of critical data input and output values, tracking and display of key operating attributes and variables for improved process control, enhanced quality assurance, and predictive maintenance purposes.

Through Inductive Automation’s Educational Engagement Program, Dr. Farahani is able to provide his students with access to free Ignition software licenses. Students utilize the extensive online training courses of Inductive University (IU) to understand and gain familiarity with Ignition’s suite of software modules. Reinforced by Dr. Farahani’s lectures and in-class demonstrations, each student then applies Ignition to model a complex product or process manufacturing system of their choosing.

During the final week of the semester, two class periods are set aside for each student to give an oral presentation and live demonstration of their project in front of classmates, graduate students, faculty, and industry representatives. According to Dr. Farahani, industry representatives who attend the presentations fall into two general categories: a) those who do not have Ignition experience but want to learn about its potential applicability to their manufacturing facilities, and b) those who already utilize Ignition in their facilities and are looking for new opportunities to expand, enhance, and integrate it across departments, machining centers, and/or product lines.


Three-Pronged Approach

Dr. Farahani employs a three-pronged approach to help students successfully build, troubleshoot, and complete their Ignition projects within the sixteen-week semester.

First, at the start of the semester, Dr. Farahani outlines predetermined, successive milestones for the students’ projects. Early in the semester, students must submit project concepts to Dr. Farahani for approval and, at periodic checkpoints during the semester, show the progress they’ve made on their projects.

Second, Dr. Farahani delivers in-class lectures to bolster the information available at IU. These lectures cover simplified examples that demonstrate key Ignition software modules and tools, including creating tags, building an alarming system, and, most importantly, constructing a Human-Machine Interface (HMI) that displays relevant data in a cogent, easy-to-understand format without overwhelming the user with too much information or too many bells and whistles.

Third, Dr. Farahani provides students with a weekly list of topics and lessons from Inductive University to review and complete. Students must listen to the Inductive University lessons and then successfully complete the associated challenge to insure that they understood the concepts presented. Dr. Farahani is provided with access to the students’ accounts for both Inductive University and the Ignition software so he can track each student’s progress. Additionally, during weekly in-class quizzes, Dr. Farahani may include quiz questions relating to the previous week’s assigned Inductive University lessons. This gives the students additional motivation to make timely progress through the assigned Inductive University lessons.

“In my experience, the most important thing is to make sure that students are making steady progress throughout the semester in their understanding of the Ignition software modules and working on their projects,” explains Dr. Farahani. “If students wait until the end of the semester and attempt to play catch-up in the final few weeks of the semester, it is a recipe for trouble.” Thus, Dr. Farahani employs the three-pronged approach to ensure that each student is making continued and adequate progress in understanding and applying the Ignition software modules to their project.

“We have students from a diverse array of backgrounds and degrees of knowledge with respect to manufacturing systems engineering. Thus, we fully expect that different students will have varying degrees of complexity with regard to their projects. However, we have found that all students, regardless of background or knowledge, through working with the Ignition software in furtherance of their projects, attain an understanding and appreciation of what a SCADA system is and why it is so vitally important in today’s manufacturing environment,” explains Dr. Farahani. “That is why we continue to make the Ignition project an integral part of our Manufacturing Systems Engineering class.”


HMI Dashboard For In-Mold Electronic Layout Workspace

HMI Dashboard for In-Mold Electronics Layout Workspace by Mahdi Pirani


Bridging the Gap – From Manufacturing Systems Theory to Industry 4.0 and IIoT

Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are rapidly changing today’s manufacturing landscape through connected devices on the shop floor; real-time data generation; the rapid data storage, retrieval, and interconnectivity via cloud and edge computing through the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) data exchange standard; and improved data analysis tools and techniques, with increasing reliance on sophisticated analysis and prediction tools such as Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Machines and equipment in modern manufacturing facilities include a plethora of sensors and embedded software capable of generating virtually unlimited amounts of data regarding the manufacturing process. The overarching goal of Industry 4.0 is to identify and analyze relevant data, meaning data that has a direct correlation to manufacturing productivity, product quality, and predictive maintenance. This goal extends to real-time decision-making to maintain and improve manufacturing productivity while avoiding unplanned downtime by identifying potential manufacturing problems and correcting them before productivity can be negatively affected. Data analysis may be as straightforward as a spreadsheet or may involve building and validating a mathematical or simulation model of a process or system, utilizing AI techniques.

The questions posed to engineering graduates entering the manufacturing sector include: a) what data is relevant, i.e., what data is most indicative or predictive of manufacturing efficiency, product quality, and required maintenance; b) how should the selected data be analyzed to facilitate, enhance, or optimize decision-making; and c) how analyzed data should be presented to different user groups (production employees, supervisors, production control, quality assurance, strategic planning) such that appropriate action may be taken on a timely basis.

“Use of the Ignition software in my class provides manufacturing engineering students with both a hands-on, Industry 4.0-based learning experience, and a sophisticated tool chest that they take with them and apply and tailor to their particular job situations,” states Dr. Farahani. “The Ignition project experience for students dovetails nicely with and, indeed reinforces, the manufacturing engineering principles that I teach in my class.”

When working on their Ignition projects, students quickly realize that they must identify and select relevant variables for their selected manufacturing process, obtain data for those variables by writing appropriate data-generating tags, and develop a model to receive the data inputs from the tags. This data can then be leveraged to generate outputs including measures of production and product quality, recommended courses of action, identification of required maintenance actions, out-of-bounds alarms, etc. Finally, all of this must be distilled down to an informative and usable HMI for the intended user of the project.

Dr. Farahani explains, “I stress to my students that no matter how much data you have or how much information is generated by Ignition, the HMI, or dashboard, as we refer to it, must be something that the intended user can view and readily understand, such that a timely and proper decision can be made regarding the manufacturing process. Often students will want to include too much information – too many data items, too many tables, too many graphs – that will only make the dashboard look crowded and may distract or confuse the user. The ideal HMI should inform and educate, but not overwhelm.”

Knowing the project’s intended user is key to a successful design. An HMI for a production employee on the shop floor operating a machine will be different than an HMI for a supervisor of a production department or machining center, both of which will be different for an HMI for a plant manager, where the dashboard may include information selected from the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software of the company, in addition to production, product quality and maintenance information from the production facility.


Range of Student Projects

“I allow my students flexibility in the selection and development of their Ignition projects. I want to make sure that students are working on a project that interests them, as opposed to trying to pigeonhole them into a project that I select,” states Dr. Farahani.

Accordingly, each class includes a variety of projects from discrete manufacturing to process manufacturing, from modeling job shop production to automated production lines. Additionally, service-oriented businesses can also be the subject of a suitable project. For example, a student can create a project to model the air-quality conditions and energy use in a commercial building via the building’s HVAC and electrical systems, ensuring proper air quality and temperature for tenants while minimizing energy use. Students already working in the industry will often select a project that involves their work facility or a relevant problem/situation modeled after what they would experience on the plant floor. Other students review current manufacturing engineering academic literature and select a project based on a journal article describing, for example, additive manufacturing processes or predictive maintenance models. Still other students select a project based on a hobby or other interest, like an HMI that simulates the dashboard of a Baja racing vehicle for use by the driver and crew.

“With the power and capability of Ignition, the possibilities are endless. I want my students to understand and appreciate that fact. That is why the end-of-semester presentation of student projects is so valuable: the students are able to see the wide scope and variety of projects completed by their classmates utilizing Ignition software,” explains Dr. Farahani.

Industry 4.0 and IIoT offer data resources and analytic tools for manufacturing processes on a scale never seen before. Utilizing Ignition in semester-long student projects, students in Dr. Farahani’s Manufacturing Systems Engineering course learn to select and apply data resources and analytic tools to monitor, display, and control a complex manufacturing process in a real-time environment.

Posted on November 14, 2023