Episode 5: Ignition Cross-Industry Collective (ICIC)

Inductive Conversations

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The Ignition Cross-Industry Collective is made up of a group of professionals who service a variety of industries including food & beverage, forest products, oil & gas, and pharmaceutical. They are here at IA headquarters to discuss how people from a wide range of industries can benefit from getting involved with the collective and respond to the challenges that many face from the plant floor to the executive level.

“I see this group as a way to collaborate. Not only with Ignition, but with other things. I think if the open-source model has taught us anything, it's that the wisdom of crowds is pretty strong. Being able to tap into that, and get viewpoints from other people with different backgrounds and different industries, I think, is invaluable. It's really a force multiplier.”
– Derek Randall

“You're changing not just the way people are thinking about software, not just the way they're using it, but you're starting to impact the efficiency… You are empowering operators and operations people, allowing them control of how they interact with their systems. And it's exciting.” – Allen Ray

Guest Bios

Derek Randall is an OTI Senior Database & Reports Administrator for Roseburg Forest Products. Derek has 28 years' experience working in the control and automation field, with a wide variety of control systems, PLCs, and HMIs, in various industries. Derek has been working for Roseburg Forest Products for the last 16 years, in a variety of roles. For the past 3 years, he has been working as a Database and Reports Administrator. It is his task to collect data from the shop floor (PLCs, HMIs, OEM data, etc.) and to create reports and data analysis for the plant personnel as well as management and the executive team.

Dan Stauft has 21 years in various manufacturing engineering roles in the automotive industry. Dan joined SugarCreek, a privately held food-manufacturing company, four years ago. In his current role, Dan leads the OT side of the Corporate Continuous Improvement (CI) team which includes engineering, IT, maintenance, and operations personnel. All of the data and reporting for the CI activities comes from an Ignition project that Dan developed for data collection, visualization, and reporting for five manufacturing sites.

Loe Cameron is Sr. Director of Analytics & Controls at Pall Corporation, leading development and strategy for the backbone of Industry 4.0 including process analytical technologies (PAT), instrumentation and automation. She has a B.S. in Bioengineering and 17 years of biotechnology experience in both technical and business roles.

Allen Ray is one of the subject-matter experts for HMI and PLC development for Aera Energy LLC. Allen has over 30 years in the oil & gas industry. He has had the privilege of working from the grassroots of drilling operations, the construction and maintenance of well surface equipment, steam generation, dehydration, water plants, to the custody transfer at the pipeline. Allen has worked as a driller, toolpusher, electrician, I&E technician, communication technician, senior programmer, field automation specialist, and is currently working as an information analyst.

 

Episode Transcription:

Don: We've actually got a great episode ahead today, and with us is the Ignition Cross-Industry Collective, a group of Ignition end users with an interesting goal: working together to improve their development tools and processes in Ignition. So, thanks to all of you for joining us today, and welcome to everyone. I'm going to start by asking each of you, because I have four guests today, and I’d like to talk just a little bit about introducing yourself, briefly sharing what field you work in, and a bit about how you use Ignition — sort of set the stage for today's discussion. So, with that, Derek, why don't we start with you? 

Derek: Yes, my name is Derek Randall. I work in the forest products industry. We are primarily using Ignition for collecting and reporting on production data. Some of our facilities are starting to use Ignition as an HMI, though.

Don: Excellent, thanks a lot. How about you, Dan? 

Dan: I'm Dan Stauft. I'm in the food and beverage industry. We've got six manufacturing plants where we use Ignition for virtually everything. We use it form MES. We use it for refrigeration control and reporting, waste under control and reporting, mobile reporting, voice notifications. Pretty much, you name it, we do it.

Don: Great. Thanks. And Loe? 

Loe: Yeah, I'm Loe Cameron. I work in the pharma and biopharmaceutical industry, and we use Ignition as an HMI on many of our unit ops, as well as a way to tie the unit ops together to do unique and cool things.

Don: Cool. Allen? 

Allen: My name is Allen Ray. I work in oil and gas, and we have about 2.5, 2.7 million tags, around about that and we are about halfway through doing a conversion to Ignition. We do not use reporting, but we use everything else. 

Don: Great. Thanks, Allen, and thanks again to all of you for taking some time to chat today. Allen, since I know you and I talked a while ago about the idea of Ignition for a cross-industry collective group. I may refer to the Ignition CIC throughout this conversation, but can you tell us a little bit about what is Ignition CIC? What's the mission of Ignition CIC? Well, a few sentences or more depending on what do you have to say about that. 

Allen: So, this has come out of a desire to not just collaborate with end users, but we've been very fortunate. We live in California. My development team gets an opportunity every year to come down and sit with Travis (Cox, IA’s co-director of sales engineering), and really get to do some incredible work with the developers here. We have access that a lot of companies don't have. One of the missions that we have in this group is we want to be a vehicle for some of these other companies that don't have that kind of access to be able to, really through the collective, be able to have that kind of direct access to some of the developers, to Travis Cox, to be able to really work with a community that's building extremely valuable tools, and have access to those tools, and be able to contribute to that toolset through the collective.

The vision, the mission is: Like-minded people with the desire to improve, really the continuous improvement of the product through tools, through development. But even more than that, though having a voice back to Inductive on how the end user needs the product to work and change so that it's best for us. 

Don: That sounds good. I want to build on that just a little bit because I know you and I actually had conversations when you brought the idea to me, and we started discussing it. What role did Inductive Automation and Ignition play in maybe pushing the group off? I think it's important for people to understand that you're your own group and with people like Travis, there's a feedback loop into us. We want you to be an independent group because you have unique sets of challenges, and we should respond to them as part of one of the missions of this group. What was played as we began this idea? 

Allen: Not only would it not be where it is today, we had our first meeting at ICC 2018. We started talking, probably around April, and really didn't nail anything down until July, August. Yet, through your contacts ... Here's the most powerful thing Inductive did for me, for the Collective: I said to you, "I don't know who can help me do this. I don't have the resources or the knowledge of different industries, and I need your guys' to help me tap some people that can get onboard with us, and really see this thing get off the ground.

So, you guys gave me a list of about five different people. Four of them actively chair the vice-chair position now and have been incredible. Just the level of effort, and the level of really jumping all in, being about the success, and having a passion to see this thing work has been amazing. The success, even though me and you talked about it, it's really been people like Melanie (Hottman, IA’s director of sales), and people that have made the connections, and helped do a lot of the connections, letting people know that it was going to happen.

We had 100 people at the first meeting with very little real getting the word out. We understand that there's a desire for this to happen. We understand that the end users want it to happen, but it would not have happened without Inductive’s hand in helping me get connected with these amazing people. Also, really getting the word out that it was going to happen. Beyond that, the fact that you guys gave us space at the conference, and let us use your guys' sound equipment, and really hosted us well as a big part of that too. 

Don: Well, that's interesting you say that because there's some of the amazing people you're referring to, who are sitting around this table right now, so we'll get a chance to hear from them. 

Allen: Three of the five. 

Don: Three of the five amazing people. What's interesting is that from the viewpoint of Inductive Automation, we would hear from amazing people, who are these industrial organizations, that are end users. Then if it someone like Travis, you mentioned, or Kevin (McClusky, IA’s co-director of sales engineering), or any one of our sales engineers, or other folks here, they'd see these amazing things that people were doing. We would also think, "What if those people were sharing? What if they were talking to each other?" 

Our CEO, in our first conference, talked about cross-pollination across industries. So, when you came to the idea, I would say it looked like it was really going to be a win-win for this entire community. Because you would have your own creation on it, and you'd have your own ideas. Then we'd learn, and we could input into it where it made sense too. I think it ended up being a win-win situation, and I'm glad that you and the amazing group, and they really are, launched it and really got it going. So, thanks for that little update, but I'd like to hear a story about how one of the amazing people got connected. Loe, let's go to you. 

Loe: Yeah, so our industry doesn't have a long history of using Ignition, so we really kind of felt a little bit alone, and expressed that regularly to Don and other people within Ignition. We were constantly wanting to talk to people in our own industry, wanting to talk to other people outside of our industry to understand if we were using it correctly, if there were opportunities that weren't taking advantage of, and just to have people to bounce ideas off of, and to learn from. So, it was Don that connected me to Allen, when Allen was looking to start this up, and it's been absolutely great. I'm looking forward to continuing to grow, so I can meet people from my own industry, but the cross-industry part has been really important, too. Because we're so heavily regulated, we innovate very slowly when it comes to automation. 

So, learning from other people who are leading from out in front, and can innovate more quickly than we can, allows us to avoid repeating some of the mistakes that they've made, and take advantage of all their successes. 

Don: I think that's really a big part of this is supposed to be about is the benefit to come from that kind of cross-pollination outside of your own industries. Dan, I know we've talked about that from the viewpoint of your industry. Can you comment a little bit on the advantages of this kind of cross-pollination of ideas that you've experienced? 

Dan: Sure. This group is a natural evolution of ICC (the annual Ignition Community Conference). If you look at the three or four days that cross-industry people are together at ICC, we find that we learn in projects presented by people that in a completely different industry, and we teach people in different industries a lot. But it's three days. You take what you can get, you learn a little bit, and then you come back a year later, and you repeat. To me, this is an evolution of that to where it can be more continuous. We can share ideas throughout the year. We can do it via websites. We can do it via webcasts. We can do it at different conferences, but we become a more cohesive group. It's kind of like a forum on steroids. It's a very focused forum on sharing best practices, sharing widgets you've created, sharing templates you've created. The whole objective is for all of us to learn from each other, so it's a win-win.

Don: That's great, thanks, Dan. Let's see if we can get something specific on that. If you think about cross-pollination, we got four very different industries represented here. Derek, let me put you on the spot on this one. Something you've learned from others in this group. I realize this group is at its beginning stages, we're launching it, part of this whole conversation is to let others know us know that can and should take the opportunity to participate. You've been engaged in it for a little while now since its inception, anything that you want to share on that area that you actually ... a takeaway? 

Derek: Absolutely. I've learned a lot of things. One of them is even though we come from different backgrounds, educational levels, our companies are very different, from huge corporations to small little facilities. We all face a lot of the same challenges, and it is interesting and illuminating to get other people's perspective on the challenges that we all face, and how they're dealing with them and the frustrations and successes. Just last night, we were having dinner and telling war stories, and Dan had mentioned something about how he breaks up his scan classes, and got a better performance for that. That was an issue that I was having with one of my projects that I didn't even think about doing what he did. It's super simple. 

Leo: Yeah. That was big. 

Derek: Yeah. So just having those conversations, meeting with people, a lot of things come out, and you really learn a lot.

Don: Yeah. I think when you think about the idea of really building out on automation strategies, and taking advantage of those across multiple industries, it opens the door to the fact that there are so many commonalities or problem and cross-relevance, if you will, of solutions that you may not think about it in your daily life with people within your own industry. You know? 

Derek: The other thing that I've learned is that you're doing a project, and it's kind of unique. You get done, but you're not sure, "Is that the best way to do that?" Chatting with other people, and learning that they did something very similar gives you validation like, "Yeah that was a really good way to do that." Or, "It kind of was, but there's some better ideas, so you can go back and improve on that." A lot of times if you don't have a big team of technical people, and you're kind of working by yourself, you don't really know, like, "It works, but is that as good as it gets? Or can I be better?" 

Don: I think you just hit something that is actually fundamentally very true of Ignition broadly as a platform. Because it is a development platform that you do with it what you can do. Our CEO said many times, "Out of the box, it'll sit on your computer, and do nothing for five years. Nothing happens unless someone makes it happen." If there are five different ways you can solve a problem, what are best practices? From my viewpoint, I look at this cross-industry collab, and I go, "There's a really big value in people that took the platform and did something with it, sharing how they found it to work best." You can evaluate and say, "Did I do it the best way?" Just to your point, Derek. I think that's really critical. I don't know if anyone else wants to comment on that, but if anyone does ... 

Allen: I'll say that something that I've found interesting. At the beginning of our relationship with Inductive, one of the things that was somewhat comical was five years ago, you go to the conference, and everybody was talking about how big an application they had, right? Talking 10,000 tags, 20,000 tags, and then we come along on the scene, early on, and we're talking about millions of tags. So, the discussion we had was very hard to try to think through, "Okay, how is what you’re doing, going to help me because I'm doing it at such a bigger scale."

Well now, fast forward five years, we have another oil & gas company that is with Inductive that makes us look small. So, now what we're seeing, where we used to be able to help people go, "Hey, it's great that you're doing it that way, but understand if you grow, you're going to start having these problems because we've had those problems." We're running 50, 100, 300,000 tags on a gateway, and these are some of the things we've seen.

Well, now, we have other companies that are much larger than us that we now have taken the benefit of finding out, "Oh, we're doing some things that, as we continue to grow, it's going to cause us problems." We can learn from those things before we ever get to that place where we start actually having the problem, we have corrected it. I see that being very helpful for different size companies that are coming into this thing, starting to do things, and they don't even recognize the practices they're using.

A lot of them are taught through the (Inductive) University. There's nothing malicious about the way it's taught, it's the proper, fast way to do things. But as soon as you start scaling up, there's some things that you need to consider that is just at a more advanced level that way you should handle your tags, the way you’re scanning roots, and the things that you. Unless somebody is there coming alongside of you, you're not going to learn until your system starts breaking.

And is there an opportunity for us to have gone through some of those pain points to be able to help others to know, "Yeah, okay, yeah. I'm doing that. That caused that problem. I don't want that problem. I'm going to change." 

Don: Sure. I think you hit something there that's actually critical with Ignition overall. Our CEO said to me one time, in my office, he said, "We never could have thought what you end users were going to do when we gave you unlimited licensing." What were you going to do with it? It pushed the development, and it pushed our developers, and Carl and Colby had to look at things, and adjust the development timeline. I believe something like this Collective, that's a continuous process. That just didn't happen once, you're talking about a five-year chunk of time, Allen? What about the next five years?

What are all of you and other members of the Collective going to be doing with Ignition? You see it come out in version 8. You see what we're doing with what the improvements have made. It's because people went from 25,000-tag system being big to 10 million-plus being the order of magnitude we're talking about now. What does that mean for what can be done innovatively when you have unlimited projects? So, there's a lot of challenges that I believe the collaboration between the Collective members and Inductive Automation in the development timelines is going to be critical to the whole utility of Ignition across these industries. 

Allen: I'll say something along that line. Selfishly, one of the things that I'm very much looking forward to with the collective is... Again, we have a very large system. We've done really four years of almost full-time development and Ignition 8 is coming out this year. (Note: this podcast was recorded prior to the release of Ignition 8). We want to take advantage, but our security team wants us to get off Java, and wants us to move to HTML, so I'm excited about people like these three people that's sitting here with me. How they're going to help solve that problem. Taking these older systems that were developed with the Vision Module, and how are we going to convert these systems to this new platform?

We can't expect Inductive to just come up with some magic widget that's just going to magically do it. But I've seen over time with the Ignition community, people are going to figure it out. They're going to hang tools, and they're going to have some processes. So, as we begin to do that work, and as we begin to share it amongst ourselves, and make the tools better and better. So, somebody comes up with an idea, bring it to the Collective, somebody else takes that idea and goes, "Man, that's very helpful, and if we did this, it would be even better." Then brings back to the Collective, and somebody else says, "Man, if we were to add this ..." 

As we make these tools and these utilities together as a Collective and share them, we are going to help each other continue to, not just make our products better, but actually help us continue to improve the way that we handle our business, the way that we're transitioning through these upgrades, and different things. It's going to be very powerful from the Collective, as a whole, to be able to help. Especially, smaller companies that don't have the resources. Potentially, maybe not even have developers in house. They're reliant on a contractor.

You start having to pay a contractor to do a big transition, it's just going to be out-of-scope. What if you, as an end user, said, "Well, I can leverage the collective, and if they're willing to help," which I believe, knowing these three and myself, we are going to help. Well, now it's a different story. Now we may be able to leverage some of the expertise and tools. It's exciting. I'm very, very excited about the future, and where we're going.

Don: I think you hit it. I totally agree with you. The potential for companies of all sizes to accelerate the speed, innovation, and make it practical to innovate within their organizations when they don't have the resources of a larger company, but they have the resources of the collective. The atmosphere and the sharing of the community members in Ignition, I've learned over the years, is pretty strong anyway. Now we're putting a little bit or organization behind it, so there's a method to really take advantage of those kinds of skill sets, those kind of innovative opportunities.

One more question I'm going to throw your direction, though. Since you started with this idea yourself, have you had opportunities to collaborate with others from the group that are in the different industry that ... Whatever. Maybe Ignition was the spur, but it went a different direction or something, and you gained something from it. 

Allen: Yeah, just from being engaged with these people and some of the people that have come to the first Collective meeting, I've actually had an opportunity to make a relationship with a lot of ... It was actually an integrator that's very excited about contributing to the group. We started talking, and we ended up actually talking about a piece of hardware that they installed that we were considering. Had nothing to do with Ignition per se, but because of the relationship and just the comradery of talking together, this came about. He said, "Oh, yeah. We've installed that equipment." I said, "Man, we're considering it." He actually invited me to go to Tennessee, to come out. They showed us their installation, they opened the hood, showed us everything they've done. They let us talk to their operators to find out really, "Is this thing really working the way the integrator is saying?" And hosted us, not just well, but exceptionally. 

Allen: So, those kind of things of being able to start having these relationships with people you would never have a relationship with. Even in ICC, it's difficult because it's so packed full-time. But to have those relationships where you can start to now leverage, not just the, "Yeah, let's do this incredible thing with Ignition, which we're going to do." But, man, there's other things that we all deal with that we could benefit from. 

Don: Yeah. I think that's a big thing too because yeah, we're a little somewhat egocentric myself with regard to Ignition because that's what we do. The truth is you're building out topologies, you're doing architectures that involve a variety of different pieces of hardware. How does it fit together? Who's doing what? Not just with Ignition, but to make their whole system work. How does it scale, and what are the different pieces you put into it?

We're also excited about the evolution of the Ignition Onboard program where more and more device manufacturers are beginning to say, "What can we do at the device level to help play into an infrastructure that gives you the power to make choices for the different architectures that you need?" So I think that's going to make a big difference as more and more people participate in the Collective, also.

So, I want to go around the room as we're kind of coming towards a close in conversation, and give each of you a chance to maybe comment on where you see this group going in the future. And what are your hopes for Ignition CIC? Derek, let's go ahead and give you a chance to comment first.

Derek: Well, like Allen said, I see this group as a way to collaborate. Not only with Ignition, but with other things. I think if the open-source model has taught us anything, it's that the wisdom of crowds is pretty strong. Being able to tap into that, and get viewpoints from other people with different backgrounds and different industries I think is invaluable. It's really a force multiplier. 

Don: That's great. Well said. Dan, your final thoughts on where do you see it going, or do you see the value for you as you go forward? 

Dan: I see two different paths. I see just a general growth and more engagement from maybe the industries that I haven't thought of to get more different viewpoints into the same think tank. My hope is that we actually can spawn off into little industry subgroups, potentially. Because, like the Oil and Gas Collective, they get a lot of value out of that. There's some stuff that is unique to food and bev and unique to pharma where there'd be an advantage for us to do a subgroup just to learn how we're dealing with stuff that is 100% unique to our manufacturing processes. 

So, I see a general growth, and hopefully the intent to grow to the point to where we can actually get little silos of manufactured excellence in each different industry. 

Don: You know, I think there's a lot of value into evolving that direction. I know it'll evolve as you get participants in different industries who say, "We like the overall goal, but we like to subset around our vertical a little bit." It makes total sense. One of the challenges with Ignition that we see at Inductive Automation is because it's a platform, we don't serve an industry. We're trying to make it available to the domain expertise that a few has for your industry. But aggregating that sort of open viewpoint that you were talking about, Derek, of more and more people sharing, and then verticalizing it a little bit as it grows and the interest grows, probably a pretty logical evolution. 

Don: Loe?

Loe: Yeah. I agree with everything that Derek and Dan said. Selfishly, I'm really excited to have a group to send my engineers to. It's a great community for me, but one of the advantages of Ignition is I don't have to put 10 engineers on every development project. So, I have people who are very much working alone on projects, and I don't want to lose their ability to bounce ideas off of other people. I don't want to lose their ability to go out and kind of stress test ideas. I think this could give them a forum to be able to do that, while I still get to maintain the efficiency of running more projects that I could run before. And getting more features out there than I could get before. 

Don: That's great. Thanks. Allen? 

Allen: I agree with everything that everyone said. I'm going to play off of what Dan said. So, some of the structure that we've created in this group, which is kind of unique, is we've created a vice-chair position, and so we have... Currently, there are six board members for Ignition CIC, and the five vice-chair members from different industries, and so we're kind of trying to set this thing up in the manner that we make sure that each of the industries has a voice into the actual board to ensure that their voice is being heard and that they have an opportunity to have representation at that board level.

My hope is that we can leverage some of the structure and some of the formality that we're creating and some resources to really help these industries have those silos. To be able to leverage some of the things in the structure that we're creating, to have a splintered-off group, and still be able to use some of the resources. Whether it's the website or whether it's ... whatever it is. But give them really a vehicle to have those industry-specific discussions, and sharing of ideas, and doing those things.

So, I'm really excited about the cross-industry, that's what my passion is around. I am fortunate enough to also be included with the oil and gas, so I see the benefit of that also. That is all going to be outstanding. So, my hope is to leverage the power of the collective to empower these other industry-specific things to be able to have those tighter-knit groups, and then bring that learning to the Collective. So that's kind of where I see this thing going. 

Don: That's great. Thanks to all of you for just input on where you see it going. I think to just kind of wrap it up as it comes toward the closing of our time. I think I'll throw to you, Allen, because the truth is, part of the goal of this is to get people involved. To let them know about it. To hear what you guys think, and to let them see if it makes sense for them to participate. So how does someone get involved with Ignition CIC? 

Allen: So, it's very easy. We have a website. The website domain is called ignitioncic.com. You can go right to that website. There's a call to action on the front page, where you can register for the group. Once you're registered for the group, you'll be notified on the events that are happening, and we'll have an opportunity to be able to contact you. We have a privacy policy, and we have a code of conduct, and we have some structure there to make sure that if you do register that you're protected. We're not going to take your information, and share it, sell it, or do anything like that.

So, that's how you can get engaged. The events more than likely are going to be consistent. We will have an event at the ICC, The Ignition Community Conference, and we are also starting a partnership and a really very helpful partnership with Ignition and ARC, which the conference (the ARC Industry Forum) is held in Florida, and we plan on having an event on the east coast and one on the west coast every year. 

Don: Excellent. So, I think with that, we kind of got a good take and first exposure to people that are listening to this. Clearly, you have the ability to follow up. We certainly are interested in having anyone that has an interest in becoming involved in Ignition CIC to get in contact with Allen to follow up on his recommendation on the website. Look forward to seeing more of you, both at the ARC conference meeting that comes up next month in Florida and into the future, more interaction. With that, thanks everyone for taking time to talk today. 

Group: Thank you.

 

Posted on July 23, 2019