Guiding Customers Through Digital Transformation

Inductive Conversations

42 minute episode Apple Podcasts  |  Spotify  |  Google Play  |  PodBean  |  TuneIn

Todd Ebright and Nate Kay from Martin CSI join us to talk about their journey with Ignition that led them to winning a Firebrand Award, and they share a new project that incorporates Ignition Edge technology and Opto 22 to meet the diverse needs of customers. They discuss their approach to digital transformation projects, the input customers are looking for, and the hurdles they faced along the way. They also dive into some major trends they’re seeing in machine vision applications, security, Perspective, accessibility, data storage, private cellular networks, utilization of new technologies, and greenfield projects.

“A lot of companies are stuck in their old ways. They’re used to a panel with stuff that doesn’t display a lot of information and that’s where we can come in with Ignition and say, ‘Hey, you have accessibility to data.’ A lot of times they just don’t even know what’s out there.” – Todd

“When the customers approach us, they may not even realize at first that this is a digital transformation project. But when you dig into it … it seems like most projects in some way now deal with the digital transformation, or the core technology set that’s part of it.” – Nate

Guest Bios:

Nate Kay is an experienced engineering manager at MartinCSI in Plain City, Ohio. He is a licensed Professional Engineer and a TÜV Certified Functional Safety Engineer. Manufacturers and equipment builders from a variety of industries present him with their production challenges and he gets to use his technical expertise to design and implement creative automation solutions that solve their problems. Nate is especially interested in Industry 4.0 and developing applications that provide clients access to real-time information to make more informed decisions that improve productivity and quality. Nate has spent the last 16 years at MartinCSI, becoming an integral member of the team and a trusted engineering resource to his clients. He is looking forward to evolving traditional projects to incorporate a cross over of technologies such as industrial controls, IT, vision systems, machine safety, and machine learning. Outside of the office, Nate is happiest spending time with his wife and son in central Ohio. Some of his favorite memories are made when he can travel to premium scuba diving locations with his family.

Todd Ebright is an experienced Staff Engineer at MartinCSI in Plain City, Ohio. Driven by his interest in working with new technologies, he takes pride in providing clients the best automation solutions possible. As an engineer, his responsibilities include all elements of electrical design and automation controls programming. In addition to his primary job functions, Todd is very interested in design aesthetics and has become an expert in HMI development. In 2016, Todd received the Firebrand Award for a military simulation water treatment trainer. He spent many hours developing graphics and animations that provided a very accurate simulation of how the entire water treatment process worked. This was a unique use of the Ignition software and showcased the possibilities and range of the Ignition software. Todd is looking forward to working on more large-scale Ignition-based applications – he would really enjoy working in more uncommon and unique industries or applications, like craft beer brewing for example. Todd has an extensive collection of arcade games and enjoys restoring them to their original playing condition.


Kevin: Alright, folks, welcome to Inductive Conversations. My name's Kevin McClusky. I'm Co-Director of Sales Engineering over here at Inductive Automation. And when I first heard about your company, it was actually about five years ago when you ended up winning your first Firebrand with Inductive Automation for a simulation project, and since then I know that you've done a lot of good work with Ignition and with Inductive Automation, and we obviously have a great relationship, which is why we're talking to you right now. Do you wanna tell the audience just a little bit about MartinCSI, who you are, and then maybe we could hop in and start talking a little bit about that first project and what you've been doing since then? 

Nate: Yeah, so Martin Controls, we're a platform, independent control system integrator, Central Ohio. We work with manufacturers, OEMs from a variety of industries, and they've entrusted us with some of the most demanding automation projects for over 25 years now. Some of our services include automation and controls, process controls, robotics, machine vision, control panel design, machine safety and of course, Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things. So we really invest heavily in getting to know our clients, their processes and their challenges to build long-term relationships, and really to focus on delivering high-quality solutions that allow our customers to continue to grow and increase their productivity.

Kevin: It occurs to me that we should probably give real quick introductions for each one of you as well. So, I could introduce you, but I feel like you would do better introducing yourselves. So Todd, maybe we start with you and then Nate, jump after.

Todd: Yeah, great. So, I'm a staff engineer at Martin Controls. I've been with the company, I think it's been 10 years this past August. I started in the automotive industry with the research facility and found out I wasn't a big fan of it, jumped out of there, got into controls and have been stuck doing it for 10 years now. And I was one of the award winners of your Firebrand at the ICC. Yeah, it's been so many years from that, but we've been missing out on the ICC, not being able to go back to that and… too long.

Kevin: Yeah, with the state of the world right now. Right? I know people would be listening to this in two or three or five years from now, but I'm sure no one will have forgotten about, oh, what, 2020/2021 have looked like, so yeah. Yeah, thanks for the quick intro there, Todd. Nate, over to you.

Nate: I've been with Martin Controls, I think, for about 16 years now. I'm a senior project engineer and a professional engineer, and I kind of have a strong interest in bringing some of the newest technologies into what we do, strong interest in kind of the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, and of course, Ignition and being able to use that to really help take our applications to the next level for our customers.

Kevin: And in terms of getting there, of course, I know that the project that you won the Firebrand Award for wasn't your first controls project that you as a company have ever done, far from it. You've had a lot of experience in controls in general for a really long time, maybe do you wanna start talking about your Ignition journey a little bit? And for everyone who's listening to this, take a look at the description, you can find the link over to their award-winning project in that description. Do one of you wanna talk a little bit about that since, Todd, you were involved in that directly? Do you wanna talk a little bit and maybe share what that project was about and what made it interesting? 

Todd: Yeah, so I wanna say, I think that project was one of the first ones where we were heavily involved with creating some of the ground up as far as Ignition. So we had a customer and they worked a lot with the military and they were looking for an application or a solution to improve their training process. What they used to do is they go in person, they'd set up a... It was a water treatment, almost like a drop box, they would drop it wherever they're getting stationed, that would provide clean sustainable water, whether they use it for drinking, doing laundry. But what they were finding is, they had a lot more students and not enough equipment. So we're asked to come up with a solution for how do we make a better application to be able to help train their students and what approach we take, and that's where we actually came up with like, well, Ignition will be a great fit because just the capabilities of what we could do with it. So, we were able to take a PLC system, simulate it on YouiDraw platform and then interface it in a way that you could see what the machine looked like. It was a very graphic-intensive project.

Todd: We went through, set up several screens where it would show the system and the system incorporated, you had pumps, fans, there's tons of switches, there was a control box, and we set up in a way where we had two screens, one was actually a control panel. It had lights, buttons, you could open it up and see the guts of it. The idea with that was we wanted to give them stuff that they could physically see, compared to the real world. Ignition was a great application solution for this because vector graphics was the big thing. YouiDraw platform is just so flexible with images, so we're able to redraw, create objects that look like the real world, what they were, and then as far as the functionality, it was almost endless, which can also be a problem. Our customer had so many big ideas that they were like, 'Can we do this? Can we do this?' So it ended up being a great project with Ignition. I think when it was all set and done, they have now a stand-alone application with two... There's a big television that has an overview of the water treatment system, and then you have another screen that has a control panel that you interact with. But from what I've heard, the students have loved it, they've incorporated manuals into it, quizzes. So thanks to the flexibility of Ignition, we were able to do a lot of stuff. Whereas, most SCADA systems, HMIs, you couldn't do what YouiDraw application can do. It was a fun project.

Kevin: Yeah, yeah. So, what I hear is that it's still running today then, so this was something five years ago, they're still using it. It's still something that's valuable for them, you've continued to add features to it or they have over time? 

Todd: I think it's slowed down, but when we first got the project installed, that was one of the things that... What was nice was they would ask for support or any sort of changes, and it was really easy to deploy those changes, which was nice. So, I think as I know today, they're still using it. And I think it originally was installed at one of the bases, and then they've since, I think, have purchased more units that they're using at other bases around the US.

Kevin: Cool. So, maybe Nate, let me bounce over to you and if you wanted to talk a little bit about some of the things that you've done since then. So, five years is a long time in this industry, and I know that you've evolved and there's some pretty cool projects that you're working on today that we'll talk about a little bit in a minute here, but do you wanna fill us in a little bit on the last five years of MartinCSI? 

Nate: Yeah. So, we've had some interesting projects since then to work on. And I think some of what we're gonna be talking about is the digital transformation, being able to use Ignition Perspective to really take it to the next level beyond the typical SCADA system, the traditional plan, controls, control room, but really taking Ignition to the end user, making mobile apps. Apps that can run on phones and iPads and even bringing it into the Cloud, and really that's some of the exciting trends that we're seeing and some of the really cool things that we're able to do now.

Kevin: Along those lines, let me ask you a question that I like to ask folks in general. We like to keep our ear to the ground here at Inductive Automation, and we're involved in a lot of digital transformation for a lot of different companies at this point, when digital transformation came around back a few years ago, it was the latest phrase, but now it actually has some teeth and meat. It means a lot, it means taking your data, putting it somewhere central, being able to access it and analyze it, visualize it, being able to unlock a lot of the things that are at the edge, and it's very tied to Industry 4.0, industrial, and other things. Those types of things, at least that's what most of our customers have mentioned about what it means to them. But I'm interested specifically in what that means to you, what is digital transformation from your point of view? How has it changed the industry? And how is it changing how Martin Controls is approaching some of these projects? Is that driven from the customers or is that something that you're leading with as thought leadership to companies who might not be as forward-thinking, or is it a combination of those? I know I threw a lot of questions at you at once.

Nate: Yeah. I'd say it's probably a combination. There's a lot of buzz, excitement around digital transformation, so sometimes customers come to us with a... “This is a digital transformation project.” Other times they come to us looking for the best solution, and usually the best solution involves some component of digital transformation. At times, we have other customers that we get asked quite a bit, "Well, I can do this on my phone, I can have this app running on my phone, I can access this in the cloud, so why can't I do the same thing on my HMI, my industrial control device?" So, really, all those different aspects that you mentioned, being able to take data, incorporate edge devices, get the data into a central location, whether it's on the business side of the cloud, and then once that data's there, really aggregate it across a single plant, across multiple plants, which then opens up a whole range of analysis to compare that data to different datasets and really dig into it to figure out how that can be used to improve efficiency and really the whole manufacturing process.

Todd: I was gonna add that I think with your question about, does a customer... Are they looking for input? A lot of times as an integrator, we suggest a lot of things. And I think that's happening a lot too, where a lot of companies are stuck in their old ways, they're used to a panel with stuff that doesn't display a lot of information. And that's where we come in with an Ignition and say, "Hey, you have accessibility to data," and I think a lot of times they just don't know what's out there. I think, Nate, you can attest to this, we've been in a lot of job sites where they'll be looking for a SCADA system that does reporting, it might involve multiple apps, and they're like, "Well, I wanna do this, this and this." And we'll be like, "Well, throw in Ignition, we can get all your data in one central unit. We're not having to use a concentrator, you don't necessarily need to throw in like a Kepler." But it's a lot of it, they just don't know what they're looking for. So, we definitely help in guiding that and the flexibility of the application, I think as far as the Edge, it's made it a lot easier.

Kevin: So, from your point of view, then, how big is the demand that you actually see in regards to digital transformation or digitalization? 

Nate: I'd say it's a pretty big demand sometimes without even, I guess, realizing at the outset, that is the demand. For example, a lot of our projects now, they're required to interface in some way with an ERP or an MES system, where to provide remote access. And when the customers approach us, they may not even realize at first that this is a digital transformation project. But really when you dig into it, when you have to tile these different systems together and really accomplish their objective, it seems like most projects now, in some way, deal with the digital transformation or the core technology set that's part of it.

Kevin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What would you say some of the important trends are that you've seen across your different customers? Would digital transformation be the main one? And if so, would you break that down into separate sub-categories? Is there anything else that you've been saying that's interesting to you as well? 

Nate: I'd said there's a couple of trends that we've been seeing. We've been seeing an increased focus on safety, both machine and process side. We've seen a trend towards machine vision applications and those becoming more complex. With that additional complexity, we're able to use digital transformation technologies to tie that together. And then, of course, as you touched on, the digital transformation itself is a major trend, there's a lot of aspects to that, but it's definitely something we're seeing pick up momentum and customers becoming more aware of and wanting it incorporated into their projects.

Todd: Yeah, I also think accessibility has been really big. Oftentimes, we'll be on a plant and you'll see they're wanting to get access to more information, whereas before you just couldn't do that, so there's a lot more that we can get from a system, whether it's putting up a big screen out on your plant floor that shows machines running. Ten, 20 years ago that was not really an option. A lot of stuff was kinda stuck on the processor. Now, they're on the cloud, there's plant networks, enterprise networks, where people are wanting to get access to stuff. And you brought up the whole thing about technology, cell phones, people are so used to that outside of their jobs, that I think it's trickled into our industry, so they're wanting more information. So I know that's a big thing that we see, it's just, "Hey, how do I get this information? I wanna do this report." And you can get that information now with the technology that we're seeing.

Nate: Yeah. And then to kind of shirt-tailing what Todd said there, in addition to accessibility and data, really, customers are finding it's easier now than ever to store, and organize large sets of data, so one of the trends we're seeing now is really a big push to understand how to take that data, how to analyze the data, and how to use newer technologies like machine learning to really get meaningful results out of it, and that's really a trend that a lot of companies seem willing to dig into, and really wanna figure out.

Kevin: I have, personally, a particular interest in machine learning. I've actually worked with a lot of different integrators who are enabling that in different ways, whether that's integrating with cloud services that are doing those, or it's connecting to Python libraries, or TensorFlow, or Scikit-learn, or doing it directly inside Ignition, with the dozen algorithms that exist inside Ignition's Python, but yeah, it's great to hear that a lot of the things that you're saying line up almost perfectly with what we're experiencing. I've had more conversations with folks about visualization systems, about actual vision systems, machine vision, and getting results from those in the last six months than I've had probably in the previous three years before that, so it does seem to be increasing pretty significantly. I think a lot of that is the machine learning aspects, and the fact that these systems are so much better these days than they used to be, where a vision system can identify a whole slew of things. It's much better at identifying rejects, or even things that might be possible problems along the line going down the line that might affect your overall production.

Nate: Even before the meeting today, or our meeting right now that we're having, we had a meeting with a major player in machine vision. One thing we were talking about is using neural networks, and AI in vision applications, and really, what it's being able to do now is make things that were difficult with the vision technology five years ago, where you'd have use a tool to teach it something, and just making those type of applications more accessible, more easier, a little bit easier to work with, just putting them a little more within reach to do more complicated things with machine vision by really leveraging that machine learning aspect.

Kevin: Yeah, yeah, that's right in line with the things that we're seeing too, and it's really great because some of these technologies, as you said, they didn't exist five years ago, and so it's taking really hard problems that when you think about it, aren't really hard problems, and basically, democratizing the technology, making it so that it's a lot more accessible to folks who don't have hours, or days, or weeks, or months to devote to someone training these, going through creating hundreds, or thousands of different images that is going to be able to use for these things, and applying some of these models that are generated. Yeah, and neural networks are a crazy black box of technology that they're just amazing. And if you ever have a chance to peak behind those... And this is just for the listeners here. I'm guessing that you folks already have, Todd and Nate, but if you ever have a chance to take a look at how neural networks actually work behind-the-scenes, it's just mind-blowing, because they're really, pardon the term, but they're really dumb, they don't really understand anything, but they're just so massive that they connect things in a way that we neuro humans can't really understand, that it iterates so many times that it ends up creating these pathways. And they're called neural nets because it's similar to how our brains work, at least in theory. [chuckle] No one really knows exactly, but yeah, they're wild.

Nate: Yeah, it's like you're saying, it's really amazing, you get these kind of really complex results out of them, that if you just sat down with code and wrote some algorithms, you could not even get close to, just by taking that neural network and training it.

Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I love seeing what people are doing with them these days. It's easier on validated systems, and things that you have to have that traceability to use, things like, for machine learning, the regression algorithms, or clustering, or things like that, K means, and all that, because then you can actually have a trace back, if there's an instant of exactly what happened. These neural networks, [chuckle] there's no way you're gonna be able to understand exactly what happened inside them, but at the same time, they're super useful, and even if they're 98, 99, 99.9% accurate, if you're applying it to the right process, where you don't have to have exactly 100% accuracy for these things, it can improve processes tremendously. Anyway, I love talking about that, clearly, but let me jump over a little bit more here. I've hinted at it a few times through this conversation that we've been having, but you have a recent project that I've been impressed with, and I'd love for you to talk about that a little bit. It embodies a lot of the good work that you're doing with Industry 4.0, Digital Transformation, IIoT, so maybe you can break that down, share a little bit of that, share a little bit about the architecture, and the hardware, and maybe even start out with what it is, and why it's exciting.

Nate: Yeah, it's a pretty exciting project, incorporating edge Technologies and of course, Inductive Automation and Opto 22, really to produce something that we could offer to our customers as a, off-the-shelf, kind of product that would really meet the diverse needs of our diverse customers. Again, it goes into the benefits of an edge device. Some of the benefits we see is that the edge device can provide a clean and secure interface between the industrial control devices on the plant floor and also between the cloud, between the business enterprise system, but they can do more than that even. It allows us to do data collection, it allows us to have devices perform what they're best at, for example, it can free up the industrial controls devices to focus on controlling the critical processes. It allows the SCADA system to really focus on what it does best, and then take that middle ground technology there and put it in the edge device, which can do things like data management, protocol, conversion analytics, and really so much more. So with that being said, we have an in-house project to basically take an EPIC and a RIO and run Ignition on it to create that edge device...

Kevin: For folks who don't know what those are, those are two Opto 22 devices, right? 

Nate: Yup.

Todd: Correct.

Nate: Yeah, what's really interesting or really cool about it is they come, I believe, now with even Ignition pre-installed on it, so it's a matter of toggling a button and you have Ignition on your device.

Kevin: Yeah, we worked with them hand-in-hand for a number of years, and yeah, it was particularly exciting. Well, originally when the groov EPIC got Ignition pre-installed, but then more recently when the RIO had a bit of a hardware refresh and update with a little bit more horsepower, and then having Ignition pre-installed on the RIO, this small remote I/O device that has all this configurable I/O, and it's just out-of-the-box running Ignition right there for you.

Todd: Yeah, it's all-inclusive, which is a big selling point now to customers, that's the way technology is expanding, it's nice that all these great things are coming into one little package that is easy to work with.

Nate: Yeah, exactly. Before, where you'd have to go out and purchase it. Like a protocol converter, industrial PC, a touchscreen, even a PLC can put all that into one device now, which makes it simpler, more elegant solution, more cost-effective, and like Todd was saying there, even with the space, the physical space that it takes up, it's a much smaller footprint. So what we're seeing is that projects that were a little bit out of reach there before because of cost, complexity or just available space to put everything, it really opens up new opportunities for those projects now.

Todd: Yeah and I'll say, to add that, the biggest thing as far as hardware and I/O, with the Opto 22 stuff, you can drop those things, it's connectivity, ethernet, it's such an easy sell of a package. Whereas, you used to have to spec out equipment and it's nice now, especially as I feel like a younger engineer starting in this industry, it has come a long way, as far as what is out there, as far as offerings.

Nate: You were saying earlier, Kevin, that one of the nice features is that maybe at one time to create a system like this, you'd have to go into writing source code, really get into the weeds of all that. Well, now with Ignition Opto 22, like Todd was saying, the pairing of the technology, it's really simple to do, but being simple isn't a drawback because that allows us as engineers to really focus on taking the application to the next level and really leveraging that, that simplicity to create some really advanced and helpful projects.

Kevin: Great, so I want to hear a little bit more about this project in particular, so I know that you might not be able to share all the details, but can you tell us what it is? Maybe who is it for, if you can't say who is it for, can you just tell us a little bit about the application itself and what the outcomes are? 

Nate: Yeah, so in a lot of ways, the product we're designing or have built, it's designed in some ways to be a Swiss Army knife of edge devices. We have a wireless component built into it, so we actually have a battery pack where I'm running a RIO on wireless from the battery pack, and I've got some sensors connected to it. So having one device like the RIO, you can mix and match different sensors and log and discrete inputs and outputs, so you don't need to have a traditional PLC with a rack of I/O cards, you can have one device that does all that. Some of the things we have running is we have, of course, Ignition running on it, we've got a database running on it as well, so we can do data collection, we can use it as a protocol converter and also to read data from a variety of PLCs, we're able to bake Node-RED into it to use Node-RED to help with some of that, and of course, Inductive Automation using the Ignition gateway and Ignition Edge to really help provide some visualization and leverage some of those features to accomplish that.

Nate: And that's kind of the plant-floor-facing side, the other aspect to this is the cloud-facing side of it, so it's designed to provide a clean, clear interface to the cloud, whether it's... There's different, of course, vendors out there with Amazon Web Services and others, but really it's designed to be a multi-interface compatible, so if a customer wants to set up a cloud application, our device could communicate with it and interface with a variety of protocols. Of course, MQTT is being one of the leading protocols now for that type of application. I know it was probably a scattershot there, but we're really trying to design the most, really, flexible edge device that we could use to meet a variety of applications.

Kevin: Sure, sure. So what you ended up creating with all this isn't just for this particular project or this particular customer that I was thinking of, but this is more general purpose for anyone who's approaching you saying, "We're looking at digital transformation, we wanna run something locally in different vehicles or different remote sites or different data collection from areas that might all be coming up to a central location." Is that accurate? 

Nate: Yep, yeah, that's accurate, exactly. And then the mindset behind that too is making it very general from the start. Now we're able to quickly take it and tailor it to specific applications, specific customers as needed as well. So if they have something really specific or a certain requirement that we need to meet, then we could take that generalized product and use an Ignition, Opto 22, really tailor it down to meet their exact needs also.

Kevin: What hurdles have you had along the way with trying to get this in place? I know we often think of these great technologies and it's all butterflies and rainbows, it's all here now and so it must be easy, but I worked for a systems integrator before coming over to Inductive Automation, I know that things are never without hurdles and without roadblocks along the way. Can you share a couple of things that maybe you ran into and how you got around them? 

Nate: I'd say a couple of things are really starting off with a good definition of what we're trying to accomplish, a lot of times with these types of projects, as they expand, as the interest in it grows, the scope of the project grows. So really to define what our core objective is that we wanna accomplish, once we meet that objective, add on additional features to it. Sometimes it seems like with these projects, they can balloon almost too quickly, if we can keep it focused on a couple of specific objectives and meet those, then we can take that and build upon it. Another hurdle, I say, comes with networking. For some manufacturers have standalone machinery, and the network on the business or cloud side doesn't really reach down into the plant floor, but we've been able to leverage technologies like Wi-Fi access points, NAT routers, cellular modems, and even VPN tunnels to really use this host of IT technologies to tie the plant floor together with the business in the cloud side.

Kevin: Yeah, we have PTO's box on one of these. We've had a relationship with eWON, and we have a number of folks who are using some of these VPN tunnels, are you using any of those inside your applications? 

Todd: We've used eWONs before. I think it's always a struggle with IT and bridging that gap, trying to convince them that what we're putting on their network isn't a problem.

Kevin: Right. Yeah, sometimes folks don't want a separate tunnel going into their networks.

Nate: Yeah, like Todd was saying, vendors like eWON and some of the ones you've mentioned, they do make it easy for us 'cause they have a very thorough documentation on their products, how they work, the security protocols implemented, so that is a big help.

Kevin: Yeah, great. Just out of curiosity, are you seeing many folks who are doing private cellular networks as well? We see that, especially in the oil and gas industry. I've seen that a number of times, and a little bit in the water/wastewater. But have you seen much in the projects that you're doing, or folks are interested in doing that to basically have their own private network that's able to connect over cellular, so you've got another path that is a secure communication path up to essential provider, but it doesn't have access to the internet, it's just basically another VPN tunnel from their network? 

Nate: Well, I'd say, like you said, Kevin, the biggest place we're seeing that is in the oil and gas industry, although we're starting to look at ways to use it for OEM machinery. Sometimes you have a variety of OEM machinery spread around, may even be embedded in different customers that have different internet standards. So that's one thing we're looking at now, is to really put some kind of cellular modem on these OEM machines so that we can all get them to talk easily to the cloud.

Todd: I was at a job site recently that did an enterprise network actually with your guys stuff, and they were trying to access their floor data, but obviously keep it isolated, and I think that's a big thing. People are looking for solutions, and I know Nate, we've run into trying to install Wi-Fi, and I think there's a hesitancy where they're just not used to that technology on a plant floor, and I think that's a hurdle of just, this is what's out there now, it's proven. Even ethernet for the longest time, I think people were afraid of. So it's definitely still a challenge. But I think a lot of stuff, especially what Nate's doing, that's a nice showcase piece. You can show that, it's very easy, a lot easier to implement, which I think is helping as well. To wrap people's heads like, "Hey, this is something we can do now."

Kevin: Yeah, it's been interesting to me. I've actually seen a little more comfort with the cellular technologies and with Wi-Fi, I've talked to some companies who say we're not gonna do Wi-Fi on the plant floor, but we do occasionally allow cellular connectivity up from a specific PLC out to a private cellular network because we want to bridge that gap and do it in a way that we know that there's heavy security protocols that are in place for encrypting the communication. And Wi-Fi I think has had a past of a bad rep when it comes to security over the years.

Todd: Yep.

Nate: And that's, I think, another benefit that edge devices bring, it's easy to take a black-box edge device and show the customer that we're using this to monitor and collect data, but there's really no possibility that this could in any way interfere with the existing process or your existing PLC, and we have an edge device built that way, it's easier to build that confidence to get things like Wi-Fi and cellular modems connected to it.

Todd: Yes, makes me think we just had an incident with a customer, it wasn't us, but they had a security breach with somebody plugging in a USB drive, and if they had set up a network system with security in mind, that's something that I don't know if they could have avoided it, but yeah, security, it's a big thing, and I think that's a lot of things that people don't think about sometimes when they're networking.

Kevin: Yeah, yeah, certainly, we've had entire webinars on security. [chuckle] Yeah, it's a complex topic. There are so many layers where we had Inductive Automation have a big focus on security when it comes to Ignition and the SCADA, IIoT, HMI side of things. But as you said, there's a whole additional layer that folks absolutely have to focus on, normally it's an IT department that's going to be focusing on those things, but having an integrator who also is security-minded certainly helps with the company's posture.

Nate: Yeah, just this morning, I opened up my inbox and I had a question from a customer about the Log4j vulnerability. I was able to share them that Inductive Automation Ignition is not any way impacted by that.

Kevin: Yeah, and if any of the listeners are wondering about that there's an article that's posted on our website, but yeah, that's been something we've been getting a lot of traffic about. Luckily, our developers made decisions that put us in a place that we didn't have any reliance on that, on any of the vulnerable libraries there and the versions. It didn't affect us at all. But it's something that's affected a lot, a lot of things that are out there. Let me ask you a couple of more questions here. So with these new projects, have you taken advantage of the Perspective Module? And if you have, have you seen any advantages of it versus Vision? Is it something that you're rolling out for a number of new projects? Are you doing a mixture of the two? 

Nate: I'd say one of our recent projects, we just used Perspective for an oil and gas application. It was for mobile data collection. Of course, some of the benefits there are that the customer really liked they can run it on a whole suite of mobile devices. It doesn't have to be the traditional standalone or traditional computer. And then the speed, the efficiency, just the look and feel of the screens. But also one of the cool things we were able to take advantage of or start to take advantage of is now that you can take Perspective, run it on mobile devices, now you can access things like accelerometers, GPS. So now it opens up a whole other dataset and a whole other set of possibilities to create some apps that customers really find useful.

Todd: Yeah, I think a lot of people are still enjoying Vision, but it's nice that with Version 8, you can have the option with Perspective. I know we've got a couple job sites that we've installed the software and it's an option, which I think is a big thing. 'Cause I think a lot of times, too, our customers don't know what they want, and so we put it out there. And I think there was one plant we were working with where they've got a new area that they're installing and they're talking about all these things that they want, Perspective is gonna be a good fit. Where they're wanting to access some data on some bins that they're unloading, but to be able to get to it remotely... It's definitely one that they're learning about and wanting to start using. So Vision's still going strong with a lot of the stuff that we do. And I think Perspective, we're getting it out there.

Kevin: When we talked to David Greenfield with Automation World in our previous podcast, he said that companies are not specifically looking for technologies, but they're really looking for solutions to help produce goods. That's a message that we've heard from other folks as well. From your perspective, are you finding that customers are looking to you to recommend technologies? 

Todd: We run into a lot with customers that don't know what to look for. And so I know as an integrator, we give a lot of recommendations. And I think between Nate and I, Ignition's often recommended just for ease of use, and then the ability to deploy it quickly. And many companies don't even know that Ignition exists, which at this point I feel like it's surprising, just for what you guys offer. And I know when you compare it to a Rockwell PanelView, and they're like, "Hey, I wanna send an email," there's a lot of things that you can do, but it's more clunky. And then you got Ignition and you're like, "Yeah, we can absolutely do that," and it's less headache on you, an integrator. Whereas many other machines and hardware, it's...

Kevin: And you're not just saying that because you're talking to me right now? 

Todd: No. Your guys's product has been one, at least within my 10 years in the industry, that doesn't feel old and dated. And the capabilities on it are always, always impressive, so it's an easy sell. And I think that's something that with technology, customers don't know what they're looking for, and it's nice when you say, "Hey, I've got Ignition and these are the things you can do with it," and their jaw drops.

Nate: Like Todd was saying there, we find that customers often come to us looking for the solution, and then at that point, once we show them the solution, here's how we can do it, really dive under the hood and show them the technology and the software, and of course, Inductive Automation's a key component of that.

Kevin: What you just said is music to my ears. Thanks for sharing that. So let me ask a couple of final questions here. I am curious about a little bit more, and this comes to trends a little bit. With the projects that come to you, what would you say on average the stages that these projects are at in terms of a company's digital transformation? And also, greenfield versus brownfield. Are you encountering much greenfield these days? Is most of it Brownfield? And what does that look like in terms of how you approach these projects? 

Nate: I'd say sometimes we get the projects to build a brand new system, large system, from the ground up. Many projects involve upgrading existing, even maybe outdated technologies. But these upgrade projects really, like we were talking about earlier, provide us an opportunity not just to upgrade, but to improve on what's there and recommend new technology. And then we also have our projects that are to take what's there, but really to expand on or improve it. So with that being said, I'd say that maybe most of our projects are brownfield in the sense that they build on something that's already in place. But they're not limited to that brownfield because we can really then take it to the next level, to expand on, improve, to upgrade what's there. And a lot of times by the end, by the time the project's over, it resembles more of a greenfield project.

Todd: Yeah, I was gonna add, as far as the brownfield, I think we see a lot of that, where a lot of customers have existing systems and they're adding, whether it's to the building, new machines, and then they've got frustrations. And I think that's where we come in with an application upgrade, with an Ignition, and it's something where it's very easy to add to what they have existing. And I've seen a few facilities that we've pitched, companies that exist that are starting a new plant and they're like, "We'd like to use Ignition from the ground up." But I think a lot of it's brownfield. It's incorporating what's there and making it better. You got a lot of stand-alone machines that go into a plant, and then we're constantly adding functionality to it. So I'd say that we're revising stuff a lot.

Kevin: So thank you so much. I wanted to give you the opportunity, if there's anything else that you would like to add, you would like to leave our audience with here. Any messages about the industry or what you found interesting? Or any advice or just really anything that you wanted to share with the community right now? 

Nate: When it comes to what we've been talking about, digitization, Industry 4.0, it's really encouraging to see these trends continue to grow. These trends are here to stay. These terms and technology can really cover a wide array of technology and opportunities as well because they're so broad and there's so much talk and even enthusiasm about it. Sometimes we encounter either maybe unrealistically low or high expectations of what some expect to see from the digital transformation, but really that trend is here to stay. And it's encouraging to see companies like Inductive Automation, who really have a solid grasp and are working on the forefront of these technologies to continue, not only to just develop the technology, but to really help the end users unlock their full potential.

Todd: Yeah, and to close, just to add with what Nate said, I think what's really exciting, I think we're in a time where a lot of our limitations, as far as what we can provide to a customer, are starting to diminish thanks to stuff like Ignition, and our capabilities are obviously a lot greater. So when someone asks you something, it's not, "Hey, how do I do it? Go about implementing this?" People want information. They want data. Yeah, it's not going away. The trend's not leaving us. And we're not limited now as far as... Ignition's a platform that's gonna be out there. And keep growing, keep learning. It's not a challenge to use the software.

Kevin: Well, we've certainly heard a lot from you about digital transformation, about trends in the industry, about how things are moving, how things are moving for you, and I think that a lot of that probably is resonating with folks who are listening to this right now. Absolutely appreciate you being here, appreciate you joining for this podcast. Thank you so much. Todd, Nate, your expertise is much appreciated here. Thank you so much, guys.

Todd: Thanks for having us.

Nate: Appreciate the opportunity




Posted on December 30, 2021