Today's episode is all about saving time, money, and energy with Ignition, and the challenges industrial professionals can overcome with the unlimited licensing model. We discuss how our guest got introduced to the software, how to utilize Inductive University, and the best ways to transfer problem-solving knowledge to improve the lives of operators.
"Being able to work up a prototype very quickly to be able to show them, and use that as a discussion point and then refine that further. It really saves me so much time instead of having to guess at what they want, spend all this time developing it, and then showing it to them to have them say, 'No, no, no, that's not what I want.'" – Derek
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 (PLSs, HMIs, OEM data, etc.) and to create reports and data analysis for the plant personnel as well as management and the executive team.
Don: So let's go ahead and jump right into it. I would like to get a little bit of background, as I do with many of my guests, as to how you were first introduced to Ignition and what was that experience like and that sort of sets the stage for a little bit of what led us to today's conversation.
Derek: All right, well I was tasked with coming up with a set of KPIs for one of our production facilities. So I had to get data from the shop floor, and then bring that to some sort of report for the managers and supervisors. I was using Excel with tons of VBA scripting in it. It was a huge pain point, and I was looking for something better than could kind of bridge the gap and an engineer that works for our company but as a previous company that he worked for had been introduced to Ignition, and he suggested that I try it out. So I went on the website, I downloaded it, and literally within 15 minutes I had already connected to a PLC. I'd connected to a database, and was getting data from a PLC, putting it in a database, and started to play around with queries. And from then on, I was hooked.
Don: Well great. I want to back up just a little bit and maybe have you tell us a little bit about what you do with Roseburg Forest Products. You know, what are you tasked with? What role do you play there?
Derek: So currently, I work for corporate, and I am tasked with getting data from the shop floor and putting that in reports for the personnel at the plant, the operators, the supervisors, the managers, and also with rolling that data up into an enterprise level report like in a data warehouse.
Don: Okay. Great. So back to the Ignition discovery process for you. How did you maybe gain the knowledge to interact with Ignition? I'm not sure how many years ago you started with it. I don't know if we had Inductive University ... Was it Inductive University? Was it our manual? Was it our forum, was it all of the above? How did you evolve your own skillset and perhaps some others in the company that may have come along also.
Derek: Well, what had happened is when I first got Ignition, I was under some really tight time constraints to finish this project, and I didn't have time, or I thought I didn't have time, to go through and watch all of the videos in Inductive University so I just kind of podged together my own experience and knowledge and I would watch some of those videos as needed, and when I got done with that project, I then went back and started watching the videos in succession, and soon realized that I'd gone about it all wrong, and had I to do over again, I would definitely go back and watch those videos in succession.
I ended up writing tons of code to solve a problem that you guys had already solved for me, and all I really had to do was go and check a box somewhere, and it would have done exactly what I needed it to do. Instead, I ended up doing it the hard way.
So yeah, the Inductive University is awesome. I like it because you can rewind that video as many times as you want, and I'm amazed at how many times I’m like... ‘I need to know how to do this’, and I watch the video, and the guy explains to me exactly the problem I'm having and how to solve it when with very little changing or whatever, I'm able to just steal what I see on the video and implement.
Don: Actually, you gave some people some good advice because I think very often folks approach it a little bit maybe the way you did the first time because of time constraints. What happens is they end up double working because they miss some of the knowledge transfer that's the goal of the darn university in the first place is let's transfer knowledge in bite size pieces over 500 videos that you can consume in an organized fashion because they don't realize at the start the Ignition isn't just an HMI SCADA. It's SCADA, but it's a whole lot more. And knowing what the potential is becomes critical.
But you can still use it the way you used it. You want to know about alarming, you just search for alarming and learn five videos about alarming pipelines or something.
Derek: Yeah, and so it is broken down into two or three minute videos. It's easy to sit at your desk during lunchtime and put some headphones on and watch four or five videos every day. It is really nice. You don't have to travel, go to a class where they shove all this knowledge at you in a very short time period, and you end up walking away retaining so little because it was so intense as it spread out over a couple of weeks as you watch these videos, I think you-
Don: Can make a difference.
Derek: You absorb it a lot better.
Don: Yeah, actually that's one of the reasons I think we decided from our training director, he said, "We're making the university a prerequisite to coming for live training," because you want people to already know something when they get here so that when they are here for a week of intense training, they can absorb more because they already took time to get the basics in place with the university.
So I have a question about Ignition as far as things you like about it. What's your favorite thing that you like working with about Ignition?
Derek: I like it. It is extremely versatile and easy, and a lot of my job is to talk to people, to get the requirements for what they want who may not have a framework or a vocabulary to accurately describe what they need. So for me, being able to work up a prototype very quickly to be able to show them, and use that as a discussion point and then refine that further. It really saves me so much time instead of having to guess at what they want, spend all this time developing it, and then showing it to them to have them say, "No, no, no, that's not what I want."
So being able to go meet with a user, spend an hour with them, and come back the next day or even later that day with a prototype and saying, "Is this what you want?" It's huge.
Don: That's great. How has Ignition had either an inspiration to you or shaped in some way your professional experience or your professional career? Has there been any impact just for you personally as you've used it in your own professional work in your company?
Derek: Definitely. I think when I first started using Ignition, I worked for just one of our facilities, and based on the work I did there I got moved up into corporate to do the same thing throughout all the facilities. So from just a personal career standpoint, it had a huge impact, and just the way I view things are different. I've been using HMIs for a lot of years. The old school kind of HMIs and everything's difficult to do, and it never quite ... Unless you're just starting or stopping a motor, anything other than that is extremely difficult to do, but with Ignition it was just a huge game changer to be able to connect to a PLC and connect to a database to be able to put a table on a window was just huge.
Most of the other HMI packages I'd played with, if you wanted a table you had to build it one cell at a time. It wasn't really dynamic, and then you ended up with these vast amounts of code that you had to create from scratch which is never an effective use of my time.
Don: Or sustainability when you start having other people who have to maintain that code going forward. You know, sort of the succession planning as you move up onto other jobs in your own career, you want to leave behind sustainability in the systems you develop.
You may have already answered this, but I'm curious, is there any favorite feature or favorite module that you work with regularly?
Derek: Transaction groups by and far have made my life ever so much easier.
Don: So give me an example.
Derek: For example, I was trying to capture data from a machine that had several different bins, and you could put different products in different bins, and that changed from day to day. So in bin one, you may be putting product A in there today, but tomorrow it's going to be product D. And then we had tags in the PLC that said what product went to which bin, but I needed the column name to sort of be dynamic as well as the value that went into there, and I was able to use ... I was trying to figure out how to solve it. I kind of in my mind developed this model in Python how I was going to do it, but I went back through the Inductive University, and we watched all the videos on transaction groups and figured out the block transaction group did exactly what I wanted with absolutely no scripting or coding which always makes me extremely happy. I enjoy writing code, but like I said, if I can avoid it, I absolutely will.
So yeah, that block transaction group solved that problem, and a lot of our machines are like that so it made going and capturing that data relatively pain free.
Don: That's great. That's a perfect example. So I'm wondering if basically there are ... you mentioned a couple. Any other challenges that you face in your industry or your job that were eased with Ignition that pop out? If not, fine, but I'm just curious if there's anything else you might want to share.
Derek: Well yeah, I could sit here all day long and tell you story after story, but what I like about it is that the licensing module makes it easy to innovate. So you're working on a problem, and it sure would be nice to put a screen here, a data entry screen, down here on the line to make the operator's life a lot easier. They wouldn't have to walk back and forth, write things down, and then walk to a computer. So you're able to put an Ignition screen out there on the line for them where in the past under different software licensing models, that would've cost you $5,000 to do that, and in our industry, like most industries, we're trying to be cost conscious. So trying to come up with an ROI to prevent the operator from walking 20 feet five times a day is sometimes hard. You don't have to do that. You can put that out there, and there's a lot of soft benefits to that. He's not so worn out by the end of the day, he's a little bit happier, the data's a little more accurate.
So just things like that that you can't come up with a hard ROI to go and convince your manager to kick over another $10,000 for a suite of licenses. You're able to solve problems without-
Don: Thinking about that.
Derek: Yeah, without having to go back and get more money.
Don: Well I tell you, there's two things about the Ignition licensing, you're mentioning it right now, that have really been good for companies overall across industries is unlimited projects and unlimited clients. It's all the unlimited tags too and unlimited connections, but when you think about it if you want data at a certain place just like you're saying, just put it there and make it available to that operator. If you want to do another project, another department in your organization, just do it. A license is for the server. Make it work. So it has opened up the speed of innovation in companies.
Along that line, just one addon question, where do you see innovation happening in your industry, and can Ignition play a role to accelerate or facilitate that innovation?
Derek: Absolutely. Yeah, I think the next step in our industry is ... it's an old industry, we've been doing things the same way for decades, and I think we're getting to the point where we're looking hard at our processes trying to make good decisions based on actual data, not just guesswork or intuition. So just getting better at what we're doing by using the data and getting the data from the shop floor. We're not just talking PLCs. We've got OEM pieces of equipment that output text files or CSV files that we need to get data from, or they have an onboard database on their piece of equipment that we need to get data from that so we can integrate it with the data from the process line.
So yeah, statistics, statistical process control, I think are the next big game changers for our industry.
Don: Okay. So with sort of the couple of minutes that we have left, I sort of want to ask you a final question, go anywhere you want with it, but when you look at what you've accomplished in the last year, when you look forward to the next year. How do you see this year? What goals do you have, and what excitement or aspirations do you have for the coming year?
Derek: Well, if I knew what I knew now when I started this job, I would've probably spent six months sitting in my office building a set of tools that I could use for rapid development. Of course I didn't ... it was all new so I didn't really have those requirements to be able to build those, but I do now. So I think I'm going to focus more on building tools to help me development rapidly. So once I solve a problem at one plant, I could just scale that across all our facilities with the similar pieces of equipment, and taking advantage of Python's object-oriented programming is going to be a huge part of that.
One of the great things about Ignition is it doesn't require a huge footprint. You can download it on your desktop. You can develop a whole project without spending any money to make sure, "Is this going to do what I want it to do?" And then at the end of the day after you developed your project then it's easy to go to your boss and say, "Hey, look what I did. If you want to continue with this I need some money." Easier to sell it that way without a huge investment in some of these software packages runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Don: It's a nonstarter sometimes.
Derek: Yeah because you're like, "I don't even know if this is going to do what I want it to do." And of course, you know the sales guys talk it up, but you never know until you crack it open yourself. Like oh yeah, this does do what they say, or ehh.
Don: Well that's actually good to know. That may not be a favorite feature, but it certainly is a pretty popular one. It's because you can develop fully without having to ... It's, you know, try before you buy.
Don: And make it work, and then of course sell it internally without the investment first. You can give a much more complete look at, "Here's the ROI you're going to get." Supervisor can more easily say, "Go for it."
Derek: Yeah, and that's how it actually got at our facility. I downloaded the demo project, I developed a couple screens in it, and got my plant manager hooked on it, and I said, "The first one's free ..."
Don: Now let's buy it.
Derek: "... now let's buy it." But it was an easy sell because there was virtually no risk because it was already proven.
Don: That's great. Listen, I want to say that I appreciate you taking time so much out of a busy schedule for joining us here. My guest today was Derek Randall with Roseburg Forest Products, and you have been listening to Inductive Conversations from Inductive Automation. Thanks so much for joining us today.