For the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to achieve its almost unlimited potential, everyone knows what a massive hurdle is how to transform of data collected at the edge of the network into actionable information. It’s also clear that the key is software, and lots of it, that is not only easy to use but also relatively inexpensive to implement and able to exploit the ongoing expansion of powerful new hardware platforms.
Software is King
“The IIoT is all about access to data, lots of data,” Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering for Inductive Automation told Design News recently. “And with so much data coming from so many devices, we really need cost-effective approaches to collecting and using that data. Hardware that comes with software embedded in it provides more benefits to customers. They get more for their money.
Opto 22’s new groov EPIC programmable industrial controller comes with Ignition Edge from Inductive Automation for OPC-UA drivers and MQTT/Sparkplug communications along with drivers to Allen-Bradley, Siemens, and more. (Source Opto 22)
“Pre-installed software can perform supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), human-machine interface (HMI), alarming, protocol conversion, and numerous other functions. Even protocols such as MQTT are being embedded in devices,” Cox added.
IIoT Software Trends
One software approach that is gaining traction in IIoT applications is the use of embedded software in standard industrial control products. An example is device manufacturers embedding Ignition and Ignition Edge software in the devices they manufacture. Ignition is an industrial application platform developed by Inductive Automation that offers tools for building solutions for human-machine interfaces (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Ignition Edge is a line of lightweight, limited, low-cost software products designed for edge-of-network use. Companies including Opto 22, Advantech B+B SmartWorx, Hilscher, Moxa, and EZAutomation are putting Ignition Edge on products. KEBA, Brown Engineers, Azul Systems, Nexoforge, and Tyrion Integration are embedding the full version of Ignition.
Cox said that, in today’s competitive IIoT landscape, device manufacturers are doing everything they can to add real value to their devices. Providing pre-installed software is a great example of that. With the best software and hardware companies working together, better products are getting to market more quickly.
“With the software embedded, the hardware can fulfill its primary function and do other things for you as well. It can enable local HMIs, convert data, capture brownfield data, or accomplish a number of other tasks. With the ability to do many things, these devices can simplify your architecture,” he said.
“Device manufacturers are experts at what they do,” Cox added. “They make hardware, and they’re good at it. But if they want to add software to their devices, they get the greatest benefit if they work with a strong software company. By embedding the product of a software company, they’re getting the best of both worlds. They can provide customers with best-in-class hardware and equally strong software. If they tried to make the software themselves, it would be much too expensive, time-consuming, and difficult.”
For the device manufacturers, embedded software provides additional capabilities. For example, powerful software can get a hardware device to talk to other devices it could never connect to before because it just didn’t have the drivers for that. Software can create these possibilities via new applications for a historian, alarming, HMI, visualization, MQTT, and more.
Edge Software Evolving to Meet IIoT Trends
Cox said that the biggest evolution of the software is the move toward open standards and interoperability. Another is the trend toward becoming a platform, enabling customers to address a variety of applications and effectively scale systems.
“It’s not about a one-and-done project. Today’s software lets you expand, talk to more devices, and achieve more goals,” Cox said. “Maybe one day you’ll want to send your data to the cloud. You don’t want to have to put in a whole new system to enable that. You want software today that will help you make changes in the future.”
Another important evolution is the increasing interest in unlimited licensing for software. Customers don’t want to pay extra costs whenever they want to expand their systems. Unlimited licensing allows you to grow however you want. It helps you build your dream projects — projects that wouldn’t be affordable under the traditional licensing model.
To learn more about Ignition Edge, visit the Inductive Automation website: https://inductiveautomation.com/ignition/edge/onboard.
Al Presher is a veteran contributing writer for Design News, covering automation and control, motion control, power transmission, robotics, and fluid power.
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