SCADA operators and managers often work under tight deadlines to develop applications quickly. Open source communities that share information and resources among users can offer powerful advantages: jumpstarting application development, providing pre-built SCADA resources, sharing work with the SCADA developer community and collaborating with others.
Those with an IT background, like Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering for Inductive Automation, understand the benefits of open source movements, he says. However, an open source community in the industrial world was “pretty unheard of,” Cox says.
Companies want to protect their proprietary IP, and there can be reservations about sharing resources, Cox says. And while no one is sharing their “secret sauce” in these public forums, “if we can share and collaborate as a community, we can propel each other faster and solve challenges,” Cox says. “It allows the end users to win at the end of the day.”
Ignition Exchange, launched in September 2019, offers a free library of pre-built resources developed by the Inductive Automation team and Ignition users. Anyone can download pre-built templates, scripts, views, styles, reports and UDTs as a .zip file and import them into their Ignition gateway. Users can choose to upload their own resources to a private account or choose to share them within their organization or publicly.
Leveraging these resources allows developers to save time, Cox says. Instead of repeatedly rebuilding assets, they can build on existing templates and projects to devote time to the heart of their application. Since making changes in multiple places can be time consuming, templates allow users to make updates from a single point, with changes propagating throughout the entire project.
Corso Systems was the first user to upload resources to Ignition Exchange. The integration company uses the Exchange to share resources within their organization and publicly. “(The Exchange) expands upon Ignition’s built-in capabilities,” says Corso Systems President Alex Marcy. “It makes the baseline for what you can do with Ignition a lot higher.”
An open source community can be particularly beneficial to municipalities with limited budgets, Marcy says. “The nature of being a municipality is that you might not have the budget for more interesting things that exist in the larger manufacturing space,” he says. “Having companies give back in Exchange allows information to be shared and people in the water and wastewater industry can benefit from that without being the ones to make the initial investment in development costs.”
The Exchange also makes SCADA technology more accessible and more useful to others in the industry, Marcy says. “If someone is new to the industry or still in school and learning Ignition, they can go to the Exchange and see what advanced thing they can do,” he says. “They can see where people have taken this and come up with new and interesting ideas of their own. It raises the overall skill level of people in the industry.”
The variety of applications on the Exchange continues to broaden. Earlier this year, Marcy used Ignition technology to create a COVID-19 case tracker.
To further boost community engagement, Inductive Automation recently released the Maker Edition of Ignition, which makes the product available for free personal use, such as home automation projects. The Exchange offers a number of resources that are compatible with Ignition Maker Edition.
“You can build anything with Ignition, whether it’s an HMI/SCADA system or to manage bills at home,” Cox says.
The Exchange is a unique offering among SCADA companies, Marcy says. “We use Ignition Exchange as a way to give back to the community and release interesting things and pieces of products that we were able to white label and that are useful in wider contexts than whatever project we have developed it for,” Marcy says.
As time passes, the Ignition Exchange will continue to grow more valuable, Cox says.
“The whole idea we wanted to facilitate with Ignition Exchange was to provide a platform (users) can share with the community and collaborate and cross pollinate to leverage that,” Cox says. “The more that is contributed to the Exchange, the more people are able to pull from it.”