Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ignition and SCADA in the semiconductor industry?

I was poking around the Ignition Module Marketplace and noticed the "SECS/GEM" driver module for their OPC-UA server. Curiosity got the best of me and I was soon reading about the Semiconductor Equipment Communications Standard and Generic Equipment Model. While I find it a bit curious that the semiconductor industry, specifically SEMI (Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International) is big enough, or has some set of semiconductor unique requirements that justify an industry proprietary protocol. I remember a story in college from an "Intel Fellow" who headed up the early Pentium IV project. He described a colleague applying chaos theory to the sequencing of these $50 Million "machines" that would treat silicon wafers for weeks. My assumption would have been that, had existing standard protocols and standards not been sufficient, that the scale of semiconductor operations justify custom code to be written. I had not considered the semiconductor industry as another SCADA application. Thinking back, I remember how I envisioned automated manufacturing before ever doing any integration work. A giant factory rapidly creates parts and assembles pieces. Everything whizzes rapidly through an automated assembly line without any user intervention. One or two workers walk the floors with hard hats and clipboards to watch the magic happen. Does this sound like your process? "Real" facilities are a bit different. People are involved in the process, often continually changing it. Equipment must be integrated to work together. Budgets and efficiency are more important than ever. Simply put, most organizations that are smaller than Walmart cannot remain competitive by hiring teams of professional programmers to support their operations. Why would the semiconductor business be any different? I realize that my lack of experience in the field led me to put it on a pedestal. That industry can benefit from the rapid development capability that Ignition provides and, apparently, an $895 SECS/GEM driver. That's an exciting thought - I love to see the extensibility of the Ignition platform in action. From their web site:

The SECS/GEM Module enables Ignition projects and third-party applications to communicate with semiconductor fab equipment. The module utilizes the HSMS-SS and SECS II standards to communicate with equipment over Ethernet. In the near future, SECS I for serial connections will be supported as well. The module achieves interoperability with third-party systems through the use of shared database tables. For use with Ignition software – a rapid application development and deployment platform – built-in mapping to tags or scripting functions can be utilized. Driver configuration is done with a web-based configuration interface which includes a built-in editor for creating custom SECS messages. Over 100 SECS message definitions from the SECS II and GEM standards are supported out of the box. Ignition and this driver are cross-platform capable because both were developed in Java. An equipment simulator is included with the module to help users get started and learn, and for testing applications. The driver may be downloaded and tested for free from the Ignition Module Marketplace. The module also includes a built-in manual that covers the capabilities and functionality of the module in detail.

This blog post describes some of the motivation behind the development.

I would love to see an Inductive Automation case study illustrating how an organization in the semiconductor leverages Ignition.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Module Marketplace Industry Feedback

Inductive Automation released the Module Marketplace at the ARC Forum in 2013 and in this webinar.

Gary Mintchell called it, "a platform and business model worth watching" and described the company as "developing something disruptive that is going to revolutionize the industry"

Dave Greenfield of Automation world explains the significance as "Consumer technology driving Automation" with a comparison to the iTunes store.

ARCWeb news from Craig Resnick describing "The ability to share modules with other Ignition users opens up application opportunities and removes proprietary boundaries".

Dale Peterson of Digital Bond picked it up here

I'm curious to see how developers and consumers embrace this technology. Will we see new communities form and when will other SCADA vendors follow suit?