Machine Security, MQTT & Open Source: Three Key Trends at Ignition Community Conference 2018

As the manufacturing industry continues to develop, the widespread use of Industrial Internet of Things (Industrial IoT) technologies and Industry 4.0 principles shows no signs of slowing. This is more than simply a fad or trend. It signals a new way of manufacturing and a new way of thinking. However, it’s not all about optimising machinery and maximising revenue. A demand for new skills is accompanied by the rise of new opportunities and threats. In the continued development and commercialisation of our Industrial IoT software product, COSMOline, we work with the latest technology to create an innovative and industry-shaping product that thrives in an ever-changing environment.

Ignition is a new age SCADA and Industrial IoT platform utilised by Facteon. It’s a set of near limitless development tools. The software is powerful, responsive and build on open source technologies. It’s offered by Inductive Automation, a Sacramento-based company. Ignition Community Conference (ICC) is an annual event providing the opportunity for learning in a community setting with workshops, meetings and labs on offer. To the envy of my colleagues, I attended for a second year. There were several key trends at ICC including the importance of security, the increasing trend of utilising MQTT and the often-overlooked benefits of open source software.

At Facteon, we primarily utilise Ignition tools in developing of our Human Machine Interfaces and digitising processes. It’s a flexible, cloud-based Industrial IoT tool for manufacturers of all sizes. Our philosophy is that your entire factory and wider workforce should be connected at scale to leverage the power of data. This leads to improved manufacturing performance, profit and visibility of your operations. The industry insights gained from attending ICC allow us to improve our product offering.


Protecting Machinery and its Data

The rise of Industrial IoT has resulted in the operational side of machinery becoming closer to the information technology side. Issues that were formerly seen as IT-related have become a security risk on an operational level. There’s now a shift in responsibility as software developers, architects and integrators must recognise and understand their role in negating such risks.

Ignition software offers several tools such as user roles, security zones and named queries to limit exposure to threats. User roles clearly define and limit access to various areas of your software. User roles can operate in conjunction with security zones that limit access by both IP and physical address. Finally, named queries add another layer of security by protecting against external hacks. Ignition recommend utilising these functionalities in conjunction with common sense computer security practices.

It’s essential to understand that these attacks reach beyond personal computers. The WannaCry virus targeted a flaw in Windows software in May 2017 as part of a global ransomware attack. Boeing was hit by the virus that threatened to take down its production equipment. Fortunately, the damage suffered by Boeing was minimal. By contrast, other manufacturers didn’t escape unscathed. An unnamed US company experienced a lengthy stoppage of 96 hours.  This serves as a warning of the prevalence of these viruses and the very real threat these pose. It can result in loss of data and equipment functionality. Loss of functionality means loss of income. Such ransomware attacks motivate the team to increase the security of our COSMOline software. This not only protects our product as we continue its commercialisation but also the data collected from our customers’ machinery.


Utilising Message Queuing Telemetry Transport: An Industrial Protocol for Transporting Data

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Message Queuing Telemetry Transport’s (MQTT) conception. Arlen Nipper and Andy Stanford-Clark created the technology that has become a defacto Industrial IoT standard. It’s commonly utilised as a tool for transmitting data from equipment to a sensor. It was first deployed in the oil and gas industry as a light weight protocol to transmit data via a cellular connection. The intersection of a need to transmit growing amounts of data and an increasing interest in the software industry has led to a resurgence of this technology. A key point of difference between MQTT and the similar offering, OPCUA is the ability of the former to only send data on change of state. OPCUA continuously polls the information so, data is sent continuously. MQTT makes the transmission of increasing amounts of data far more effective.

We use MQTT to interface with non-Facteon machinery. This allows us to provide COSMOline as a stand-alone system and not simply an add-on to Facteon machinery. MQTT is a tool to take information from a customer’s PLC to our cloud-based software application. Despite the development of MQTT twenty years ago, it’s currently the most appropriate tool to implement Industrial IoT technologies on a large scale. 


Adopting Open Source Software

It’s positive to see Ignition supporting open source technologies and software development communities. The common link between Ignition and open source software is the mutual support for and reliance on collaboration. So, Inductive Automation’s endorsement of the trend is unsurprising. We believe that it’s important to dispel misconceptions regarding the nature of open source technologies. Here at Facteon, we embrace the adoption of open source software in our technology stack. Open source technologies are an integral part of many successful software products. Due to the maturity, stability and support from software communities, global usage will likely continue to increase in the coming years. It would be pointless to reinvent the wheel. As a result, many companies are recognising the value in utilising this technology to achieve time and cost savings. With that, there’s also a growing number of companies allowing their developers to share their knowledge and work with the open source community.


Final Thoughts

When visiting the Facteon website, you’re greeted by the text: “We build factories for the internet age”. Rather than building these factories, the software team is committed to the optimisation and continuous improvement of these factory operations. A passion for software, manufacturing and problem-solving drives us to continuously improve our product offering. With our own manufacturing roots, we understand the needs of our customers. Attendance of Ignition Community Conference is an opportunity to continue developing our skills, so we can deliver on our promise to optimise factories for the internet age.


Contact Greg and the team for a COSMOline demo
Greg Purcell

Greg Purcell

Industrial IoT Lead Implementation Engineer

Greg’s role involves leading the implementation of Facteon’s Industrial IoT solutions for our software product, COSMOline. With his prior experience as a Facteon Control Systems Engineer, Greg brings a unique perspective and a strong understanding of PLC’s. He’s also a certified integrator of Ignition by Inductive Automation. Greg plays a key role in defining and implementing Facteon’s modern day SCADA approach that aims to prevent SCADA becoming a bottleneck for machine data.