Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Ignition: A review of HMI software

May 31, 2011
By Jeremy Pollard

Ignition is a product that you must take note of. Formerly FactoryPMI, which I reviewed some two years ago, Ignition is the same, but different.

The main ingredients of this product are its pricing structure, platform independence, enterprise-readiness and ease of use.

The product is 100 percent java, so it can run on Linux, it can be mobile, and the front end (run-time clients) is browser based – any browser.

If you only want to run it on one computer, the installation is free. There are no limitations, except that it is a real-time interface. Historical logging is not an option here. Think of it like a PanelView-type interface.


If that isn’t enough, the OPC-UA drivers are free as well. These can run on a server and all applications can have access to it. While the list of devices isn’t huge, it should cover the majority of what we use in Canada.

Do I have your attention yet? This has already begun to change the SCADA/HMI landscape. For instance, when I was designing architecture for one of my clients, it was going to cost more than $150,000 for software before development due to runtimes. With Ignition, it will only cost $9,500.

In my opinion, you get way more than what you pay for here. So let’s get started.

The install took just about a minute, and then another minute to initialize the front end for the first time. I was running this on a virtual machine under XP, so the response times are a bit muted.

When you download the code, you can run it for two hours. Then you can reset the runtime clock and you are good to go for another two hours. There is no hoop jumping!

The interface is very smooth. Links are all over guiding you to new and improved features, status data and system configurations. In addition, the help file is very adequate.

I wanted to check out the error reporting. Ignition is not your normal HMI software. It is a bit technical. Some of the wording or intent used will be foreign to a new user. For example, is an OPC connection the same as a device connection?

I created a connection to an SQL database. Frankly, I couldn’t remember if I had SQL installed or not. I did, but I didn’t have a service running, and Ignition pointed me in that direction.

All of the normal buttons work. For instance, backspace goes back, F5 refreshes, and the like. There is nothing too cryptic.

Next, I configured the free OPC-UA driver to access the stuff I have in the lab. Setting up the OPC server requires some forethought. You can link to a third-party OPC server, create a failover system for the Ignition OPC-UA server, and create authentication profiles for security purposes.

OPC-UA is a different animal than the older OPC-DA. It is much more IT-centric, which requires some knowledge when it breaks. And, yes, I did break it.

I set a parameter and closed the server, but not on purpose. I deleted it and re-created it, and all was good. The configured devices remained, which is really good.

Allowing remote access to the server can provide a great service, which any OPC-UA server should do, and Ignition’s server conforms.

Once the OPC server is set up, it’s time to add the devices. I configured a PLC-5, SLC-505 and an Acromag level device on Modbus.

There is a “quick client” option in the interface, which will allow you to view the data in the devices you have configured. I used a third-party OPC viewer as well, and all performed well.

It wouldn’t be fair to do a speed test of the server due to the virtualization environment.

The purpose of any HMI is to access device data and allow the operator to interact with it. This is the purpose of the designer portion of Ignition. With a free licence, the Panel Edition of Ignition allows you to create local applications with all of the same whiz-bang stuff that a true distributed enterprise platform would allow you to do. There is no remote access to the application, however.

Multiple users require the use of the vision module – either the limited or full edition.

You have to check this out.

There is much more to say – too much to cover in one column. Next month, I’ll look at the graphic editor and how it ties into the OPC database, and how we can use our PLC software to create tags for us. Then, we’ll look at the end result. Imagine having 30 users online without it costing you a cent, if you will. This is really cool.

Jeremy Pollard has been in the industrial automation industry for more than 25 years. He has worked as a systems integrator, consultant and educator. You can reach him at

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