Nick Mudge Ignition Software Consulting & Development

LafargeHolcim's Technical Information System Ignition project was recently featured in the Discover Gallery at the 2016 Ignition Community Conference.

The user interface in this project was developed by Perfect Abstractions. You can see a video about it at this link: Ignition Helps Huge Company Empower Thousands of Users

Here's a brief description of some of the interesting things we did:

Dynamic Creation of Template Instances

We displayed a list of names of Ignition templates in the client. We implemented the ability for users to drag a template from the list and drop it on a window. An instance of the template would be dynamically created and placed where the user dropped it. After that the user could resize, move and configure the template. Whatever the user did it could be saved and used later. We essentially created a simplified Ignition designer in the Ignition client that regular users could use to create and save functionality. You can see this functionality in the video.

Graphics Library Integrated Into Ignition

We integrated a graphics library into Ignition that shows how things are connected to each other in a graphical, animated and interactive way. You can see this functionality in the video.

Excel in Ignition

We heavily customized an Ignition Power Table to behave and function like an Excel spreadsheet. Users can add columns and rows. Users can input values and create formulas. Users can do various text formatting like change font, color, height, change text alignment and more. Users can also drop Ignition tags into cells and see real-time values. And more can be done. You can see this functionality in the video.

This week Ignition 7.9 was released. You can find out about the new features at this link: What's New.

Also: Webinar: The New Ignition 7.9

A Perfect Abstractions Ignition Project Developer recently made a graphical interface for displaying all the available super classes and methods that exists in a component.

Sometimes it is very useful for a developer to see all that can be done with a particular component. This new object inspector helps a developer do that.

The functionality exists in a single template called TreeObjectInspector. It works directly in the Ignition designer and in clients. The template is freely available and can be imported into your own projects. The template works in Ignition 7.8.0 and up. Download here: TreeObjectInspector.proj.

Here is a screenshot of the template displaying the super classes and methods of the button component in Ignition:

The Vision Module, which is installed in Ignition by default, enables people to create Java-based graphical user interfaces. The underlying Java library that Vision Module GUIs are created upon is Java Swing. Java Swing is a standard graphics library that ships with Java, so you can learn all about it on the Internet and in books.

Because Vision Module-based GUIs are built on top of Java Swing, they follow the rules of Java Swing.

A primary rule of Java Swing is that the user interface is single threaded.

This single thread is called the Event Dispatch Thread or EDT. Code that touches the user interface is supposed to execute in the EDT. This paradigm eliminates numerous multithreading problems and hassles by not having multiple threads touch the GUI.

All the component event handling code in Ignition and the extension functions on components run in the EDT by default so you don't have to do anything special to make your code execute in the EDT. It is the default.

But if this was the end of the story there would be a big problem in Ignition GUI development. The GUI should be and needs to be very very fast - always. A slow, unresponsive GUI (even if it is just a little slow) means that a programmer didn't program it to be fast.

Some code is a little slower than very very fast, and some code is a lot slower, and there is no way around it. Database queries, requests over the network, computations over large sets of data, all these things can take awhile.

If long running code executes in the EDT then the GUI will freeze and appear slow. This is obvious since the EDT can't do anything else until it is done doing what it is currently doing. So if the EDT needs to make a database query (or other such thing) over a potentially slow network the GUI will freeze while this happens and the user will feel like the application is slow or broken.

Executing code that directly affects the GUI such as setting values on component properties, moving components, changing the display of components in some way, and configuring components is usually very fast. It is actually the non-GUI code that is most often slow, like getting data over a network and processing lots of data.

So the question is, How do you make a very fast GUI always when you have code that takes awhile to execute? The answer is to separate the slow (data processing or data retrieval) code from the fast GUI manipulation code. Put the slow code in a background thread. When the slow code completes execution have the background thread pass the data results to code in the EDT that configures and updates the GUI with that data.

Ignition provides the system.util.invokeAsynchronous(func) function to execute a function in a background thread. And Ignition provides the system.util.invokeLater(func) function to pass data produced in a background thread back into the EDT so the data can be used to update GUI components.

Here is a simple example:

#This code could be on an actionPerformed event of a button to retrieve, process and display data.
#This code will prevent the GUI from freezing if the code to get and process the data takes awhile.
def async():
    #Fetch and process a lot of data. Return a useful dataset
    dataset = functionThatTakesALongTimeToFinish()	
    def later():
        label = event.source.parent.getComponent("Label")
	label.text = "Processed and retrieved %s results."% dataset.getRowCount()
	event.source.parent.getComponent("Table").data = dataset

In the code example above the async function is executed in a background thread. The async function takes its time fetching and processing data. During this time the GUI is responsive and not frozen. Then the async function calls the system.util.invokeLater function, passing the function named 'later' as an argument. The system.util.invokeLater executes its argument (the function called later) in the EDT. Notice that function later can access and use the dataset variable that was created in the async function.

It is possible to sprinkle a background thread with multiple calls to system.util.invokeLater in order to update the user interface as the background thread makes progress. This keeps the user informed of the progress of something happening.

Note that the runScript expression function in Ignition executes in the EDT. So runScript should only execute Python code that is fast and not do things that is potentially slow like execute database queries or otherwise access the network.

The PA Power Scripting Module makes writing code that uses system.util.invokeLater and system.util.invokeAsynchronous easier with @run.

The PA Power Scripting Module has been updated to work with Ignition 7.8. Download here

The PA Office Document Module has been updated to work with Ignition 7.8. Download here

Inductive Automation released a new pricing web application. You can choose various packages, Ignition modules and functionality and get prices instantly. Check it out. Zack Scriven writes details about it on his blog.

In a recent forum post Carl Gould describes Ignition price changes:

Yes, the pricing changed. I wouldn't expect this every year, but this year we did make quite a few adjustments, as you all noticed. We felt that the improvements to the Reporting module warranted an increase in the price. However, I would draw your attention to the fact that we dropped the price of the Vision module by more than the increase to the Reporting module. We also split the Tag Historian and SQL Bridge products in order to drop the entry point for a number of types of packages, allowing us to offer the new Foundation package at a sub $10k price point, a package with no limitations whatsoever. We also dropped the price of alarm notification module. We've decided to start charging for drivers in order to help fund development of more protocols, so make sure your new quotes don't include drivers you aren't going to be using. I hope this demonstrates that prices were adjusted, up *and* down, all around, this wasn't a general price increase.

Also, I think you may have missed one of the major new changes: the price of redundancy dropped significantly. Redundant gateways are now priced at 50% of the primary gateway! This means that a Redundant Pro is *less* than Mission Critical Works was.

Here's a list of new features and changes in Ignition 7.8:

New Reporting Module

The new reporting module is just as flexible and powerful as the old reporting module but has a significantly improved user interface for designing reports.

The new reporting module is using the same underlying reporting engine as before, so leaning the new reporting module will be easy for anyone already familiar with the old reporting module. But designing reports will be much easier because of the interface improvements.

The old reporting module only worked with the Vision module. It was not possible to have reports without the Vision module installed. The new reporting module is different - it can exist and work standalone, without the Vision module. But the reports created with the new reporting module can still be used in Vision clients.

The new reporting module is also backward compatible with the old reporting module. So if you upgrade the reporting module to the new one existing reports will still work. Existing reports will be the same after upgrading to Ignition 7.8.

It is possible to convert old reports to the new reporting style by following the instructions given by Kathy in this forum post:

Scheduling reports to be generated and sent to people was a real problem for the old reporting module. This is solved in the new reporting module with built-in functionality to schedule the generation and sending of reports.

It appears that Inductive Automation tried to keep the flexibility and power of the old reporting system and at the same time fix its failings -- and it looks like they succeeded brilliantly.

I am really excited about the new reporting module in Ignition. It's a whole new ball game for creating reports in Ignition.

Check out the new reporting videos on Inductive University to learn more.

New Ignition User Manual

Ignition 7.8 has a new Ignition user manual. The online version allows users to add to the documentation by submitting comments. Check out the new Ignition user manual.

Gateway Network

The Gateway Network, new in Ignition 7.8, provides a way for Ignition Gateways to communicate between each other. The Gateway Network is provided by the Ignition platform, not by any Ignition module. The Gateway Network is exposed to Ignition module developers so it is possible to develop new features that use it. Inductive Automation plans to develop new features that use it. The new Enterprise Administration Module module uses the Gateway Network. See Gateway Network documentation to learn more.

Enterprise Administration Module (EAM)

The EAM module allows a user to monitor and control any number of Ignition Gateways from a central Ignition Gateway. See the documentation for more information.

Selectively Publish Resources

Ignition allows developers to makes changes to projects and save those changes without publishing those changes to Ignition clients that users are actually using. This allows developers to make changes and test those changes in staging clients before publishing those changes to their users. Ignition 7.8 adds the ability to select which resources to publish. Before Ignition 7.8 there was no choice -- everything would be published or nothing.

Now developers can make changes to a lot of resources like windows, Python modules, templates and reports, save those changes and selectively publish any of the resources when they are ready.

Publishing specific resources is done by clicking on the File -> Publish Selected... menu item in the Ignition designer. A popup window allows you to select which resources to publish.

New Interactive Script Console

The Script Playground in the Ignition designer has been replaced with a new interactive Python console. Here's what it looks like:

SQL Bridge Changes

The Tag Historian functionality in the SQL Bridge module has been taken out and put into its own module, the Tag Historian module. In addition the Tag History Splitter module has been integrated into the Tag Historian module.

The SQL Bridge module is now just transaction group functionality.

Copy & Paste Bindings

This is done by binding something to a property. Then right click on the property in the Property Editor and select "Copy Binding". Then right click on a different property (on the same or different component) and select "Paste Binding".

Copy Custom Properties

You can now copy custom properties on one component and paste them into another component. This is done by opening the Custom Properties editor on one component, selecting the custom properties that you want to copy, pressing Control-C, exit the Custom Properties editor, then open the Custom Properties editor for a different component and press Control-V. This copy and paste operation will also copy and paste the values of the custom properties.

New Ignition Module SDK

Inductive Automation released a new Ignition Module SDK that uses Maven, a software project management tool. The Ignition Module SDK is no longer downloaded from the Inductive Automation website. Instead Maven with the new Ignition Maven Plugin is used to get module development started. See the new Ignition Module SDK documentation for more information.

New OPC-UA Drivers (DNP3, Omron)

Inductive Automation released a new OPC-UA driver for the DNP3 protocol. See more.

A new driver to communicate with the Omron NJ series of controllers will be released soon.

Improved runScript Expression Function

The runScript function has a couple new features. When runScript executes a Python function it can now take additional arguments that are passed into the Python function. In addition, runScript can now reference custom methods on components by using "self" to refer to the component runScript is used with. Here is an example expression:


In the example above "self.returnText" refers to the returnText custom method on the component that the expression is used on. The 0 is the polling rate. The specific value 0 turns polling off. The "neat" argument is passed as an argument to the "returnText" method.

The ability to pass arguments to Python functions in this way is much easier than alternative ways and executes a lot quicker.

The ability to use "self" to reference a component makes it possible to directly call custom methods on components with runScript. This was not possible before.

Improved Custom Functions

Python functions have built-in functionality for handling default argument values, variable arguments and keyword arguments. Custom methods on components now support these. Here's examples of different argument functionality:

#default argument value
def returnText(text="No Text"):
   return text
#Passing in an argument is optional since a default value exists
print returnText()

#variable arguments
#the args variable will contain a list of all arguments passed into the function
def returnText(*args):
   print args
returnText("first arg","second arg","third arg")

#keyword arguments
def returnText(**kwargs):
   print kwargs
#kwargs becomes a dictionary with the items: {'f':'first','s':'second'}

Power Table Improvements

The Power Table component has a new property called "View Dataset" which contains the data in the table as it appears on the screen, after any column hiding/sorting/re-ordering and filtering.

It is now possible to select rows on a power table, press Control-C (copy) and then paste the rows as text into a text editor or other places.

New Scripting Functions for User Schedules

New scripting functions have been added for getting/adding/editing/removing schedules and holidays. See the new scripting functions in the documentation.

New Scripting Functions for Rosters

New scripting functions have been added for getting and creating rosters. Rosters are used to send alarm notifications to users. The two new scripting functions are system.alarm.createRoster and system.alarm.getRosters.

Roles for Creating Projects

Ignition 7.8 added functionality to specify what roles users must have in order to create new projects. The roles are specified in the "Gateway Settings" webpage in the Ignition configuration web application.

Popup Windows Can Overlap Docked Windows

A new option allows popup windows to overlap docked windows. See the image on the right to see this in action.

The new option exists in the project properties of a project in the designer, specifically: Project Properties -> Client -> User Interface. It is a checkbox called, "Prevent Popup/Docking Overlap".

New DataSet and Array Tags

Tags in Ignition can now hold arrays and DataSets. Query tags can now hold multipe rows of results by storing them in a DataSet.

BestFit Layout Mode for Template Repeater

The new "Best Fit" layout mode for the template repeater fits the template instances within the repeater without scrolling and maintains aspect ratios.

Ignition Titles

Web browser tab titles and Ignition designer titles show the system/server name of the Ignition installation being used. This helps differentiate different Ignition installations when using more than one at the same time.

I am happy to announce the release of PerfectChat. It is a new product from the Perfect Abstractions Ignition development team.

PerfectChat is instant messenger and chat functionality that is very easy to use and add to any existing Ignition project that uses Ignition version 7.7.5 and up.

PerfectChat is freely available to anyone who wants to use it.

It takes less than a minute to install. It does not use a database connection so no database setup or configuration is needed.

It has no configuration. It just works. Here's what the chat window looks like:

Chat Window

Chat messages are stored in memory. They are collected and available as long as the client is running.

Messages can be sent to individual users or to a group chat room.

People can chat with each other even though they are using different projects. The projects need to be running on the same Ignition Gateway.

PerfectChat includes a south-docked notification window that gets displayed when the chat window is closed and a chat message is received. It notifies a user that he/she has received a message. It looks like this:

Chat Window

Clicking on the notification window will close it and at the same time open the chat window and select the user that the message came from.


An Ignition template with a button is used to install PerfectChat. Pressing the button executes special functions from the PA Power Scripting Module that ensure PerfectChat resources are installed without overwriting any existing resources in the project. This enables PerfectChat to be installed in any existing project safely. Here's what the "PerfectChat Installation" template looks like:

PerfectChat Template

The installation of PerfectChat requires that the PA Power Scripting Module is installed. The PA Power Scripting Module does not need a license to install PerfectChat. There is absolutely no license or cost for installing and using PerfectChat. It takes 2 minutes to download and install the PA Power Scripting Module.

Here's how to get PerfectChat running:

  1. Download this project file: PerfectChatInstallation.proj.
  2. Using an Ignition designer import the project file into an Ignition project.
  3. Open the "PerfectChat Installation" template that was imported.
  4. Put your Ignition designer into preview mode and click on the "Install" button.
  5. Installation is complete. You are done and there is nothing to configure.

You can now launch a client and open the chat window from the client menu. Here is what the menu looks like:

PerfectChat Template

The "PerfectChat Installation" template can also be imported from Inductive Automation's public cloud templates repository. It exists in the "Chat" category.

I created a video that shows the installation and PerfectChat in action. Video link: PerfectChat for Ignition Projects

The PA Power Scripting Module does not need a license for installing PerfectChat because all scripting functions provided by the Power Scripting Module work without a license when run in the Ignition designer. Since installation of PerfectChat is done in the Ignition designer all of the functionality of the Power Scripting Module can be used without any cost or license. PerfectChat itself does not use the Power Scripting Module.

I do suggest purchasing a license for the Power Scripting Module if its licensed functionality will be useful to you and/or save you time. Here is an article about some of its features: PA Power Scripting Module

PerfectChat was developed by the Perfect Abstractions Ignition development team. Please, feel free to contact us on any question about the chat usage or any development needs or consultation.

Some discussion and improvements are in this forum thread: Add Instant Messaging and Chat Functionality to Any Project

Phil Turmel, from Automation Prefessionals, has been working on some interesting new Ignition modules.

The Time Series Database Cache module was recently released on Module Marketplace.

The Time Series Database Cache module supplies dataset manipulation and database query functions that are optimized for use with large and/or high-resolution database tables containing timestamped data.

Check out the documentation for more details.

Simulation Aids Module

Phil recently released a public beta of a new Ignition module called the Simulation Aids Module. This module helped Phil test projects in-house when physical components were off-limits or didn't exist yet. See Phil's post on the forum about it.

Dream Team Consulting is delivering the Ignition Core Training and Ignition Advanced Training classes in Sweden.

So if you are in Sweden or Europe it might be more convenient to take the classes there.

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