Today we’re speaking with Paulo Guerra, who helped develop the educational edition of InduSoft Web Studio. Paulo graduated with a degree in Control Engineering in 2008 while working with system integrators with a big focus on software development for SCADA, HMI, and other proprietary systems. Paulo joined InduSoft in Brazil in 2010, working with support, QA, and the consulting services team. Paulo created the InduSoft Web Studio educational program, and assisted in development of the InduSoft Web Studio Educational version of the product. He transferred to the USA in 2013, and has worked with the consulting services team to specify, manage, and develop SCADA/HMI templates for wide array of industries. Paulo is now head of the consulting services team at InduSoft.
Q: The educational program has been an extremely popular program at InduSoft. Did you learn to develop HMA/SCADA applications at your school?
Yes, I did. There were pretty much two totally different experiences. The first was while I was working on my technician’s license, so I was very young at the time. I had a great teacher who was really involved with the systems, and that’s probably one of the main reasons I got so excited about software. He really knew how to use and how to teach us to use the system.
Then, when I was in University I had another experience that wasn’t as great. I’m not sure if it was the system or the professor, but he didn’t understand the system well, and we didn’t have support from the manufacturer. I remember we couldn’t fill some of the requirements of the project because we simply couldn’t talk to the software provider.
Those two experiences were what helped me shape the program. I wanted not only to make the software available to the students and universities, but I also believed it was really important to help them get training. That’s a big part of why we provide training for free, in the form of downloadable online classes. Just the software without the training and resources is not the same as having the full package.
Q: We started with the program, and only offered the educational version of InduSoft Web Studio later. Why was it so important to have a special educational version?
As you mentioned, we first provided the commercial version, and in a few months we started to see the huge demand from the institutions. We realized that we could do better – that we could release a version of the software specifically for them which would have easier licensing, and be easier for students to download. So the main impetus was to make a version of the software that would be easier for students, universities, and us to use together.
Q: With the educational version of InduSoft Web Studio, I feel that we are fostering innovation by connecting to the universities to improve the InduSoft ecosystem. Do you agree, or do you see it differently? How can we capitalize on it better?
I agree. One of the key ideas behind this program was to exchange ideas between us on the industry side, to the exciting research being done in the educational community. There’s a lot for us to gain there. Users who are using our system for the first time without years of experience in the industry are providing a lot of good input for us on how to make a better product.
The hard part is how we reach all the students to get more feedback. I think we have some room to improve there, so we can engage in communication directly with these students to receive feedback. At the moment most of the exchanges we have are for support, so I think we could do better in getting feedback about what’s working for them.
Q: Why do you think other SCADA development platforms don’t offer educational versions?
I think it comes down to time and money. It takes a lot of time and research costs to develop something like this, because it’s a different software than our commercial product. Whenever there’s a new version of InduSoft Web Studio we have to go through all the validation, the marketing, etc. That’s true as well for the educational version as well, so we need to be willing to invest the time and believe that we will gain something back for our efforts. I think that’s why so few companies do anything like this.
Q: Why do you think educational licenses are important for automation application development projects for these students?
I’m a believer in practical learning. I learn more by getting my hands on the code and working with it than by just sitting in a classroom. So that was the idea – to allow the student to really develop the application in a real-world scenario rather than hypothetical solutions. It’s very difficult to go from the blackboard to the lab, and being able to use the software helps make that transition.
Q: What kind of InduSoft Web Studio user can most benefit from the educational version of the software?
Pretty much any student or institution can benefit from it. High school and college students, labs, teachers and professors…there is a huge amount of training and resources that will allow them to make use of the educational licenses. There’s also a huge opportunity in allowing people to be able to study IIoT and instrumentation, so it goes beyond just reaching the industrial market.
Q: Have you reviewed some of the Student Projects on our website? Many of these applications are very similar to what our customers are building. How can we leverage what the students are teaching us?
I have, and I think that’s one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of the program. There are some great examples on the student work page of what they’re accomplishing. There’s a school in Colombia that shares a lot of interesting work, and a school in Brazil, Senai, that creates an application every year as a graduation project in energy management. That was so successful that the school started using the project in the school and has actually seen huge energy savings. UT also ended up doing that as well, and now uses InduSoft Web Studio for energy management.
So I think we will continue to learn from these projects by putting them up on the site and letting other students see what their peers are creating and exchange the ideas.
Q: what advice do you have for students in building an application? How should they get started?
InduSoft provides many resources for learning and training, so I would definitely recommend the online training. Unfortunately we can’t personally train every single student, but this allows us to offer teachers and students a way to become familiar with InduSoft Web Studio.
Q: How do you ensure that they build their applications with the most capability for re-use. Can we offer them some best practices?
Well, we start by trying to work with the teachers to make sure that they’re using the latest features and technology in the product. But another thing that we’ve seen is that many schools are building projects on top of last year’s work. So they’re already embracing the idea of being able to reuse projects. Students develop the first phase of the project one year, and then the next year’s students add more to it. This is a scenario that happens often in the professional environment, and it allows them to really get their hands on a working project that other people will have to manage next year, or many years later.
Q: How do you predict that industrial automation will change in the next ten years?
Well, I think one thing that we’re already seeing is that automation technology will start following consumer technology a lot more closely. In the past we had a big time lag between technology becoming available to the public and then adoption in the automation world. But I think we’re going to see adoption of newer technology at a must faster pace. For example, IoT and Industry 4.0 only became hot topics a year or so ago, and now everyone’s building solutions for those markets.
I think in automation specifically, I think we are going to see more communication between a variety of devices. This is critical for IoT, and we’re already seeing customers use our IoTView product to communicate to devices like Raspberry Pi and embedded devices.
Q: What do you think customers will expect from future HMI/SCADA software?
I don’t think they’ll have the differentiation anymore between what is industrial automation and what is just technology. So they’ll expect to be using the same kinds of technology they have in their everyday lives on the industry side. So for example, mobility is going to be one key area, so things like HTML and Multi-touch are going to be very important.
Q: What advice do you have for someone entering the industry, and what advice would you give to yourself ten years ago?
I’d say that if you have the opportunity to learn something new, go for it. Sometimes we have to go through training for specific things that we don’t think are relevant, but they end up being useful. For instance, when I went to school for my technician’s training we had to do a lot of mechanical drawings. I hated that area and I loved software, so I didn’t want to do it. But then when we were developing 7.0, we did all the demos in 3D, so all those 3D drawings I had to do ten years ago really helped.
So if you have the opportunity to learn something, learn it, try your best, and it may come in handy later on.