Featured Interview - Arun Sinha

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Arun Sinha, OPTO 22

ADDEDTuesday, May 29, 2018

  • Q
    Without naming names, (unless you want to or are allowed to) tell us about a project that was very challenging and what you did to solve the customer’s problem.
    A
    One of my favorite recent projects has an IIoT aspect to it.  SCADA Solutions is an SI that manages wind farms.  They faced two challenges.  The first was that the wind farms are in remote locations and hard to access. To dispatch an operator to start and stop turbines or do troubleshooting was very difficult. By utilizing the “groov” mobile interface from Opto 22, they are now able to do remote monitoring, control and troubleshooting from mobile phones and iPads, often eliminating the need for a  “truck roll”.  The second challenge they faced was that the price that CAISO (California Independent System Operator) pays generators for electricity varies. When there is too much generation, this “spot price” can actually go negative and the Wind Farm would have to actually pay to generate.  With the Opto 22 automation system, SCADA Solutions developed an “IIoT” solution where they are going out to the internet and bringing back the spot price into the control system. Now, they only generate when it makes economic sense to do so.  The full video case study of this application can be found at this link.
  • Q
    From a supplier perspective, how should a customer go about choosing a system integrator?
    A
    Customers choosing a system integrator can look at factors like experience, familiarity with hardware and software platforms of their preference and perhaps specific domain expertise if that is relevant.  Other factors could include professionalism, references and the ability to provide consultative advice on the project.  CSIA certification is also something that assures a degree of quality.  I feel a good personal connection is also important, as ultimately people do business with people.
  • Q
    What other suppliers do you partner with?
    A
    We have partnerships with other suppliers in the industrial automation space, like Inductive Automation. We also are approved ecosystem members of several IT and IoT companies including IBM, Dell, AT&T and Amazon Web Services.
  • Q
    Do you specialize in any industry, product, or discipline?
    A
    We do not specialize in any industry, product or discipline. There are some verticals where we do very well, but as you and your readers know an automation platform is a toolbox, and it can be used to build anything.  So where ever there is I/O (electrical signals, sensors, actuators or instrumentation) an Opto 22 automation platform can be used. Also, the system is modular and scalable so no project is too small or too large.
  • Q
    Tell us why your customers return to you project after project.
    A
    It is always interesting to hear people say what their “favorite” PLC or PAC brand is. It inevitably is the first one they ever used or were trained on.  It is a challenge to get someone to try a new or different platform, but we find if we can we end up with a fan for life.  Customers return typically due to ease of use, open protocols that allow integration with other systems, low total cost of ownership and great customer service from Opto 22 as well as our distributors and SI partners.
  • Q
    What’s unique about how you approach a project?
    A
    We often help get a customer or new SI started by a consultative approach, which helps them continue on their own and complete the project. Though we do not charge for services and often rely on system integrators, we approach a project with more free pre-sales and applications engineering than most companies in our space.  
  • Q
    How do you describe to laypeople what you do?
    A
    “We make the systems that allow factories, plants and machines to run automatically”. I often give a simple example of controlling of a tank level with a sensor, valve and pump (I usually use “beer” or “chocolate” in my example).
  • Q
    What advice would you give to a prospective customer researching you vs. your competitors?
    A
    We realize that it may seem like a risk to take a chance on a company that is not one of the big brand names.  Often customers do not consider the total cost of ownership of an automation project. We can offer an advantage in this regard because we don’t charge for programming software, applications engineering help, product support and training. Additionally, we have always believed in open systems, so you are not locked in end to end with a single vendor. Our platform plays nicely with others.  Also at Opto 22 we still believe in the “personal touch”, regardless of what size your company is or how much your purchase.
  • Q
    What’s the best advice you could give your younger self, just getting started?
    A
    I think I would tell myself to have a broader perspective, and to embrace challenges and opportunities that are outside of my comfort zone.
  • Q
    What makes Opto 22 optimistic about the future of the automation industry?
    A
    It is a very exciting time right now in the automation industry, and we are optimistic about the future. The adoption of IIoT, Industry 4.0 and smart factories is just getting started and I think there is a renewed focus on manufacturing and automation that will result in investment as well as innovation in ways we haven’t seen before.
  • Q
    What mistake did you make and what did you learn from it?
    A
    When you push the technology envelope, often times you are early to market.  There have been times when we’ve invested engineering resources to develop a solution to address what we saw as a market need, but the broader customer base was not ready yet. What we learned was that you need patience while the technology is being adopted and you have to manage your resources and business accordingly during this period.
  • Q
    What is the smartest decision your company has made recently?
    A
    I feel the smartest decision we have made recently is to embrace IT and IIoT technologies, and embed them into our new groov EPIC platform that we are releasing in May.  While EPIC respects the aspects of a traditional industrial controller such as connection to a wide variety of electrical signals and plant floor protocols with real-time control, it also has IIoT enabling technologies such as Inductive Automation’s “Ignition Edge”, MQTT/Sparkplug communication, the Node-RED IoT development environment and a built in HMI suited for mobile devices.  We’ve also taken a giant leap forward in giving the option to open up the controller’s Linux OS so customers can develop their applications in the programming language of their choice or run a custom application.  This was a major decision and we feel the right one as it allows our customers to unleash their creativity beyond the constraints of traditional controller programming and interface tools.
  • Q
    Share the history of how Opto 22 began and how the company has evolved in(to) the automation industry.
    A
    Our company has an interesting history.  Opto 22 was founded in 1974 by Robert Engman, a co-inventor of the solid state relay.  The company started out manufacturing and selling SSRs and soon became a worldwide leader.  As technology evolved these relays soon were board mounted for direct digital control, and eventually became discrete and analog I/O systems for computers (first mainframes and then PCs as they emerged). This ultimately led to a full PAC (Programmable Automation Control) system by the mid 1990’s. Opto 22 has always innovated and pushed the technology envelope to serve customer’s needs. For example, we were the first company to have Ethernet on an industrial controller, when the prevailing way to network PLCs was proprietary protocols.  Opto 22 has always embraced IT – an example of that was using SNMP traps to do remote monitoring over 20 years ago.  Today, we are still privately owned, have customers and partners all over the world and are still innovating.
  • Q
    Tell us about your OPC Foundation or OMAC Foundation involvement.
    A
    Opto 22 was one of the original members of the OPC Foundation.  The first OPC meeting was in the conference room here at the Opto 22 corporate headquarters and factory. 
  • Q
    Tell us about your SI Partner Program.
    A
    Opto 22 has a worldwide network of approved System Integrators, whom we call “OptoPartners”. We try to keep a close relationship with our partners, and provide them with support and whatever tools are needed to make them successful.  Also, recently we launched our “IoT Certified” program for our OptoPartners. So we now have a subset of SI’s with specific IoT related skills and competencies to help our customers bridge the OT/IT gap in their projects.
  • Q
    From a supplier perspective, why should a prospective customer hire a CSIA Certified Member?
    A
    Certification assures adoption of best practices across a wide range of areas including project management, service and support to name a few.  When referring an Opto 22 customer to a third party integrator our reputation is on the line as well.  There is a level of confidence that a CSIA Certified integrator will meet and exceed the customer’s expectations.
  • Q
    From a supplier perspective why should a prospective customer hire a CSIA Integrator Member?
    A
    CSIA offers many services and training geared toward small businesses in areas such as insurance, legal, human resources, tax, etc. As a supplier, we often refer our customers to CSIA members for integration services, and it is reassuring that besides the technical capabilities the company is a well run business.
  • Q
    What challenges are your customers facing now?
    A
    One of the challenges I see often with customers is dealing with legacy automation and control systems. As systems age and become obsolete, it often hard to justify upgrades or expansions when the prevailing mentality is often “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Letting legacy systems limp along often prevents customers from process and business optimization that could result from embracing newer and more advanced technologies.
  • Q
    In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the automation marketplace today and in the future?
    A
    The biggest challenge that I see facing the automation marketplace is that automation technology is now advancing very rapidly. This really hasn’t been the case in the past few decades. Things like IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), cloud computing and advanced data analytics represent recent advancements that make it hard for manufacturers to keep up.  This trend will continue and both manufacturers of automation systems as well as those who use them will have to adapt and expand their skillset.
  • Q
    How has Opto 22 grown or changed in the past year and what do you expect for your company in the next 12 to 24 months?
    A
    We are very excited to be launching our new platform, called groov  EPIC (Edge Programmable Industrial Controller). EPIC brings together a broad toolset to help merge OT and IT in one system. In the next 12 to 24 months it will be very engaging to see how early adopters of EPIC deploy it in interesting and creative ways to solve customer problems and challenges.
  • Q
    What kinds of trends and challenges are you seeing in industrial automation right now?
    A
    We see a trend toward integrating operational technologies (OT) with information technologies (IT), for the purpose of  higher level business outcomes. For all that is going on in the consumer space with IoT (Internet of Things), there is much more going on and business value to be had in the industrial space.  The challenge of course is bridging the technology and skillset gap between OT and IT.
  • Q
    Why did Opto 22 become a member of CSIA?
    A
    Opto 22 joined CSIA for the opportunity to network and collaborate with the organization’s members, as well stay tuned in to best practices in the industry.
  • Q
    What is the biggest benefit of CSIA membership for Opto 22?
    A
    In addition to being able to expose our products and solutions to the membership, we really value networking and interacting with the SI community.  We learn a lot from system integrators as they are on the front lines with customers and have valuable insights that help shape what we do as a 
  • Q
    Why did you choose a career in automation - control system integration? Or did your career choose you? (How did you get here?)
    A
    Probably like many of the people in this industry, I came into it by accident. Out of school I was working as a mechanical engineer in the Nuclear Power industry for 3 years before they closed the company.  I took the first job that looked interesting and it just happened to be in instrumentation, controls and automation.  That was 1993 and I’ve been in it ever since and loving it.