Josh Eastburn, OPTO 22 PostedMonday, September 14, 2020 Q Why did you choose a career in control system integration? A I kind of fell into it while studying computer science but had some great early opportunities to get involved in engineering management. That experience led to opportunities to work with world-class companies like Genentech and eventually to working with Opto 22’s marketing team. Q How do you describe to laypeople what you do? A When I was working with code full-time, I usually told people I was a programmer that helped manufacturers and other kinds of factories to produce their goods. Sometimes people would ask for more detail about what I worked with and inevitably they were disappointed because no one knows what a PLC is, no one has ever heard of ladder logic. Now, it’s actually harder. Now I have to say that I write educational content for engineers, to which people scratch their heads and say, “About what?” Q Share the history of how Opto 22 began and how the company has evolved in(to) the automation industry. A In 1974, Opto 22’s founder, Bob Engman, based on his experience as an engineer and entrepreneur, designed a company intended to foster authenticity and innovation in engineering. From the SSR, to Ethernet I/O, to the PAC, and now the EPIC, Opto has delivered on that promise. Q Do you specialize in any industry, product or discipline? A In short: no, you would be hard-pressed to pigeon-hole Opto 22. Our I/O products are so widely used -- we have sold hundreds of thousands to over 10k customers worldwide. The way we tend to identify our niche is rather psychographic than demographic: We work with people who are looking for something different -- cool stuff that just works. Q What other suppliers do you partner with? A We have been fortunate to partner with Inductive Automation for several years now. We saw what they were doing with their Ignition Edge platform and became the first company to embed it in our products. We also partner with Cirrus Link, co-inventors of the MQTT communications protocol and, more recently the Sparkplug B spec for MQTT. Together we have created a scalable, secure solution for IIoT. 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 In response to the demand for solutions that support digital transformation and the convergence of OT and IT, Opto 22 has continued to evolve its automation offering. Two years ago, we introduced groov EPIC, the first edge programmable industrial controller, and this year we introduced groov RIO, which is a distributed I/O device capable of delivering real-world wired I/O data directly to the cloud. Q Tell us why your customers return to you project after project. A Opto 22 is known first for the quality and reliability of its products. That reputation was established a long time ago and supported by some unique commitments we have made internally. And yet, we have decided as a company that we want to be at the cutting edge, sometimes just a little beyond it in fact, rather than in the comfortable middle, so customers come to us to solve problems that no one else is tackling yet. We’ve also committed to making support and training free for our customers, so we typically build very strong relationships from concept through the lifetime of a system. Q What advice would you give to a prospective customer researching you vs. your competitors? A Opto 22 is not for people who just want the regular thing, faster and cheaper. The engineers and users who are engaged by what we do find us because we solve problems that no one else can. They come for the innovation and then stay for the affordable pricing, lifetime guarantees, and free support and training. If you are looking around the industry and can’t find something that scratches your itch, come check us out. Q Talk about a project that was very challenging and what you did to solve the customer’s problem. A Officially, we don’t do projects, but given the kinds of relationships we have with customers, our applications engineers are often very involved in the details of what our customers are working on. For example, over the last couple years we have been consulting with a customer who approached with a data integration challenge: Can you help us collect all this data from our installed base of equipment using legacy PLCs into an analytics database? We did, and they began seeing ROI almost immediately! What we didn’t realize was that was just the tip of the iceberg… Q What kinds of trends and challenges are you seeing in industrial automation right now? A Obviously, there is a lot of investment in and discussion about digital transformation, but the industry still hasn’t agreed on a set of standards that are going to get us into the next generation of connectivity. Meanwhile, users are struggling to make the current generation of technology work while battling with concerns about scalability, security, cost and skillset. Q What makes Opto 22 optimistic about the future of the automation industry? A The solutions that people are looking for to carry the industry into its next era are available now. They are effective and affordable, so it’s just a matter of time. Q Why did Opto 22 become a member of CSIA? A CSIA members have a strong influence in the marketplace relative to the future of automation and industry 4.0/IIoT/digital transformation initiatives, which aligns with our role to develop and manufacture state-of-the-art solutions for these areas. Being a member, ourselves, gives us an opportunity to understand what solutions the industry is seeking and to educate about technologies and best practices that are available. Q Talk about your OPC Foundation or OMAC Foundation involvement. A The first version of the OPC specification was signed in our conference room. It was a great attempt to solve a problem that was devaluing innovation, and we have continued to support open standards that make innovation more available to designers and end users. Q What’s the best advice you could give your younger self, just getting started? A Find something to be good at. Find people who want to be good at that too. And finally, have an idea about what change you want to make together.