Automation standard setter Wonderware CTO guides OPC Foundation Martin Desmarais
LAKE FOREST, Calif. - Rashesh Mody has spent over a decade helping Wonderware's industrial-automation software remain on the cutting edge. Now, he is taking on a broader role for the industry as the chief architect for the OPC Foundation.
The OPC Foundation is a professional organization dedicated to creating open standards in industrial automation
Mody, who serves as Wonderware's chief technology officer, likens these open standards to the development of computer operating system printer drivers. Prior to the development of a standard printer driver for operating systems, each printer had its own driver that needed to be installed. Once a standard printer driver was developed, it became possible for people to use a variety of printers with any computer and vice versa. As a technological development, printer drivers opened up the printer industry for manufacturers and consumers.
This is what the OPC Foundation is hoping to do for industrial automation, Mody said.
Companies, such as Wonderware, that serve the industrial-automation industry, develop software and systems that allow companies to manage large facilities and their machine systems.
The software that runs the machines is based on human-machine interface technology that allows workers to touch computer screens and perform functions, which include interacting with graphics and animation.
Companies making human-machine interface software each have their own products, and - like in the days before standard printer drivers - they each have their own driver that needs to be installed to run the software.
The OPC Foundation has been working since the mid-1990s to change this and now has over 300 member companies. The OPC of the OPC Foundation stands for open connectivity and open standards. Currently, the foundation supports seven automation industry standards that cover process data, alarm records, historical data and batch data.
Wonderware and Mody have been working with the OPC Foundation for several years. The company's ArchestrA software uses OPC standards.
ArchestrA has been shipping for about two years and is installed in 150 facilities around the world, Mody said.
According to him, his work on ArchestrA gives him good experience to be the foundation's chief architect because one of the main question the organization faces is how to incorporates its standards in different company products.
"That is the rubber-meets-road kind of thing," said Mody.
With Wonderware, Mody has also worked closely with Microsoft Corp., a member of the OPC Foundation and a technology adviser for the organization.
Mody said his role with the foundation will be to develop a technology vision for the next 10 years - and of course make OPC standards accepted.
"We want to help bring vendors together and say, guys this is a common problem, let's solve it together," he added. "We want to work with others to make OPC standard."
He admits that bringing different companies together - most of which compete against each other - is a big challenge, but he said he is committed to making OPC successful.
On the technical end, Mody is faced with the challenge of bringing many different types of data together.
"This is such a large dominion we are trying to figure out," Mody said.
The opinion is that Mody is more than qualified for the job.
"(Mody) is a technological visionary with a commanding knowledge base who can significantly contribute to the direction of OPC's technical roadmap," said OPC Foundation president Thomas J. Burke in a statement about Mody's appointment.
"I must say that the OPC Foundation is very lucky to have someone with Rashesh's brilliant mind as its chief architect." said Mike Bradley Sr., president of Wonderware. "After all, he has been an essential part of the development of our groundbreaking ArchestrA software architecture."
Mody joined Wonderware in 1992 to run the company's technical engineering support. The company had 30 to 40 people, but was growing and would go public in several years.
"It was a very excellent company to work for at that time," Mody said. "There was a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, which is very important to me."
The Lake Forest, Calif.-based Wonderware was founded in 1987 to develop human-interface software products for use on IBM PC and compatible computers in the industrial automation industry.
Initially, Wonderware created products that adhered strictly to Microsoft Windows standards. The company was a pioneer in Windows-based products for industrial-automation and had little competition from the release of its first product in 1989 until early 1993. In the mid-1990s the company expanded its product line to include a variety of automation tools. It then incorporated these into one product, FactorySuite.
Invensys bought Wonderware in 1998, and Wonderware operates as a business unit under the London-based company.
Currently, Wonderware has about 300,000 software licenses in about 100,000 plants worldwide, which is about 30 percent of the world's 335,000 plants with 20 or more employees.
Mody said that Wonderware will benefit from his work with the OPC Foundation.
"Wonderware wants to be part of it more because it makes the customers feel good," he said. "Ultimately, (the foundation) solves the problems of the customer."
On a personal level Mody has been involved with the foundation for about four years and he feels strongly about its goals.
"Working for a standard is a big honor," he said.
Mody came to the United States in 1986 as a Rotary International scholar.
He has a master's degree in computer science from the Florida Institute of Technology and a bachelor's degree in electronics and communication engineering from Gujarat University in India.
He developed a passion for human-machine interface while studying for his master's degree, and has worked in the field ever since.
"The human interaction and human interface is extremely important to all systems," he said. "You have to be able to use it."
"Visualization touches every aspect of software," he added.
Before joining Wonderware he worked for Forth Inc.
At Wonderware he moved up the ranks and became chief technology officer in 2001.
Despite his executive roll, Mody remains entrenched in the company's technology.
"If you come from a technical background, being hands-on is very important," he said. "I still help with next-generation technology."
Mody's connection to India has helped Wonderware get ahead of the curve regarding outsourcing.
The company has outsourced work to India since 1996.
"We got people involved in India because we had so many projects and so much work," said Mody. "A team from IBM India has worked for us for six to seven years."He added that the work done in India helps Wonderware "invest in the future" and "continue to enhance existing products."