Change management software for PLC based process protection

| Information and Communication Technology

Minimising machine downtime at SWEP
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Heat exchanger manufacturer ensures all processes across multiple sites remain up to date with change management and version control for its programmable industrial equipment.

By introducing change management and version control software from MAC Solutions for all its programmable devices (PLCs) in five production plants across three different Continents, heat exchanger manufacturer SWEP has minimised the risk of machine downtime, thus avoiding costly delays and disruption to customer delivery schedules.

SWEP is a supplier of compact brazed plate heat exchangers (BPHE), which are used in applications where heat needs to be transferred efficiently, for example, in air conditioning, refrigeration, heating, and industrial applications. The SWEP plant in Slovakia manufactures BPHEs in high volumes across three continuous shifts. BPHEs are manufactured using high value, automated, PLC-controlled machines. Any unplanned stoppages to these machines must be avoided, as these can result in costly delays to production and disruption to deliveries.

Martin Figura, Team Leader Production IT at SWEP Slovakia sro, is responsible for managing all production automation across SWEP. He was responsible for overseeing the implementation of MDT Software’s Autosave Change Management at SWEP and is now responsible for the day-to-day management of the software throughout the business. He comments: “Currently, SWEP has approximately 80 PLCs installed on machines that are located in different time zones across our six production plants. These PLCs are manufactured by a variety of vendors, including Siemens and Allen-Bradley. They are critical to our BPHE production processes.”

Prior to 2015, SWEP had no formal system in place for managing version control or changes to PLC programs – back ups were made manually, with each SWEP site having its own policy for managing this. There were no scheduled back ups or version control of PLC programs, either within one site or across multiple sites.

At the Slovakia plant, this became apparent to Martin Figura when a supplier was called in to the plant to fix a problem on a critical production machine. As Figura explains: “In order to resolve the issue, the supplier made some changes to the relevant PLC code and uploaded these changes to the machine, which fixed the problem, but also accidentally uploaded the same changes to an identical machine located elsewhere in the plant. This resulted in an unplanned stoppage to the second machine. ”

Figura therefore looked for a suitable alternative method. “I came across the MDT Software website and read about Autosave Change Management which seemed to be what we needed. I then spoke to MAC Solutions, the UK reseller for MDT Software, about the issues we had been having with PLC back ups and version control, who recommended an implementation of the software across all of our six sites. This involved installing a single, secure data server in our headquarters in Sweden and five software agents, one for each of the other five sites.”

“In my research, no other change management software provider could offer us a similar ‘open’ package that enabled communication with multiple-vendor PLCs. MDT Software’s Autosave is also easy to set up and use. MAC Solutions provided all the software training via online screen-sharing. Following installation of the main server in Sweden and the first software agent in Slovakia, I was then able to oversee the rest of the software implementations across our remaining sites.”

“Now, with MDT Software’s Autosave installed across three Continents and five sites, we have a global change management and version control solution in place. We have scheduled tasks set up for PLC program back ups.”

“At present, we are running back-ups for all our PLCs once a day, which is sufficient. The software takes one to two hours to complete the back up and comparison/synchronisation of PLC programs. Within this time, all PLC programs are compared and if any changes have occurred, I am notified via email. It’s an insurance policy for us as a business and guarantees that every operator, in the event of a problem with any machine located at any of our six sites, will always have access to the latest version of a PLC program.”

“Since introducing MDT Software’s Autosave in January 2015, we’ve had a couple of incidents where the system has really proven its worth. Recently, one of our new operators accidentally deleted some operational parameters on a production machine PLC. I simply downloaded the latest version of the PLC code from Autosave and within a few minutes had uploaded this to the machine. Prior to Autosave, this would have taken us at least two hours to rectify,” he states.

“Another unexpected benefit of introducing the software is that it has become a key part of our business-wide Disaster Recovery Policy. We know that if an unforeseen disaster should occur, we will always have access to the latest version of a PLC program, wherever the machine is located in the world,” concludes Figura.

Three steps to success

MDT Software’s AutoSave is enterprise change management software that provides a full suite of tools to protect, save, restore, discover and track changes for industrial programmable devices and documents. The system unifies plant automation software under one common user interface, resulting in a secure, well documented, controlled environment that significantly reduces the time and effort needed to manage a manual backup system.

The software enables administrators to automatically schedule “compare” procedures. Automatically comparing the program in the device with a program stored in the AutoSave library can detect and identify changes between the program that may have been unknown or unauthorised. This therefore protects that company’s process, people and equipment.

When a change is made to a PLC program, the software can be set up so that designated users are immediately notified via email. Detailed, logic-to-logic and selected data table value comparison reports are generated and users are notified of differences via email. These mailed results, generated for schedule, program, or demand compares, are viewed via a web browser that features hypertext links to detailed logic and documentation differences.

In just three steps, users can ensure that any program changes are tracked, saved and protected. In the office, a field technician identifies programs of interest and Autosave downloads copies to the engineer’s laptop using the Autosave Program Manager tool. Autosave Client is then used for non-networked devices to make changes to the program. Changes are then synchronised across multiple sites by comparing local files with the server and sending/receiving updates.

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