In large, heavily-specialized production facilities, such as those belonging to STIHL, it is vital that both management and maintenance are able to keep track of all aspects of their production. Thanks to versiondog, time-consuming searches for data and documentation have long since become a thing of the past.
At STIHL manufacturing facilities, maintenance is organized into two divisions. Each division has its own maintenance team, who use their extensive technical expertise to monitor and maintain the plant’s daily operations. Situated above them is a central maintenance pool, which is made up of a team of specialists whose job it is to support the on-site teams if there are any time constraints or when specialized know-how is required. Due to their geographical proximity, the maintenance teams working at the Waiblingen and Ludwigsburg facilities are able to exchange ideas and share experiences with greater ease. That isn’t quite the case with the STIHL maintenance teams located in Switzerland, the USA, Brazil and China. However, the lack of frequency is made up for by the quality of the exchanges; when they do take place, they are run in the form of workshops and by in-house staff who make production equipment for the company.
Designing and making their own production equipment for use in both in-house and external facilities is what gives STIHL one of its most important competitive advantages. According to Thomas Ruppmann, who has been involved in the design of production facilities at STIHL since 1991, it is an invaluable advantage for operations – certainly from the point of view of maintenance – that “the plant constructors are in-house and readily available. When we build our own plants then we are responsible for them for their entire service life. This means that, from the planning stage to the manufacturing stage, it is in our interest to ensure that the quality of the machinery is as high as possible so that it will pose few problems in the future.” The aim is to ensure the greatest possible utilization of plant capacity.
Thomas Ruppmann has been a versiondog user since the very beginning: “We always carry out user management in twos, then we create a backup job and check to see that the system continues to run as it should.” They are supported by central IT, who are also responsible for ensuring the availability of the network infrastructure and server. Ruppmann previously worked with an older version control system called VersionWorks and later helped the company to transition to versiondog. He describes his experience of working with the AUVESY software tool: “It is a convenient, easy-to-use tool, that helps us greatly in our daily-work.”
At the beginning of the backup era, data management was not yet a problem, at least not when it came to the task of looking for the latest software version, Ruppmann explains. This was due to the fact that there were large programming devices which were wheeled into the production areas.
As such, “it was always clear where the data was,” Ruppmann recalls. However, as the task of backing up data began to involve the use of portable data storage devices, especially USB sticks, it began to get more difficult. There was a risk of misplacing data storage devices. Even so, the manufacturing and production environment were still always well organized. As such, the reason for introducing versiondog in 2009 did not so much stem from a need to reduce time spent looking for the latest software version. Rather, it was part of an ongoing endeavor to optimize processes. This was an area in which “we also wanted to become better.”
Bit by bit, versiondog was implemented across all machines and in all areas of production. Today, at the STIHL headquarters in Waiblingen, there are around 220 users who work with versiondog. Even though production facilities constitute the focal point of versiondog’s work, the software is not only involved in production. Even the building services engineers work with the software. They use it as much for managing circuit diagrams as they do for ventilation and light controller programs. It also helps those involved in quality assurance testing.
The requirements of these areas vary, hence the reason why access rights are allocated differently; for the information needed by the facility management is different to that required by maintenance. It is thus important that versiondog is able to be used to manage access rights. In the area of production line construction, access rights are highly restricted, particularly where highly-specialized knowledge is involved. So running production is not the point where STIHL starts using versiondog, as Thomas Ruppmann explains: “We are already using the system when we make production equipment in order to archive intermediate stages of construction.” Every now and again, during the commissioning stage of a plant, it can come to the attention of the team that a section needs to be re-programmed. On such rare occasions, it is beneficial if they are able to go back to a previous version.
versiondog, a multifunctional tool
Ruppmann: “I can certainly say that we have found a tool with which we are able to access all necessary information about the plant on the spot. This ease of access frequently helps to reduce downtimes at the plant.” With the help of an extensive WLAN system, it is possible to use versiondog not only to access program versions of individual PLCs, but also electrical and pneumatic circuit diagrams, which the maintenance team also refer to as “Quicktipps”. It is possible to access instructions and documents of both common and not-so-common devices from all production areas.
The versiondog project was first given the classic task of backing up PLC software. The more the team’s confidence in using the application grew, the more possibilities the software revealed. One aspect that is very much appreciated is the fact that it is possible to integrate important editors so that people can work in a familiar environment. “All we have to do is define the directories and project tree structure. There is no need to additionally program the system in order to do this,” Ruppmann explains.