Do you need an Automation Change Management System in your Plant?

Learn about the importance of automation change management systems in today’s manufacturing environment.

Traditionally, plants have used a manual approach to managing automation program changes. In an ideal world, a change is made and the technician or engineer saves the new program onto the server. Most plants don’t operate in an ideal world, however. Technicians and engineers forget to save the new program in a centralized location, change documentation is pushed to the wayside, and backups are left for another day. A manual approach or even an open-source version control product won’t eliminate the risks that plants take when operating without proper change management systems.

The Risks of Manual Change Management

If you’re using a manual change management method, you could be risking prolonged downtime, product quality, safety, and security. How? Let’s use an example of equipment failure. If device A fails, you have to quickly locate the most recent backup, if one even exists. If no recent backup exists, you have to rewrite and test a new program version. Even if you do find a backup, how confident are you that it is the right one? You could restore an incorrect or outdated program version unknowingly.

Even outside of disaster recovery, there are risks to manual change management. What if an unauthorized change is made? Are you sure that you’d be able to notice even the smallest difference? If you don’t have a way of detecting changes automatically, how can you be sure? Are you able to easily prepare for audits and adhere to regulatory requirements? If you’re expecting your team to manually document the changes they make, you’re relying heavily on an error-prone process.

What is an automation change management system?

An automation change management system is a centralized data management system that manages changes to program logic for controls programs and automated devices like PLCs, DSCs, HMIs, SCADAs, robots, scanners, switches and more.

The Benefits of Automation Change Management with versiondog

Let’s use the same example from above. If a device fails, you can easily locate the most recent backup in the versiondog project tree, which provides centralized data storage so that you always know where to find the latest version. versiondog automatically backs up a wide variety of device and data types so you already know that there are recent, error-free versions available. If you’re wondering which version to restore, versiondog can help you detect even the smallest differences with graphic comparisons.

versiondog also compares the backup from a device to the latest version on the server, so you can detect any unauthorized changes to your plant automation quickly. If a change is detected, versiondog notifies the appropriate users to take action. User access can be specified in a wide variety of ways to best suit your needs so that only the personnel that need access have it.

versiondog even simplifies data management for non-networked or remote devices.

automation change management with versiondog

How do change management systems protect against common risks in plant automation?

Let’s look at a few specific examples of the risks to plant automation productivity, safety, and security and how change management systems like versiondog can help you mitigate the consequences they cause.

Human Error

With centralized data management, a previous, error-free program version is readily available. If someone makes a change that causes unplanned downtime, lower product quality, or another undesired result, you can quickly and easily revert to a fully functioning version.

Equipment Failure

It is an unavoidable reality that equipment can fail.  If the only good copy of the program logic was stored in the failed hardware, equipment failure can cause a significant amount of downtime. If you have a proper change management system, the hardware can be replaced, maintenance personnel can download the latest error-free version of the program to the new hardware, and you can get back to business much faster.

Internal or External Cyber Attacks

As more plant automation devices are connected with the Industrial Internet of Things, cyber threats that historically have plagued IT environments have begun to target industrial automation as well. For an attacker, changing control logic is a relatively fast, easy, and effective way to cause large-scale disruption. Cyber attacks aren’t always from external sources either. An unfortunate reality is that disgruntled or careless employees can cause significant harm too.

Automation change management systems like versiondog are designed to manage access rights so that only the people that need access to your devices have them. versiondog also detects unauthorized changes by comparing the version on the device with the version stored on the server. If the comparison detects differences, versiondog notifies the appropriate personnel to investigate further.

Natural Disaster

Any power issue or disruption from natural disaster will be a major problem for a manufacturing plant without a proper change management system in place. When power issues occur, automated devices can lock or go offline, resulting in a loss of data. If you have a change management system, you simply need to restore the latest version back to the device after the hardware is reset.

Are change management systems worth the cost?

Without a change management system for automation, a wide variety of scenarios can lead to unplanned downtime, reduced product quality, and safety concerns. While manual approaches appear adequate at first glance, the reality of plant automation is that personnel have too much work to do to be able to consistently back up every device manually. A change management system can quickly pay for itself. Fill out the versiondog ROI calculator to learn more.

Don’t wait for downtime or disaster to strike!

Let versiondog cover your bases before the situation is dire. Even when disaster recovery isn’t top priority, change management systems help plants with process improvements, audits and regulatory compliance, centralized data storage, and other day-to-day data management tasks . There are many real-world examples of the variety of ways that versiondog has helped plants in industries like automotive, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, utilities, oil and gas, and more. Read any of our case studies or schedule a demo to learn more.

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