PLCs, DCSs & Controllers

Effective process (PLC) control software change management at Mozal

May 2002 PLCs, DCSs & Controllers

Mozambique Aluminium (Mozal) is using MDT Software’s MASS AutoSave to manage software release and version control for 220 PLCs and 150 HMIs. Mozal’s $1,34 bn aluminium smelter in Maputo produces 250 000 tons of primary aluminium per year and an expansion initiative is currently under way to double this capacity.

Mozal's extensive process control infrastructure is principally based on Wonderware's InTouch scada solution as well as Industrial SQLServer and InControl.

"In a highly-automated and dynamic environment such as ours," says Ugan Maistry, automation specialist at Mozal, "we needed a solution that would control and regulate the storage and release of software versions on our PLCs and HMIs (15 different InTouch applications) in order to eliminate potentially costly production stoppages."

In most industrial automation environments, focus is on maintained production where the rules and regulations of IT rarely apply. This leads to an environment where changes in PLC code or HMI configurations are often done without the discipline normally imposed on other software solutions within the IT infrastructure of the enterprise.

To overcome this problem, Mozal started using Metafile servers, which eliminated viruses, made programs available to everyone simultaneously and provided regular back-ups to tapes or other storage media. "The main problem, however," explains Maistry, "was that there was no version control. This meant that if a number of people were working on the same application at the same time, the application rapidly became incoherent. Another problem was that users were unaware of what changes had been or were being made and the reason for these changes. All this meant that the production capacity of the smelter was at high risk since uncontrolled and undocumented changes were resulting in unnecessary and lengthy downtimes, not to mention the safety risk to personnel, equipment and the environment."

It was at this stage that Mozal decided that they needed a more formal and disciplined approach to change management. The company evaluated available solutions against its set of requirements, the first of which was archival back-ups where the server can be configured to back up all PLCs on a scheduled and unattended basis and where a back-up of the most recent software version would always be available. The second requirement was automatic change detection where any program can be compared against its previous version and changes highlighted when being logged onto the server. This led to the necessity for documented audit trails where all client activities are logged and stored on the server. Next came the requirement for historical tracking where every step of the access-controlled program change process is documented and validated. Then came the need for disaster recovery where, in the event of a PLC failure, the most current program version for that PLC would be immediately available for downloading. There was also the need for scheduled 'smart' comparisons between the resident PLC software and the current archived version on the server. Lastly, the change management solution would need to cater for automatic change notification where users were notified of changes and also of why these changes were made, for whom and when.

"Mozal chose MDT Software's MASS AutoSave because it met operational requirements and supported a wide variety of PLCs, HMIs, robots and drive systems," says Maistry. "More importantly, MDT are specialists in change management and understand our urgent needs at the plant floor level."

MASS AutoSave is a realtime change management solution for factory and industrial automation software that forms an umbrella for programmable device systems (PDS). It allows multiple access to multiple devices and centralised, access-controlled storage to control software while providing the required level of back-up, version control, scheduled software version comparisons, disaster recovery and automatic change notification facilities.

"We have experienced a 38% return on investment with a break-even period of just 31/2 months," says Maistry. "MASS AutoSave works for us."

Mike le Plastrier, Futuristix

011 723 9900

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