IT in Manufacturing

Managing plant documentation intelligently

July 2010 IT in Manufacturing

Increasing plant and workforce efficiency, using data management and version control software.

Industrial plants are becoming more automated putting staff under increased pressure to manage the automation and associated control software. With these systems becoming more complicated, the control software is constantly being blamed for plants tripping and other outages. How do we ensure that we minimise these trips, speed up the disaster recovery times and release our technicians and engineers from mundane tasks such as backing up software while increasing plant availability?


Data management and version control software tools have been available in the IT industry for many years. However, in the automation industries, these tools have only recently become mature and accepted. Systems Automation and Management (SAM) has been implementing these tools at various blue chip companies in order to ensure that the correct backups of the PLC, scada and other microprocessor-based devices are systematically done.

After many years, SAM has found a back-up, data management and version control software product that is easy to install and manage, and has been successfully deployed and accepted by our clients. From experience we found that most clients’ back-up systems do not work properly and so back-ups do not match the software on the plant. This leads to many man hours being wasted while the technicians try to establish which version of software is the latest. In cases where the software that was reloaded is not the latest, the technician first has to find out what was changed and re-implement before the plant can be brought back online. Many production hours have been lost due to not having the latest version of the automation software available during plant disaster recovery.

Another problem is ensuring that the changes implemented by technicians on site are managed and documented correctly. Typically, faults occur late at night and the technician bypasses the faulty equipment in software to get the plant running and forgets to document and backup these changes. Thus no one is aware of any changes to the latest software.

Regular backups of the automation software are usually done manually, a task which is labour intensive and boring. Thus, it gets left to the last minute and not done for several months. This means that no one knows exactly what has changed since the last backup, making disaster recovery tedious and time consuming.

The question is: How can we best minimise the impact of these issues to maximise the utilisation of the plant, equipment and skilled staff?

The answer is simple, a central back-up server (CBUS) is installed on the process or office LAN which can access all the PLCs, drives, HMIs and scada systems via the network. The data management, back-up and version control software is then able to connect and download the control software from the corresponding device.

The CBUS server is initially loaded with all the latest copies of the automation software and the configuration of the CBUS file manager reflects the logical plant process. Each section of the logic tree will have the relevant automation software, drawings, manuals etc, stored together, making it easy for the technician to copy the latest documentation and automation software before going to site and implementing changes. The software keeps a record of who has performed a download and the programming tool used. This makes it easy to keep track of who has made changes to the automation software and when. In addition, all changes can be e-mailed to the respective supervisors to keep them informed of the status of the plant.

Readers wanting to find out more about the SAM back-up and version control solution can visit:

For more information contact Claudio Agostinetto, Systems Automation and Management, +27 (0)11 803 0570,,


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