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STIHL significantly improves plant reliability with versiondog
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.
Now all STIHL production facilities in Germany have implemented versiondog as part of their data management strategy. This encompasses approx. 3,000 machines and 7,600 components. Each production facility has set up three components as standard: software (controller programs), circuit diagrams and documentation. If needed, it is possible to add additional sub-directories/components, for instance, for robots or tightening system controllers. The term "documentation" can be used to mean a wide-variety of different things, i.e. PDF files and Excel spreadsheets; in-short, everything to do with control technology which can be saved in a file format. Since the introduction of versiondog approx. 46,000 versions have been created and checked in. The best thing is that the software does not require a lot of memory. The amount of storage required on the server amounts to less than 1.5 GB.
This level of compression raises the question as to whether unzipping these directories might take too much time and cause delays in resuming production after a stoppage. The short answer is 'no'. This is because at STIHL only the latest version is checked out by default in order to save time. "What's more," says Ruppman, "the process of carrying out a comparison of a S7 unit, for example, is very quick."
The versiondog Factory Floor Status is a very useful WebClient add-on that enables users to see the status of all devices and equipment that are integrated in the versiondog system according to a number of device-specific monitors such as installed firmware, MLFB numbers, force values, RAM use and cycle time. Factory Floor Status is not yet in use at STIHL, though Ruppmann admits that it sounds like a very interesting solution for managing large numbers of components. "We would be happy to have the opportunity to test it sometime," he says.
Devices are backed up at STIHL on a daily basis in order to ensure that the latest production data is always available. Backups enable the detection of unintended changes. As backups are run in the background, they do not have to be constantly monitored. When anomalies are detected, members of the appropriate team will receive immediate notification via email. STIHL is known for its quality-orientated approach to work. This can also be observed when it comes to data management – the latest version is always used. Updates are carried out in a timely manner.
Thomas Ruppmann would like to emphasize that he rarely has to get in contact with the AUVESY support hotline. "The system is stable and very intuitive to use." In his opinion, the fact that they rarely have to contact support speaks volumes about the quality of the product. The fact that versiondog is simple to use is also reflected in the time and effort needed to train new users. It only takes a short amount of time for new team members to be able to use the system. In the team, the acceptance of the software is generally very high. According to Ruppmann, his colleagues see the benefits every day in their work, now that all important data is centralized and available everywhere and at all times.
When asked what kind of financial benefits have been observed, such as return on investment, Ruppmann replies that, "it is very difficult to quantify the benefits of versiondog strictly in terms of euros, because a lot of the added value is seen in soft factors. From a subjective point of view, versiondog has certainly helped to simplify things." In his words, at the point of procuring versiondog, reducing financial costs was not the primary objective. Rather, it was the need for clearly organized and traceable documentation. Reducing costs has been an additional benefit. "The effort involved in searching for the latest software version has disappeared entirely. We always know where we need to go." In addition, it is possible to rely on regular backups to ensure that the latest controller version is always stored. As a result, data storage has been simplified and uncertainty has been removed. Thanks to the centralized data storage that versiondog brings, there is no longer any risk of data storage devices going missing. For Ruppman it is clear: "versiondog is a well-rounded tool that has helped us simplify our work immensely. Functions such as version compare are even better than the solutions offered by individual device manufacturers. This is what makes versiondog so attractive!"
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