Manageable Modernization Starts with Smart Source Control

Published on
August 22, 2023

With pundits trumpeting Industry 4.0 technologies like AI, data analytics, advanced robotics, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it’s no wonder so many manufacturers are tempering digital transformation efforts, overwhelmed by the pace of technology and process change.  

Manufacturing enterprises are investing in new technologies for a variety of reasons, including to drive growth (22%) and optimize costs and efficiencies (22%), according to a Gartner report. However, far fewer manufacturers are directing budgets to take aim at digital transformation (16%), Gartner found.

The top priorities for enterprises, according to the Gartner report "2023 CIO Agenda Insights for the Manufacturing Industry"
The top priorities for enterprises, according to the Gartner report "2023 CIO Agenda Insights for the Manufacturing Industry"

Manufacturers’ transformation progress is hampered by a number of factors. Many organizations in this sector are facing budget slowdowns, thus are trying to cover more ground with fewer resources. The Gartner report also called out a deficit of talent versed in emerging technologies like DevOps, AI/ML, and automation, coupled with the complexities associated with integrating a digital vision with existing enterprise strategies, as additional obstacles slowing manufacturers’ transformation progress.  

One area that holds promise for fast and actionable transformation is modernizing PLC and control device programming with an approach that brings IT constructs to the OT world. Compared to broad-stroke initiatives that require significant investments in cutting-edge hardware and software technologies and typically incur lengthy deployment cycles, an initiative aimed at modernizing controls and automation workflows can be more manageable while delivering meaningful benefits such as better reliability, less downtime, and improved IT/OT collaboration right out of the gates.

Transforming controls programming can be accomplished through embrace of a SaaS platform, which replaces manual code management workflows with the DevOps development practices that now dominate IT. A collaborative, operational system that supports visual review of code submitted and running on PLCs brings greater flexibility and visibility to controls programming, eliminating repetitive efforts, streamlining version control, and giving engineers more time to focus on higher value work.

DevOps loop from IT can now be applied to OT
The DevOps (developer operations) loop has transformed the IT world, and can finally be harnessed in OT.

Copia Automation’s Git-based version control platform brings DevOps tools and a modern programming approach to the world of PLCs and control systems. Compared to traditional PLC programming tools, many of which are difficult to learn and have utility only within a single vendor environment, the Copia version control suite introduces a modern paradigm, eliminating programming silos by taking a vendor-neutral approach to developing, iterating, and managing automation code. Controls engineers can manage code, track changes with context, visualize differences between versions, maintain audit trails, and simultaneously collaborate on the same code base—a workflow that can’t be replicated with traditional PLC programming environments.

An .ACD file (ladder logic or ladder diagram) visualized in Copia's web app with changes highlighted.
An .ACD file (ladder logic or ladder diagram) visualized in Copia's web app with changes highlighted.

Another upside to the DevOps paradigm and Git-based approach is familiarity among mainstream programmers, which opens up PLC programming to a wider group and gives operations teams greater flexibility with manpower and future hiring. Younger employees are more likely to have had exposure to IT programming concepts and tools, making them good candidates to help promote OT modernization. Embrace of a modern OT tool suite also decreases reliance on specialists trained in niche controls environments, who might be up for retirement or moving on to other positions, leaving a gap in the OT knowledgebase.

Updating the PLC and controls programming paradigm isn’t the end game, but it’s an important stop on the road to modernization. By targeting a manageable initiative, manufacturers can reap the benefits of shorter timelines and increased productivity and uptime while accelerating digital transformation.


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