Copia Automation delivers modern developer tools for industrial automation. Our Git-based source control solution for PLCs streamlines workflows for faster delivery and maximized uptime.
However, it was clear that visibility ended the moment industrial code was deployed to the machine. We saw that teams were dependent on engineers following strict protocol when emergency online changes were required (e.g. product spilling on the floor). In environments where one minute of downtime could equate to more than $50,000 of lost revenue, committing code in a standard Git fashion may not always be feasible.
So, we decided to develop DeviceLink™, an automated backup solution for PLCs, robots, and more. With this blog, I want to provide a quick look into some of the perspectives we’ve gained from professionals in the industry and discuss how we’ve approached solving their problems.
At Copia, we take pride in having deep conversations with as many people as possible. We solicited feedback not only from our customers but also from anyone who’d be willing to share insight about their workflows and struggles with existing tooling (ping me if you’d like to chat). Whether it was an undetected change that affected battery quality for weeks, or tag changes getting wiped out by different teams/shifts, it was clear that organizations faced similar problems due to a lack of visibility into the code running on their automation devices.
Common themes that kept popping up were:
… which all results in wasted engineering hours (debugging, rewriting, searching for source code, etc.) and ultimately, extended downtime.
After many hours of conversations, we settled on making sure the tool was built with the following principles in mind:
I’ll quickly dive into each principle to familiarize you with our tool.
First, our tool is rooted in Git - providing professionals with the full power of modern source control. DeviceLink delivers all the benefits of Git: traceability of files, quick diffing, collaboration, easy reverting, code review, and more.
In addition, DeviceLink is built on top of Copia’s Source Control solution, enabling a seamless workflow throughout our toolchain. For example, we saw many instances where an individual would adjust a project file on the shop floor only to see those same changes wiped out when another engineer worked off of an outdated copy. With DeviceLink, overwriting can be completely eliminated as you’ll be able to merge changes from the production floor into any new work you may be doing.
Security is always top-of-mind at Copia. DeviceLink will only initiate an outbound connection from the site. By denying all incoming communication requests that are not responses to the outbound request, Copia ensures that no unsolicited communication can occur.
Additionally, Copia achieved SOC2 Type 1 compliance this year, which means we maintain the utmost security and controls with regard to cybersecurity. If you’re interested in learning more about our security posture, reach out, and we’ll share additional information.
Making an ergonomic tool is extremely important as we know that industry professionals are already strapped for time. We wanted to make sure that the tool was easy to set up, configure, and use.
The tool has focus on a simple and clean UI that’s easy to navigate. From setting up devices to searching for modified files, we’ve relied on a modern and comfortable design that doesn’t require heavy training. We’re continually improving and iterating, so please reach out with any recommendations or general feedback. We also have Slack, Teams, and email integrations, so you won’t miss significant changes we’ve detected.
Copia is a cloud application - meaning you’ll be able to access your backups from your web browser. This gives you the flexibility to view backups quickly, investigate differences, and take action from anywhere.
In terms of the installation, all you’ll need to do is download a small client-side application, aka the Copia Agent. Everything else is configured via the browser.
Sifting through thousands of meaningless backups makes it difficult to parse through what’s actually important or not. With that in mind, we developed ways to filter out differences that controls and automation professionals may find unimportant.
For example, DeviceLink can filter out extra noise, such as the analog input of a tank-level sensor. With these filters in place, you won’t be alerted of changes you deem unimportant.
After listening to and conversing with controls and automation engineers in the industry, we built a modern backup tool that delivers value and is enjoyable to use. We’ve already seen organizations reap benefits from having DeviceLink in place, such as catching unauthorized changes to safety code quicker than ever before.
However, we know that we still have much more to do. Currently, we support Rockwell, Beckhoff, Codesys, FANUC, FTP, and Bash scripting (with Siemens TIA Portal coming soon). We look to the industry and our customers to help us prioritize additional vendors and features. We’re excited to launch this product but are even more excited to see where we can take it next.
If you’re interested in learning more, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big thanks to Alan Renner, Larry Smith, Lucas Jenkins, Matt Lawson, Matt McCune, Nick Buchele, Ryan Hoffman, Sinan Goral, and Tom Rasmussen for doing such incredible work on DeviceLink!