Programmable logic controllers run the factories that build our future. So why are they still being coded like it’s the 1990s?
The world runs on code. Do this, says a line of code, and your email darts to the other side of the world in an instant. Do that, and an entire production line whirs to life, manufacturing cars, or clothing, or more computers to run more code. But the code that makes it all happen is written by software engineers. And engineers, like all craftsman, are only as good as their tools.
After Linus Torvalds revolutionized the world of computing with the Linux operating system, there’s a reason that he next turned his brilliance to building a tool to make coding easier, more efficient, and more resilient. The result was Git, a robust versioning system that allows engineers to update and merge complex codebases seamlessly, creating an environment where collaboration is simple, where bugs are easily tracked down and squashed before they can do harm. Today, Git is the industry standard tool among software engineers across nearly all disciplines. For those working with programmable logic controllers (PLCs), however, the wrench has never quite fit.
In the world of automation and industry, PLCs are the brains that keep mission-critical systems running smoothly at the incredible degrees of precision required in a factory environment. There is little room for inefficiency here, and zero room for error. PLC code looks different and works different, and so PLC developers have long operated in isolation from the advancements made elsewhere in the broader realm of software development. As a result, it’s often difficult to understand who made the last edits, and what were the resulting code changes. Today, Copia Automation is bringing the robust capabilities of Git to PLC engineers, with a toolkit custom designed for the unique needs of PLC development.
Changing the way we change the world
Engineering consulting firm DMC has been helping clients improve the productivity of manufacturing facilities since 1996. Their impact has been felt in the automobile industry, the food and beverage industry, and even in the production of Navy battleships. To streamline and safeguard their development process across multiple PLC programming environments, DMC relies on Copia.
“A 45-minute process now takes 15 minutes,” says DMC Project Director John Sullivan. “When leading multiple projects, our senior engineers are saving up to a day a week, because of the faster code reviews. Plus, we’re reviewing more frequently. We’re catching more mistakes before they get deployed or tested. And because we always see the visualized code before merging, we’re also making fewer mistakes.”
In addition to improving new forward-looking development, the Copia versioning system also makes looking backwards so much easier. Codebases move quickly, and developers move on to new projects and new companies. Clients will frequently have questions or update requests on code that was first deployed a decade ago, and the engineers who wrote it are often long gone. DMC calls this the “10-Year Problem.”
“Now, with Copia, moving forward, anyone on our team will be able to handle the 10-Year Problem without the original engineer who worked on the project,” says Sullivan. “Having the context and information from the entire lifecycle of a project is super valuable.”
PLC development can be better
If a firm like DMC, who has their finger in every manufacturing pie, is finding Copia to be an essential tool for remaining competitive, it is certain that those who continue to do things the old way will soon be left behind. The world runs on code. And, when it comes to PLCs, that code runs on Copia. “If your automation team is looking to increase productivity and quality, Copia is easy to learn and easy to adopt,” he says. “I can’t imagine ever going back to the old way of doing things.”