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Version Control Helps Keep the Steel Flowing

Auvesy’s versiondog software has been instrumental in the ability of Tata Steel Europe’s maintenance department to reduce downtime and improve efficiencies across its units.

Tata Steel is the second largest steel manufacturer in Europe. Source: Tata Steel Europe
Tata Steel is the second largest steel manufacturer in Europe. Source: Tata Steel Europe

Europe’s steel production plants are expensive propositions. To make them economically viable, it’s common for them to be running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and to be equipped with the latest updates in technology and systems. With this in mind, stoppages must be kept to an absolute minimum and, when stoppages are unavoidable, the ensuing downtime must be as short as possible.

Tata Steel—the second largest steelmaker in Europe, producing some 10 million tons of steel there—has relied extensively on its change management and version control software to handle these issues. Auvesy’s versiondog has shown itself to be an effective means to combat downtime as well as increasing production costs.

The software helps to enable a maintenance department that is able to react quickly when necessary and is as technologically up-to-the-minute as the production plants themselves. Versiondog also helps the plants pay close attention to lifecycle costs, notes Thomas Hörauf, an authorized officer for Auvesy, responsible for channel management and global accounts.

“A major cost factor is the energy demand in steel production,” he explains. “Therefore, it makes sense not only to consider the investment in the machines, but also the expenses for their operation. In this context, the analysis of lifecycle costs becomes important.”

With the lifecycle view within versiondog, the maintenance or quality team can determine which parts of the program are changing more often than they need to. “An optimization of these program parts not only leads to less downtime, but usually also to higher quality and quantity of the finished product,” Hörauf says. “Important set points and parameters are not negligently or accidentally changed. These are the reasons why versiondog customers often have an ROI below one year.”

Tata Steel has been using versiondog in some capacity for several years now. Its Ijmuiden plant in the Netherlands first began using the software in 2011 after support for its previous version control product was discontinued. Dutch control specialist Agilitec, which also became versiondog distributor for Benelux countries during that time, approached all of Tata’s decentralized units. “That’s how we came into contact with the central service group HTD,” recounts Yme Bosma, Agilitec’s CEO.

HTD (Hoogoven Technische Dienst) is the internal service provider for the maintenance departments of Tata Steel’s business units. Quickly recognizing the benefits of versiondog, the group made the software available on the central network to the individual business units, which can choose to take advantage of versiondog on a subscription basis. To increase the maximum number of components, the versiondog system is currently set to be upgraded to a parallel server system.


Centralized autonomy

The Ijmuiden plant is using versiondog across the board, on all production lines. But because Tata Steel business units have a high degree of autonomy, the way individual units use versiondog varies considerably. This shows how flexible the system is, notes Hassan El Haddad, technical automation specialist at HTD. “The fact that there are no rules set centrally also tends to lead to different units using versiondog in different ways,” he says. “But part of the essence of versiondog is that you never lose any data and you always document all changes, so there is no real need to impose any bureaucracy on the system.”

Tata Steel was already using one central server, which helps to save on maintenance costs. “However, every business unit has set up its own user group and does not want one business unit to see the data of the other,” Hörauf says. “This is easily possible through group authorization/user rights in versiondog and thus offers more data security in companies because each employee should only see the data with which he actually has to work with.”

Tata Steel Europe has 18 units and about 200 users with access to versiondog. The system administrators at HTD are able to centrally monitor and manage some 3,000 versiondog components. A major task that the software has been able to help with are backups of device control programs, which have been growing steadily—with some made daily, some weekly and some monthly. About 150 backups of the more critical equipment are made every day.

“In the past, we used to make backups for the sake of making backups,” El Haddad says. “With the number of devices we have, that was a huge waste of time. Now our teams know when a change has been made and when a backup is necessary.”

A key advantage of the versiondog system is that it supports both automatic and manual backup routines equally well, depending on whether devices are networked or standalone. “However versiondog is used, the benefits are the same: We always know who changed what and why,” HTD says. “Centralized documentation of changes is of tremendous value.”


Knowing the equipment

There are about as many version control systems as there is “sand by the sea,” Hörauf says, even some that are free to download from the Internet. But Auvesy is one of just three suppliers that focus on automation systems, all of which are better able to recognize differences in versions of automation. What sets Auvesy apart, Hörauf adds, is its ability to support a wide range of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and other devices. “Large customers with many production plants and different automation devices (USA, Rockwell; Europe, Siemens; and Asia, Mitsubishi) can use versiondog in all plants because we are represented everywhere and support these different devices,” he says.

A substantial improvement in HTD’s work comes from knowing the condition of all of the production equipment, making preventive maintenance much easier. “The more we know about our machinery, the better we are able to maintain it,” El Haddad says. “What’s more, we have more data available for analysis and we can use that to improve our processes.That’s what the Industrial Internet of Things is going to be about, but for us it is here today.”

The main goal for Tata Steel was to reduce downtime, and that has been achieved. “We now know exactly which version of any control program is the one currently in use; we don’t just think we know which one it is,” El Haddad says.

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