The first Sunday of each month is backup day at the Braas roofing tile plant in Obergräfenhain. The data records of all important controls and drives of the production line are backed up and stored on a central server protected against unauthorized access. 58 backups are made regularly: The tool for this is versiondog from Auvesy. A total of 530 components are now created in versiondog, including PLCs, drive units, sensors and safety elements.
Fully automated roofing tile production
The raw materials, mainly loam and clay from the surrounding area, are crushed and sumped to obtain a uniformly moist ceramic body. After a storage period, the material ready for processing is conveyed from the sump to a silo using a chain excavator. From the very first box feeder, everything in the production process is fully automatic. The material is pre-formed in the extruder, cut into slugs and pressed into roofing tiles. After the tiles are dried, with waste heat from the kiln, the tiles are coloured. The tiles are placed on the kiln cars and fired at approx. 1000° C. After the firing process the quality is controlled and the products are then packed. As large quantities of one type of roofing tiles are produced, format changes of the flat tiles are comparatively rare, mostly it is colour changes.
Maintenance in all-round operation
In principle, the lines run around the clock, seven days a week. Janko Köhler is together with his colleague Roland Richter working as technician in the maintenance department and administrators for versiondog. The two had initiated the use of the versioning software years ago and still maintain it today. Köhler explains: „The kiln must not go out. We all have one goal: production must keep running. If a malfunction occurs, we have to react immediately and avoid a standstill.“ The control of the tunnel kilns as crucial process units is under special observation.
The continuous production process leaves little scope for replacing a failed component or restoring the desired operating state after an electrical component or a control system has been replaced.
The PLC technician remembers with distress the time-consuming search for functioning data carriers with the latest software version of a component to be replaced. Shift operation, lack of time and the different understanding of the employees as to how data should be stored most sensibly were the main reasons for data records not being found or being outdated. But these times are over.
Automated data protection
Since 2018, the data management system has no longer been used only for version management and documentation – automatic backups are also made regularly – a further increase in efficiency. The prerequisite for this was created with a central server, which can now also be accessed by all other locations. Köhler: „In principle, each location organizes itself. However, versiondog is now used by many plants. The intensity is determined by each plant itself.“ For him, the data management system is the central point of contact: „Without versiondog, nothing works. The software is the central contact point and all maintenance staff always use versiondog to make program changes. It is the mother of all software, so to speak“.
As the processes had to be documented more closely, the need increased to save settings and make them available again quickly. Köhler: „In the past, we had to do everything by hand.“ Added to this were the enormous distances through production. In addition to these reasons, another important point for versiondog is the certainty of having documented the current software status. Data management and backup without versiondog would require at least one or two more employees at the Obergräfenhain site.
A total of 28 employees are working with versiondog and are authorized to check in and check out components at the systems. „In the beginning we used the EasyClient.“ The EasyClient facilitates the start by limiting the configuration to the most important functionalities. However, the employees have become familiar with the system in a very short time and now use the full UserClient.
Initially, says Köhler, he still printed out training documents for new employees. „But the software is so simple and self-explanatory that this is not even necessary.“ Within an hour, the most important steps can be explained: „The system queries all necessary entries. So, it‘s a piece of cake.“
Very practical is the possibility to also store manuals of a component in the respective component. In this way, it is always within reach – provided that the manual has also been digitally entered into the system.
All these simple functionalities naturally also increase the acceptance of the employees. The company employees are not critical of the fact that it is completely documented who has made which changes. On the contrary, as Janko Köhler says: „In our company, this is more used for motivation. If someone has actually made a mistake, then there is obviously a need for training.” With versiondog errors come to light faster and easier. „There are no complaints. We make the employees fit for the job.“
The implementation of versiondog did not require any changes in the structure of the data storage. „The integration went smoothly, and we simply save a lot of time by eliminating manual copy operations and synchronization errors.“ Much more security is created above all by the comprehensible documentation and (adjustable) archiving of data records. In the „pre-versiondog time“ data records have been „lost“ during synchronization; this tedious hurdle has now long been overcome thanks to versiondog: Köhler. „The versiondog software is now indispensable for us.“ True to the Braas company slogan: „Everything is well thought-out“.