Case Study: How One Company Saved Hours on Code Review With Version Control Software

Version control software allows manufacturers to automatically save code revisions across teams. Learn how Automation NTH leveraged this strategy to save countless hours and increase reliability.

Version control software allows manufacturers to automatically save each version of code that teams produce on their sites within a communal repository. This offers a centrally stored source of truth without sorting through saved files on multiple computers with multiple versions of each project to find the live code.

Teams can work together better by seeing what changes are being made to the code, by whom, and with context. For example, if there is a code break, it’s possible to look back at the last version of the code available to get things back up and running. See how one company used version control software to take a critical step in the journey of modernization, increasing efficiency and overcoming hurdles to provide customers with better products and superior service.


The Challenge

Automation NTH had all the automation skills and know-how, but lacked the tools to achieve full visibility into its code development process across all the tools and controls in a given project.

Founded in 1999, Automation NTH provides custom automation equipment and system integration services to the life sciences and medical device industries. The company guides its customers through successful automation equipment projects and programs to help them quickly level up to the highest manufacturing industry standards and improve production efficiency, reliability, and scalability.


Example of version control software

Figure 1. The main goal of version control software is to compare revisions in a code, including ladder diagrams, backed up at regular intervals. Image used courtesy of Copia


However, Automation NTH found that its software development cycle needed optimization of its own. Specifically, it was hampered by its inability to compare altered code with the original code on record, which made it difficult to identify any hotfixes or new developments that had been implemented for control products from Rockwell Automation and others.


The Solution – Version Control Software

Version control platforms provide solutions based on well-established IT DevOps processes within an operational technology framework, providing unprecedented visibility and control over industrial code in development, production, and management throughout project lifetimes. The result is a repository for industrial automation code that provides for full collaboration, extra fine version control, and super tight backup and security. Version control provides access to all automation code to everyone who needs it.

Copia Automation was able to provide Automation NTH with the ability to compare code over multiple versions and enable peer reviews, as well as become the single source of truth for all its controls code and provide secure backup of that code to recover from any unforeseen outages.

The compare tool has significantly enhanced productivity for NTH on projects where clients need to track changes across multiple softwares. Landon Pauls, a controls engineer from NTH, shared, “In a recent project involving Allen Bradley PLCs, we relied on a compare tool from another vendor that we found cumbersome. With Copia, our efficiency soared, saving an average of a couple hours per person each week. It is simply faster and more readable than other methods NTH has tried.”


Scheduling software update backups

Figure 2. Backing up code revisions can be scheduled at periodic intervals. Image used courtesy of Copia


Automation NTH was first introduced to the solution at an industry trade show, explained Automation NTH Project Manager Chris Secrest. The team was immediately drawn to the code comparison functionality, which offered significant advantages over other tools used in the past. It also provided the robust version control and documentation capabilities necessary to meet FDA compliance standards, critical for validated equipment.

Once Automation NTH had chosen Copia to solve the productivity problems, the next step relied on a rapid and successful implementation of the solution.

“The implementation process was smooth and highly collaborative,” said Secrest. “We were provided with excellent training resources and migration assistance. We were up and running in no time. They’ve been stellar partners all along the way, making it easy for us to see benefits quickly.”


With Clarity Comes Power

One of the particularly useful benefits include the ability for the Automation NTH dev team to collaborate on the same files in real-time.

The ability to conduct peer reviews is significantly improved, as the platform includes built-in tools that allow the team members to check each other’s code, leave comments, and notify each other of any changes that were made.


Data dashboard for version control software

Figure 3. For any collaborative software, it should be easy to analyze the need for revisions, backups, and reviews. Image used courtesy of Copia


“It’s sped our process up at least by a few times compared to before,” said Automation NTH Controls Engineer Landon Pauls. “Making updates to projects is a much faster process because multiple people are able to access the same files and see the whole picture.”

The engineering team is now able to gain a clear snapshot of everything that has changed in a code, saving many hours of valuable review time, all in a friendly format that the customer can view as well. Being able to verify that a code was properly saved and released and knowing that the proper code is being implemented into the customer’s management system, these can be game changers when compared to traditional processes. According to Seacrest, “The process has been transformational for us.”


All Systems Go

By implementing version control software, Automation NTH has gained robust code-comparison capabilities and achieved sizable improvements in development velocity, quality control, collaboration, and regulatory compliance. The approach has empowered Automation NTH to optimize its critical processes for its pharmaceutical manufacturing clients so they can continue to lead the way to optimized automation for many years to come.

According to Automation NTH Controls Engineer Caleb Deal, “For systems integrators that work with industrial automation software, Copia is a no-brainer for all the benefits it offers.”


Featured image used courtesy of Adobe Stock

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