Gambica Supplement: Industrial Software Development – A Managed Science


Jan Hemper – Technical Director of InControl Systems – talks about the challenges of managing the development of software for OEMs.

One of the biggest challenges facing OEMs of machinery and specialist equipment is the reliance on and management of their control system developers, especially the programmers of PLC code or other types of software development.

Understanding the science of machine programming

In many cases the managers who face the challenge of specifying the machine operation and performance, and of finding the resource to perform the PLC code development, are rarely PLC programmers themselves. In all but the biggest of companies, the management team understands the base machine technology, the markets and the processes, yet are reliant on either a single internal PLC programmer, or an external contractor. Imagine the risks in being reliant on a single person and not knowing if a replacement programmer will have access to the source code, the tools, the files and the often forgotten supporting documentation if it ever existed.

Risk and reliance

In our experience, many OEM companies have a very small number of expert programmers, who are either employed or sub-contracted. And if you are reliant on just one or two people, how do you manage to deliver new machine variants or debug recently delivered machines, if your one expert is on vacation or sick leave?

Other considerations are needed to ensure that the programming of and your machine functionality are future-proofed and de-risked. You also may need to source additional PLC programmers who will either be part of their own payroll or be part of a sub-contracted service that can be relied upon and potentially switched to a different sub-contractor if the first one cannot meet your needs.

Managing the development of your PLC code might seem like a black art that you will never understand, but the implications of getting it wrong are enormous. For example, how much would it cost your business if you couldn’t ship any machines or equipment for 8 weeks whilst the PLC code was rewritten or ported to a new platform? Or how much business or market share would you lose, if your competitors engineered their machines to seamlessly connect into the world of Industry 4.0 and cloud-based analytics?