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What Price Peace Of Mind?

01 January 2005

Imagine it: your factory's running fine, then bang! You've somehow lost your control software, it's irretrievable and everything is grinding to a halt. What do you do next? Well, Rexroth, at least, is helping its customers avoid such disasters with a new service for factory managers that mirrors what banks and large commercial organisations have been doing for years: secure back-up

Given the true cost of machine downtime - anything from lost manufacturing capacity to dented customer confidence - the modest cost of securely archiving copies of control software becomes a shrewd investment. Typically, a machine or factory automation system is installed, commissioned and regularly maintained throughout its working life. A preventative maintenance schedule is usually arranged to ensure
that wearing components are replaced well before they fail. As a 'non-wearing' item, software usually falls outside conventional maintenance programmes. However, for reasons ranging from electrostatic discharge damage or hard disk drive failure, to flood or theft, companies should recognise the real potential for software loss.

With many of its systems serving the automation needs of factories throughout the world, Rexroth is keen to instil the practices of the commercial community into the minds of factory managers, and has subsequently introduced a new service to achieve just that. In practice, a Rexroth service engineer visits the customer's site, mirrors the control and drive software, burns copies to CD-ROM and sends the back-up to the customer. Then, as an option, the company will add an extra layer of security by placing a copy of the CD in a fireproof safe at its headquarters. The service can be applied in any factory environment where automation plays a critical role in the production processes.

In the commercial world, companies offering software and data back-up services abound. Yet, in the industrial sector the subject is rarely discussed. Given the potential cost of machine downtime in an industrial environment, coupled with the probability of unexpected software loss, the importance of failsafe back-up procedures becomes clear.

After a company installs a machine there is no guarantee they will automatically back-up the drive and control software, says Rexroth service manager, Richard Chamberlain. In the worst case scenario, software loss might be followed by the sudden realisation that even the original machine manufacturer can't supply a replacement. This problem is compounded if the software is bespoke or modified. Without a back-up the only answer could involve days or weeks of effort rewriting the software. With a back-up, the machine could be back in action in hours. To prove the service's value, one Rexroth customer in the lighting industry has already invested several thousand pounds in multiple back-ups for its numerous control and drives systems.

The service was originally conceived as a result of Rexroth's regular team briefings. It was suggested that the software back-up facility would add extra value to service visits. The idea was picked up and developed into its present commercial offering on three levels. Firstly, if a service engineer is already on site, the cost of providing the back-up service is just £100. Secondly, if a customer requests a specific back-up service visit, there is a £240 set-up fee, followed by £70/hour. Finally, for an additional £10/year (over a five-year period) the company will provide the added insurance of storing a spare CD copy in its safe. The service is renewable on expiry of the five-year period.

As well as end users, OEM customers are also taking advantage of this service. Machine tool manufacturer, Mazak, which makes extensive use of Rexroth automation equipment, keeps software back-ups at its service divisions serving key geographical regions. Even OEMs without this sort of global presence

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