Choosing software versions wisely
Every project requires clear scope and definition on what platform and software version will be used, but determining the most beneficial software version to use can easily be overlooked.
In an industry where technology is key, the automation world offers many different platforms for HMI, PLC, Historian, etc. Within each of those platforms though, there are different software versions to choose from. Choosing the latest version of software with the most up-to-date features can appear to be the best path for a new controls system, but can sometimes result in more problems than solutions. Below are some items to consider when selecting software versions for a controls system.
Release date of software
The timeframe of a project kick-off can be used to help determine what version of software to use. If the newest version of software comes out just a few months before the project is set to begin, the project team should discuss whether using the latest software is the best choice. Using a previous version that has been out for a much longer period of time and has been proven to perform well may be the best decision.
Known issues determined by the software supplier
Sometimes the software supplier will publish known issues about a version of software on their website or through their vendors, but not have a proven solution yet for those issues. If the software being considered has known yet unfixed problems, it would be in the best interest of the project to use a previous version that is known to work well until patches/fixes are issued for the newest version by the software supplier.
Internal use and testing of software
Another thing to consider when selecting a version of software is to determine if it has been used on other projects within the company. A lot of headache could be prevented by communicating with other offices and resources to get feedback on if the version selected has been used, and if so are there any issues. Also, it's always best for a company to do its own internal testing of software before developing a project and especially before deploying to the field for a customer.
New features offered that previous version(s) don't
If a customer requests the latest and greatest features from the latest software, it's important for the integrator doing the work for them to explain the new features offered that aren't available in the previous version. Selecting the newest version for a few features that aren't really necessary for the scope of the project, doesn't necessarily warrant using the new version. It's the responsibility of the integrator to explain to the client the risks of using the latest software vs. giving up a few "cool" features to use a version of software that has a proven track record of performing well.
This post was written by Adam Schuman. Adam is an engineer II at Maverick Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. Maverick delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization and more.
Maverick Technologies is a CSIA member as of 9/8/2015