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Hey Sean…I feel your pain! Firmware/revision level management is almost a job unto itself when managing it on a large scale. Generally, when I was in that type of overseeing position, I made it a rule that only major versions were even considered for upgrading. Meaning that the XX.001, XX.002 etc. were generally not considered unless there was an absolutely good reason to do so.
Now your are talking about two “problems” here. One is the firmware revision level on the HMI terminal itself and the second is the FTV software version that is being used to develop the HMI application. Of course, the only real good answer to this is “Standardization” which it sounds like a good job of it is being done on the firmware side of things, but on the FTV software side its still a little loosy-goosy.
This is always a challenge when you have many fingers in the pot. My advice would be to ensure the customer for whom you have oversight over their equipment has a “spec” that calls out the hardware and software requirements, even if it’s you and your team that help them to develop it as a billable. And to ensure that time is made to review it every year. This will help to streamline not only these type of software issues, but also the hardware entering the facility that can quickly get out of hand.
I’ve seen the hardware spec’s get just as bad when you are getting controls components (i.e., photo-eyes, light curtains, prox’s, relays, network switches etc.) from every vendor under the sun! This becomes a nightmare for you end-customer when it comes to stocking spares parts or sourcing replacements when they fail!
Back to your original question of uploading the MER for decompiling via a VPN. Yes, that would a pain having to connect to the individual terminals to upload the file. Is it possible to have a repo or some kind of share setup where all of this is maintained like GIT? And having the OEM’s provide the Archive (.APA) file of the application within the corresponding revision date appended? This is generally what I would do and only reserve actual HMI uploads for extreme cases where it was necessary. Of course, it is the best way to ensure you have the latest build when in doubt, but this is where a versioning policy comes in, to ensure that any upgrades are properly dated and documented.
Ya Sean I’m not sure what the “good” answer is here other than standardization and policy that is distributed to all OEM’s prior to build that is strictly enforced.
This is a good conversation to start because it is one that we all deal with. Hopefully we’ll get some activity around this to see what the best practices out there are.