No More Call-Outs to ŠKODA Plant by Programmers Based outside Czechia

They can now utilise secure cloud-based remote access to PLCs – a solution specifically designed for and performing reliably in production. Read on to learn more about the deployment of Ewon Flexy 205 routers on ŠKODA AUTO's assembly line.

skoda ewon blog obr3ŠKODA AUTO a.s., Mladá Boleslav

The leading Czech automaker annually produces over one million cars worldwide. With increased focus on the production of electric vehicles, the plant is the birthplace of not only hybrids but also the fully electric ŠKODA Enyaq. The M13 assembly shop is home to the only assembly line in the world that makes both classic and electric cars.

When technicians are denied physical access to PLCs

The ŠKODA AUTO assembly line features many technologies that sometimes need to be adjusted. The companies that supplied them are based also abroad, for example in Germany, Austria and Belgium. Whenever alterations to a control system were required, the supplier had to send one of its technicians to Mladá Boleslav.

The assembly line operates in a three-shift mode, and modifications to it can only be made at weekends. After the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020 and subsequent border closures, technicians were denied access to machines. When restrictions were eased, carrying out call-outs, with personnel in and out of quarantine, remained a problem.

"We were looking for fast, effective, reliable remote access so that programmers could modify PLC codes from abroad. But there was one fundamental prerequisite – certain in-house IT requirements had to be met," said Michal Řezka, Assembly Strategy Planning Coordinator at the Mladá Boleslav-based ŠKODA AUTO plant.

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We cannot afford downtime

ŠKODA AUTO already uses a remote access system. Its IT specialists deployed it across the plant, in various departments and shops. While this solution is suitable for higher-level systems, for instance SCADA, it did not produce expected results for shop-floor-level PCs and PLCs.

"Control system programming is more of a challenge. And besides, we need much faster and much more reliable connection. During a remote access call-out, the programmer must never bring down the control program – not even for a second," said Řezka, explaining why he started looking for a replacement for the original system.

Although the replacement had been requested by production and maintenance personnel, it was the planning department that took charge. "We talked to Jaromír Peterka from FOXON about it, and he suggested trying the Ewon Flexy 205 router. During the first project stage, following deployment and introduction of the router to production, this solution proved to be simple and secure enough. Production staff were excited," said Řezka.

Covid accelerated the implementation

The Covid pandemic helped speed up the deployment. With technicians denied access to the plant, it was faster to obtain the necessary funds as well as permissions from the IT department.

So how does it work? Trough a reliable, secure VPN tunnel, the Ewon router connects the programmer's computer to a machine's control system, enabling the programmer to carry out exactly the same tasks as before, when they were on the plant floor, connected to the machine through cable. Every Ewon router is paired with its own Talk2M cloud account. Users sign in with their unique usernames and passwords. In addition, the solution supports two-factor authentication via SMS, providing an extra layer of security. Each programmer is only granted access to IP addresses that they need to connect to remotely – typically PLC controllers and HMI panels.

ŠKODA AUTO's control systems were equipped, in several stages, with a total of 40 Ewon routers. The company FOXON not only supplied the Ewons, but also helped set them up according to the stringent IT requirements in place. It also addressed problems resulting from interfacing the routers with obsolete control systems.

What makes it so special? Its simplicity

"What I love about this solution is how simple it is. In fact, I can uninstall it and deploy it anywhere else. It won't take longer than an hour to install it on to another PLC and configure it. Actually, in the paint shop there's only one router available, but the staff can deploy it wherever and whenever it's needed," said Řezka.

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Remote access to ŠKODA AUTO's machines through the Ewon Flexy is usually utilised by suppliers. And they are very contented, as at the production level this solution outperforms the original one. What is more, Ewon routers are sought-after by ŠKODA AUTO employees for remote work.

And the ROI? Huge

"In the M13 shop, we use about 5 remote access connections via Ewons every month. This is good though. The ideal situation would be not having to use them at all and not having to change PLC programs," said Řezka.

And what about the ROI? A single weeklong call-out by a technician based abroad costs about 5,000–6,000 euros. So if you have used the router at least once, you have achieved a tenfold ROI.

Ewons in every shop?

The planning department now share their experience with the affordable, simple, effective remote access with other ŠKODA AUTO shops. Given our new Covid reality, we may well see an increase in the use of such technologies.

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