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Are You Being Held Hostage by Your Material Handling Provider?

Greg Conner | 03 July 2018

The Importance of Open Controls Architecture.

One of the most important questions you should ask before choosing your material handling systems provider is: do they program in an open controls architecture?  The implications of the answer might surprise you.

What is open controls architecture?

Open controls architecture is the exclusive use of accessible, non-proprietary controls programs and the unrestricted ability of the end user to access and modify the raw PLC (Programable Logic Controller) code. The majority of material handling system providers program in a closed architecture and lock the end user from making changes.  In some cases, the PLC code can be viewed, but changes require direct involvement from the material handling systems provider.  Often the end user will not be able to view the code at all.  This is often referred to as a “black box”. There are many reasons why material handling systems providers will claim that closed controls architecture is necessary.  They may say that allowing others to make changes could result in undesired consequences, system downtime, or creates a safety liability.  These are nothing more than scare tactics. The proposals and contracts of companies that utilize closed controls architecture often include language like “proprietary” and “remain the property of”.  The very notion that PLC code is proprietary is absurd.  You should seriously question the company’s motivations before entering into a long-term relationship.  PLC programming code is not "one size fits all."  Instead, it’s nearly 100% unique to your specific material handling system – so how could it be proprietary?  If you are paying a company to design a configuration that is only applicable to your specific system, how is it right for them to retain ownership?

Why don't more companies use open controls architecture?

The real motivation of companies that only program in a closed-controls architecture is to hold you hostage. By eliminating your ability to work with other providers, they keep you as a customer for the life of your system.  Regardless of their performance, you as the end user have no choice but to continue working them.  Every single change, regardless of scope, will have to involve this company.  With zero competition, one can only imagine how much future modifications and enhancements will cost! At Bastian Solutions, we only program in an open, non-proprietary controls architecture.  We have been committed to this open concept since the very first system we provided, giving our clients flexibility and peace of mind.  To us, open-controls architecture not only means access to the PLC code, but access to the design comments inserted by our programmers.  In essence, at the conclusion of a project, you as the end user have complete access to your system and the documentation necessary for any competent controls engineer to reference.  Very few, if any, companies will provide this. At Bastian Solutions, we strive to earn your continued business with exceptional service and unique solutions, not hold you hostage. Learn more about our industrial controls services for your next material handling automation project.

Author: Greg Conner

I joined Bastian Solutions in 2005 after graduating from Purdue University. My first role was as a project engineer before transitioning to a field application engineer. After seven years, I became regional director of Indiana, overseeing all local FAEs as well as Bastian Solutions’ e-commerce business. In 2016, I was promoted to Vice President, Eastern U.S. where I oversaw sales and operations for all Eastern U.S. offices. In 2019, I was promoted to Vice President of Global Sales, now overseeing international operations and global marketing.


Stefanie Hardy says:
8/30/2018 01:56 PM

Awesome article!

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