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Connecting Critical Machines in a Data-Intensive World


Factory-floor data standard MTConnect has made steady progress in connecting machine tools

 Patrick Waurzyniak

By Patrick Waurzyniak
Senior Editor

Will MTConnect ultimately succeed in its goal of connecting machine tool equipment on the factory floor with the Internet? Odds are that it will, but it’s going to take time.

An executive of a shop-data management and networking company once told me that MTConnect would follow the path of wireless technology—it took quite some time before wireless gained a foothold in the factory, and he estimated it could take as long as 10 years for MTConnect to gain critical mass.

Big data, the Industrial Internet and the Internet of Things (IoT), smart factories and intelligent machines were hot topics last week at the [MC]2 MTConnect: Connecting Manufacturing Conference held in Orlando, FL. The MTConnect standard, first introduced to the machine tool world at IMTS 2008 by the non-profit MTConnect Institute (McLean, VA) and the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT; McLean, VA), is an open architecture, royalty-free protocol that aims to easily connect machine tools and other manufacturing equipment via proven Internet standards such as HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and XML (eXtensible Markup Language).

MTConnect has made some significant headway recently in the marketplace, as more manufacturing executives and shop floor management realize its importance and embrace the system’s ease of connecting new and older machine tool equipment to the Internet using the now readily available MTConnect adapters and agents. MTConnect gained a notable endorsement last week from CNC developer Siemens Industry Inc. (Elk Grove Village, IL), which announced an agreement under which TechSolve (Cincinnati) would work with Siemens as a solution partner and create MTConnect adapter software and agents for its Sinumerik CNC customers.

The payback on fully leveraging the wealth of manufacturing data from the shop floor is potentially huge. In a talk at MTConnect entitled “Smart Factory: Achieving Industry 4.0,” Mohamed AbuAli, chief operating officer of FORCAM Inc. USA (Cincinnati), stressed the importance of fully integrating shop-floor manufacturing data into the digital manufacturing enterprise.

Key metrics like OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) and TEEP (Total Effective Equipment Performance) give manufacturers critical insights on the efficiency of their manufacturing processes. “We don’t want to paralyze people with too much data,” said AbuAli. “This integration is critical. But they’re not at the point where they’re using the data to improve manufacturing systems.”

A schematic illustrates how a Siemens CNC can modified with TechSolve Adapter software, allowing machine data to be sent through an agent in MTConnect compatible language. The open-source MTConnect standard offers greater interoperability between devices and software applications, and machine builders can also make such modifications to their controls to suit customer needs.

New MTConnect solutions are helping manufacturing leverage actionable data to improve factory processes. “There are a number of ways to implement MTConnect,” said Ron Pieper, TechSolve’s program manager, VIZ Solutions. In Siemens’ case, TechSolve will be integrating MTConnect adapter software and agents with the Sinumerik CNC’s Operate HMI (human machine interface), he added. In addition to its Siemens partnership, TechSolve last week also announced MiniViz, a new simplified PC-based version of its MTConnect-compliant ShopViz asset-monitoring software aimed at small shops.

More innovative MTConnect systems could soon be on the horizon, as evidenced by the MTConnect Challenge 2 winners in Orlando. Sponsored by the office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Defense-wide Manufacturing Science and Technology (DMS&T) and overseen by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), AMT and the US Army Benét Labs, the first-place $100,000 prize went to Clemson University (Clemson, SC) graduate student Valerie Pezzullo for her innovation, “Machining Process Monitoring to Aid Chatter Identification,” that takes machining process information and monitors cutting conditions to reduce and prevent chatter and avoid unstable operating conditions.

Second place and $75,000 was awarded to Joe Neidig, technology manager at ITAMCO (Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies; Plymouth, IN), for the entry “Expanding Manufacturing's Vision: MTConnect + Google Glass,” which leveraged the heads-up display of Google Glass with an MTConnect Internet connection. The third-place $50,000 prize was awarded to freelance software developer Shane Crandall for his entry, “Promise,” an application offering users a blank canvas to create custom views of real-time data from MTConnect-enabled devices.

Published Date : 4/14/2014

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