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So, You Want to Implement MTConnect?

Neil Desrosiers
By Neil Desrosiers Developer of Digital Solutions, Mazak Corp.

Shops today must track or measure their manufacturing operations to improve them. This need drives the growing use of MTConnect—an open, royalty-free protocol for extracting data from practically any piece of equipment, including machine tools and other manufacturing systems. The integration of MTConnect is a major undertaking, and can be a bit challenging unless certain preparations are made ahead of time. Of all the prerequisites and factors to consider, the most critical are a strong desire for improvement and a willingness to analyze and use the collected data.Shops must address other key considerations, too, among them:

Connection. Shop must have a correctly installed Ethernet network, and all the equipment earmarked for monitoring should be connected to it. While some machines and equipment come network-ready, others may require additional hardware that can vary from one piece of equipment to the next. A hardwired network is recommended because it usually provides a better connection than wireless networks, in terms of consistency and reduced risk of interference.

Compliance. Once machines and equipment are networked, they must be MTConnect compliant/compatible to support the protocol. The ages of involved manufacturing systems will dictate whether software and/or hardware adapters are needed. Very different and older machines can all be made MTConnect compliant. Machine tool compliance is OEM specific, and several builders offer an MTConnect option. If a shop passed on the option at the time of purchase, those builders will supply step-by-step instructions that map out exactly what is needed for MTConnect compliance.

Software. Once equipment is compliant, third-party monitoring and manufacturing-execution software is needed to gather and organize collected data. This software should be easy to use and allow for customized reports to address varying needs across the organization. It should also store collected data and archived reports on a dedicated network server or a cloud-based system.

Goals. Next, shops must determine goals by answering some key questions: What information do we hope to glean and what will be done with the collected data? Utilization (calculation of production, planned vs. unplanned time) and dashboards (real-time snapshots) are simple goals attained with basic-level third-party software.

However, loftier goals—feeding data back into an existing management system or measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)—can be more involved and require more robust third-party software. Regardless of goal complexity, third-party software must easily integrate with a company’s native management systems.

Big Brother Effect. A fourth consideration is the big brother effect where employees perceive they are under surveillance in an effort to assign blame or hold them accountable for production inefficiencies. To prevent this, the entire organization should be exposed to MTConnect from the start so they understand it as a monitoring tool for process improvement, which will ultimately make their jobs easier and more efficient while increasing the organization’s productivity.

The front office team should also expect changes as MTConnect is implemented. Not all inefficiencies and bottlenecks originate in manufacturing. In fact, many are the result of managerial decisions and/or compromises made in the past for any number of reasons.

Up and running. Once up and running, shops must continuously look for improvements. After collecting all the low hanging fruit, shops need to meticulously analyze data—drilling deeper into processes, flow, manpower and other areas of operation—and continue to set target improvements.

Finally, MTConnect is a commitment, but it’s a worthwhile one for shops that are serious about being lean and improving operations.

This article was first published in the May 2015 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.

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