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Brothers in arms make real progress on data standards

Russell Waddell Managing Director MTConnect Institute
By Russell Waddell Managing Director, MTConnect Institute

As manufacturing marches forward into the digital era, a growing ecosystem of standards is laying the foundation for a new generation of data management. Standards are necessary for any information economy to scale up because they free up companies to focus on value-add functions instead of normalizing data.

MTConnect is now one example of a successful standard in this space, with more than 10 years of history and installs on more than 50,000 devices worldwide.

Despite this success, the scope and reach of MTConnect remain limited by design, and the standard relies on other standards to be most effectively implemented.

The MTConnect standard is the world’s most complete semantic vocabulary for manufacturing tech, providing data definitions for equipment, components and processes like milling, turning, grinding, inspection, material handling, accessories and the related materials. These definitions are created by and for volunteers from industry. But data definitions alone are not enough for smart manufacturing.

Cooperation between the OPC Foundation and MTConnect Institute shows what a transparent and collaborative approach can achieve. Between September 2018 and February 2019, a joint working group integrated MTConnect definitions and data models into the OPC UA framework, published by the OPC Foundation as “OPC 30070-1: OPC UA for MTConnect, Part 1: Device Model Release 2.00.00.”

Multiple system integrators and end users then completed real-
world, open-source implementations and commercial deployments, validating the joint work effort.

Demand was strong because OPC + MTConnect offers:

  • a secure and robust data transport protocol (OPC UA);
  • semantic data definitions for manufacturing technology (MTConnect) and
  • a large global installed base (OPC UA and MTConnect).

OPC Foundation has over 40 partners on companion specifications and like the MTConnect Institute takes an open and industry-oriented approach to standards.

By opting to work with partners on companion specifications, OPC Foundation has allowed complete integration with industry domain vocabularies and semantic information models like MTConnect.
OPC UA is designed to interoperate with other standards, an effective design feature that allows both existing and new standards to seamlessly align core concepts.

Demand for interoperable standards continues to grow. The OPC Harmonization Working Group, for example, is defining “common modelling constructs usable in a generic way.” Best practices for language, data modeling and model representation are beginning to emerge at other standards bodies and industry/government consortia.

Standards sanctioning bodies are also attempting to coordinate and harmonize and minimize duplication and competing standards. It is imperative that national standards bodies and representatives of industry be present in these global efforts, and that national- and industry-level organizations strive for openness and transparency in their own standards activities.

Industry standards for manufacturing data can be slow to develop.The payoff is faster, easier, cheaper integration of equipment and information systems.
For smart manufacturing at individual firms, digital literacy is a critical skill. A working knowledge of how standards interoperate and relate to production needs will give firms an edge in architecting smart manufacturing systems and engaging with digital manufacturing customers and supply chain players.

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