Mark Albert is editor-in-chief of Modern Machine Shop Magazine, a position he has held since July 2000. He was associate editor and then executive editor of the magazine in prior years. Mark has been writing about metalworking for more than 30 years. Currently, his favorite topics are lean manufacturing and global competitiveness. Mark’s editorial activities have taken him to numerous countries in Europe and Asia as well as across the United States many times. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana).
The whitepaper photo above depicts the Three As of MTConnect:
agents, adapters and applications.
MTConnect is an open and royalty-free standard for manufacturing that is connecting manufacturing equipment with applications by using proven Internet protocols. But MTConnect is not an application. Applications are software products designed to use data in the specified MTConnect format for such purposes as machine monitoring, energy usage management, cutting tool control and many others. A new whitepaper from the MTConnect Institute is designed to help software developers create applications that take advantage of the valuable data generated by manufacturing equipment that was more difficult to access before MTConnect appeared.
Although the content of this whitepaper is rather technical and thorough, it is readable and well-organized, so any shop interested in what MTConnect can do to improve operations ought to check it out for its insights into the inner workings of useful applications. The paper includes an overview of MTConnect, definitions of key terms, illustrations of essential concepts and basic outlines of application architecture. The whitepaper is available here.
Jim Ellison has a unique view of U.S. manufacturing. His lifetime of involvement in machine tool distribution gives him a rare perspective on the forces that have shaped U.S. manufacturing in the last 50 years. Combine that with his knowledge of manufacturing’s role in the development of the country since its founding, and the result is a deep insight into how our current situation arose.
He recently penned an essay to promote an understanding of what is being hailed today as the renaissance of American manufacturing. An exceptional aspect of this analysis is his commentary about U.S. machine tool distributors, which played a key role in our transition to globally sourced manufacturing technology. For the full essay, click here.
Mazak Corporation is converting its Florence, Kentucky, manufacturing plant over to the MTConnect open communications protocol. The transformation will allow Mazak to monitor its manufacturing equipment and gather valuable data that will be used to further improve manufacturing operations. The company believes this is the first such installation in the machine tool OEM industry.
Mazak has been a leader in its embrace of MTConnect as a powerful tool for manufacturers to improve productivity, machine utilization and efficiency. Mazak offers all of its machines with MTConnect compatibility and reports that more than 100 Mazak customers are at various stages of MTConnect integration involving approximately 300 machines of various model types.
“MTConnect’s value to our customers is in the ability for them to establish extensive and open channels of communication for plug-and-play interconnectivity between devices. MTConnect allows software to be universally applied between different types of machine models so that information is readily available for improving machine tool utilization,” says Brian Papke, president of Mazak Corporation.
Mazak will initially monitor overall equipment efficiency. The company will also use MTConnect for several custom applications to monitoring machine tool spindle sensors for valuable maintenance data, as well as tracking part cycle times to benefit the company’s scheduling department. The company is also incorporating mobile apps to give Mazak managers and other key personnel access to live real-time data from equipment monitoring dashboards via mobile devices.
According to Neil Desrosiers, Mazak’s developer of digital solutions, the potential of MTConnect will be clear when data collected at the plant clearly results in improved machine utilization. This data will be available for review to those attending Mazak’s Discover 2013 event beginning October 8, 2013. By that time, most machines in the Kentucky factory will be able to be monitored via iPhones.
Talk about “shop floor visibility.” Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO) has released MTConnect + Google Glass, a free Glassware application that monitors machine tools using Google Glass. Google Glass is a heads-up display, camera, touchpad, microphone, email and Internet connection built into a spectacle frame. A special lens puts text and images right in front of your eyes—literally.
What ITAMCO has done is couple this technology with MTConnect functionality. MTConnect is the open-source standard for collecting and communicating real-time information generated by manufacturing processes and factory floor equipment from a variety of vendors. The standard specifies the XML data format, so flowing data on to the Internet is virtually seamless. For example, with MTConnect + Google Glass, a user can walk up to the machine tool and instantly see a display of its current status, efficiency, energy usage and other vital data as approved by the wearer.
Google Glass users will be liberated from laptops and hand-held smart devices and be able to travel the entire shop floor, gathering and sharing machine data provided by MTConnect, and accessing the internet for more information as he goes, says Joel Niedig, of the developers at ITAMCO.
Some details about the app give a good indication of the power of this technology (and the value of MTConnect as an enabler): Data streams from MTConnect agents directly to Google Glass. Google Glass recognizes the machine tool, grabs appropriate information and parses the stream to display it in a user-friendly way for the Google Glass wearer. The user will be able to view the following information from the MTConnect-compatible equipment: Power Status, Emergency Stop, Alarm/Messages, Block, Controller Mode, Line, Program, Execution, Path Feed-Rate, Spindle, Axis Positions, Spindle Overrides, Feed-Rate Overrides, Machine Location, Part Location, and Current Part Status. Also, if there is a camera inside the machine, Google Glass will stream the video to the user and overlay the machine data so the user can compare, analyze and make quick decisions. The user could record and share this data seamlessly with all appropriate parties.
At the moment, availability of Google Glass is restricted as developers of the device continue refining its performance and testing user experiences. Consumer versions of these spectacles are expected to be released in 2014. In the meantime, ITAMCO’s app shows the promise of these devices to benefit manufacturing.
We reported that the MTConnect Challenge 1 sought innovative ideas for applications using MTConnect, an open, royalty-free set of communications standards intended to foster greater interoperability between manufacturing equipment. The five winners, each awarded a $5,000 cash prize, were recently announced. Now the MTConnect Challenge 2 has been opened. This challenge is seeking the development of software applications that harness innovation and manufacturing intelligence using data acquired via MTConnect. First prize is $100,000. Click here for details.