“MTConnect: What’s it going to cost me?” Among machine tool users, misconceptions about this data communications standard are clouding the answer to that question. Some shops have the false impression that all MTConnect-related products will be free as Internet downloads. Their interest in acquiring it, however, is easy to understand. MTConnect promises real value to end users and vendors alike.
This communications standard is designed to unlock the data generated by the computers or microprocessing systems running most of today’s production equipment. Accessing this data and sharing it with other devices or software applications opens a world of possibilities for automating and streamlining shop operations. That is why developing a vendor-neutral, open-source and royalty-free standard, which specifies a digital format for capturing data and publishing it across a network, was a high priority. The initial version of the standard was introduced at IMTS 2008, where early adapters demonstrated “plug-and-play” connectivity among various pieces of equipment from multiple suppliers. It was a big hit at that show and again at IMTS 2010.
Apparently, what causes a little confusion is the standard’s royalty-free status. This simply means that developers can use it without paying anyone to do so. No license fees are involved. In fact, the standard’s source code and other useful support material can be freely downloaded at the web site (mtconnect.org) maintained by the MTConnect Institute, the not-for-profit organization set up to oversee the ongoing effort to extend and enhance this standard. By intent, no restrictions or obligations are imposed on developers or users who choose to implement it. So, if you develop an application or solution that uses MTConnect and decide to sell that as a product for profit, that’s perfectly fine. If you decide to keep it just for your own use or give it away free, that’s perfectly fine, too.
That’s why some MTConnect-enabled applications, such as highly functional machine monitoring systems, are likely to require a licensing fee. Other related software programs may be free. For example, members of the MTConnect user community share many “adapters” and “agents” at no charge. These are the software programs that must be installed so that a device can translate internally-generated data to comply with the standard (the role of an adapter) or present it in a database that can be interfaced to network communications programs (the role of an agent). The availability of these programs promotes wider implementation of the standard, and ultimately creates a market for the pay-to-use applications built around this new data exchange capability.
When considering any MTConnect implementation, potential users will have to judge for themselves if the cost/benefit trade-off is worthwhile. No doubt, many of the applications will be deemed great bargains when evaluated against the productivity gains to be realized.
Developing a Platform for Data-Driven Manufacturing
With the eventual goal of adding machine condition monitoring, this company began by installing an ERP system as a foundation to build upon, flattening the learning curve with each step toward achieving increased process oversight.