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September’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) was a successful proving ground for MTConnect, the emerging communications standard intended to foster greater interoperability among computerized controls, devices and software applications. Demonstrations held at IMTS showed that the concept is working. For example, two dozen equipment manufacturers used their implementations of MTConnect to interface with a single network application that instantly displayed the status of any selected machine connected to the network. Clearly, OEMs are embracing MTConnect. The user community is also showing strong interest in the concept. Big plants and small shops visiting IMTS say they want and need the interconnectivity promised by the standard.
"MTConnect is now at a crossroad. To move forward, the standard has to transition to its next level of implementation, funding and development," says Paul Warndorf, vice president of technology at AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology. AMT is the organization that launched the MTConnect initiative in 2007 and provided the seed money for its development.
Further implementation of the standard requires suppliers to create applications that take advantage of MTConnect’s "plug-and-play" capability. Imagine being able to link any machine tool CNC to your shop control software so that it can automatically extract finished part counts, actual cycle times, cutter usage data and other info tracked by the CNC. Shop schedules and job status reports could be updated in real-time. Such productivity-enhancing uses are needed to make interest in MTConnect self-sustaining.
Although AMT provided the initial funding, open-source standards such as this ultimately have to rely on a coalition of users and developers to pay for its continued development and support. The MTConnect Technical Advisory Group is exploring approaches for soliciting and coordinating this funding. Options include creating an MTConnect foundation or establishing a fee structure to take part in advisory committees.
Finally, MTConnect needs further enhancement. Although the concept has been proven, the standard as it exists today is like a language with a fundamental set of grammar rules but only the basic vocabulary for simple conversations about CNC milling and turning. Other processes such as waterjet and robotics will need to have sets of terms and definitions established to facilitate communication in their respective uses.
MTConnect may be at a crossroad but it is by no means at a standstill. Getting involved in ongoing activities related to the standad is simply a matter of registering interest at the MTConnect Web site, www.mtconnect.org. Companies and organizations are invited to join a technical advisory group. Individuals can get more details about the standard at this Web site, too.
MTConnect is intended as a standard for use around the world. AMT actively promoted the standard at the recent JIMTOF show in Tokyo, Japan, where interest is growing rapidly.
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