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At 2010 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), 22 companies took part in the MTConnect demonstration at the Emerging Technology Center. They showed how this communications standard facilitated the sharing of data between manufacturing equipment and useful software applications. Despite the success of this demo, I detected a lingering concern among some suppliers that MTConnect will diminish the value of their existing commercial products and take away sales. As is, MTConnect simply specifies a neutral, Internet-friendly format for the data generated by CNC machines and related equipment. This format makes the data “easier to get at” so it can be shared and used in applications, such as machine monitoring and integrated automation.
That’s what has a few suppliers worried. On certain levels, MTConnect enables end users (and competitors) to bypass their proprietary systems or software applications. For example, a machine tool builder that has developed a custom machine monitoring system may find that complying with the MTConnect standard gives potential buyers the option of creating a home-grown machine monitoring application based on the data accessibility that MTConnect gives them. This accessibility may also give other potential buyers the option of choosing a competitor’s system that was formerly impossible or difficult to interface.
In fact, MTConnect was designed to achieve a new level of “plug-and-play” connectivity among various equipment from multiple suppliers. Clearly, the benefits of this exchangeability have compelled numerous suppliers to adopt MTConnect as a means of facilitating data communication. They have concluded that this compatibility enhances the value of their products to end users, even if this “openness” diminishes the exclusivity of certain proprietary applications or systems. It’s a trade-off they see as favorable in the marketplace.
That’s the point. In a free market, more choices for buyers mean more competition for suppliers. This works both ways. MTConnect creates opportunities to develop new products or add new data-sharing features and capabilites to existing products at a lower cost, making them more valuable to buyers—and thus more attractive than a DIY system or one from another supplier. The decision to adopt MTConnect is entirely dependent on perceived market-driven demand. Suppliers and buyers must decide for themselves whether MTConnect gives them a competitive advantage. That’s the case with any new technology.
The developers of the standard, now operating as the MTConnect Institute, a not-for-profit, independent organization (mtconnect.org
), were careful to avoid restrictions that might hinder its adoption on a voluntary basis. For that matter, there is no restriction on how products “powered by MTConnect” can be made available to the marketplace. In fact, a number of suppliers and end users have chosen to share developments based on MTConnect for free. That’s because they think promoting the standard this way is in their best interest.
MTConnect Is For Real
Introduced at IMTS 2008, this communications protocol for CNC machines and other manufacturing equipment is already helping shops and plants implement effective machine monitoring systems. Although these "early adopters" are motivated by the long-term promise of enterprise-wide efficiency gains, their experience with pilot projects shows that benefits derived in the short term are substantial and worthwhile.