MTConnect is a set of specs and standards designed to make it easier for information to be exchanged among shopfloor equipment such as machine tool CNC units, data analysis software and factory monitoring systems (see Thinking About Shopfloor Interoperability—And Making It Happen). MTConnect is a welcome development and AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology (www.amtonline.org) is to be commended for sponsoring it. It appears that AMT has wisely avoided the mistakes and misjudgments that have hampered other efforts to put forth industrial communications standards.
The initial release of MTConnect is nearing completion. Demonstrations of the standard are planned for IMTS 2008.
In the meantime, here’s what needs to happen: Users of CNC machines and other manufacturing equipment should learn about MTConnect and find out how it will help them get a greater return on capital investments. MTConnect will enable factory managers to use data from this equipment to cut costs, optimize machining results and increase productivity. Users should start asking machine tool builders and other equipment suppliers about MTConnect compliance and indicate that compliance will be specified for future acquisitions.
Equipment suppliers should prepare to adopt MTConnect. Because MTConnect is based on open standards for communication and data representation, it is constructed to be implemented easily. In many cases, complying with MTConnect will enhance the value of a machine’s technical innovations and make them more compelling to end-users. In other words, MTConnect compliance can be an advantage in the marketplace.
Equally important, equipment suppliers should step up their efforts to work together to offer integrated solutions. MTConnect takes care of many details about data communication, so developers can concentrate on higher-level capabilities that exploit the synergy between related manufacturing technologies.
Innovations such as MTConnect run the risk of getting caught in a chicken-or-the-egg syndrome. Suppliers hang back, waiting for user demand to materialize. Meanwhile, users hang back, waiting to see if enough compliant products are available to justify the investment. Neither side should let that happen.