The Power is in the Apps

Software programs that work with data made accessible by the MTConnect communications protocol are coming on strong. See them at IMTS 2010.

“Growing demand for MTConnect-enabled apps will clinch lasting acceptance of the standard.”

Columns From: 8/23/2010 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

MTConnect, which as introduced at IMTS 2008, is a communications protocol for CNC machine tools and other manufacturing equipment. At IMTS 2010, MTConnect will be making another splash. This time, it will be the applications (“apps”) that put to good use the data MTConnect makes accessible. For example, think about buying a laptop. The “Intel Inside” sticker means that the device has the processing power and speed for the media players, networking programs and other apps that you really want. So, too, an indication of “MTConnect Enabled” will be the assurance of compatibility you’ll want for productive connectivity on the shop floor. This means that promoting the apps, not the standard, is the new center of attention.

 
At this IMTS, for example, Mazak will be showing two new software apps in its “Mazak Digital Solutions For the Industry—MTConnect” kiosk in its booth. One of these is an Energy Dashboard, a display interface that creates an at-a-glance reading of a machine’s energy usage and related data. MTConnect simply provides the format for the data being collected by sensors on the machine so that algorithms in a software program can organize the data into useful displays and reports. System Insights Inc., the software team working with Mazak to develop this app, has also created a factory management app that monitors real-time performance of equipment and uses computational algorithms to detect opportunities for eliminating unplanned downtime and reducing planned downtime. It will also be on display in the kiosk.
 
Focus on apps for MTConnect also will be evident elsewhere at the show. The MTConnect Institute, the organization responsible for coordinating the standard’s development and adoption, expects eight other user apps for MTConnect to be demoed at the Emerging Technology Center. Apps for iPhones and other web-enabled handheld devices are also expected to crop up. ITAMCO, for one, plans to debut an iPhone app that lets users dial up machines with MTConnect on board to check status remotely. It will be free to download.
 
Compelling apps using MTConnect-compliant data represent a breakthrough for the standard. At a recent MTConnect Technical Advisory Group meeting, there was talk of reaching a tipping point—a moment when the growing demand for MTConnect-enabled apps will clinch lasting, widespread acceptance of the standard.
 
In the meantime, much behind-the-scenes work on extending and enhancing the standard is taking place through the Institute and the working groups it sponsors. Participation is growing with the addition of new members and implementers. A good place to get useful background and news about the standard’s ongoing development is mtconnect.org. The launch of a newly redesigned web site is planned to coincide with IMTS. More information about MTConnect at IMTS is also available on several web pages at imts.com.
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