Suppliers Speak Up About MTConnect
Growing support for MTConnect among suppliers is a strong indication that this communications standard is taking hold.
Here is a selection of comments from various suppliers to the manufacturing industry reflecting their viewpoints on MTConnect. All of them see this standard as a way to enhance the value of thier machine tools and other products.
Leveraging Already Robust Features
By Brain Papke, President
MTConnect has been of substantial interest to us from its early inception. At Mazak, we have seen it as an opportunity for manufacturers to improve utilization of their equipment while providing opportunities to realize the full potential of machine tools sooner than in the past. We see MTConnect as an important development. It lets us leverage the already robust control features of our machine tools. We see a number of significant benefits that MTConnect facilitates. MTConnect helps power machine monitoring, automatic alerts, connectivity and traceability, to name a few. For example, MTConnect helps power a flexible and easily implemented production monitoring system to view current machine status and overall equipment efficiency trends to make quicker, better decisions. Likewise, it helps power a reliable method to notify designated personnel concerning machine faults or conditions that require immediate attention. MTConnect facilitates a seamless integration of machines into a shop’s control and IT infrastructure enabling lean manufacturing. The standard can also power new approaches to product traceability, allowing users to capture audit trail data to document quality and satisfy reporting requirements.
Mazak recognizes companies such as I/Gear Online, LLC of Louisville Kentucky and System Insights of Berkeley California to develop and implement the MTConnect-powered utilities for Mazak and its customer base. We have several projects currently underway that demonstrate the value of MTConnect as an enabler. Mazak intends to make all of its current machine tool products MTConnect compliant. Mazak is a member of the MTConnect Technical Advisory Group and participates in the activities of the Working Groups.
Already, some large manufacturers have grasped the potential and have instituted the capability to their equipment. The implementation is fast and straightforward, making this technology easily within the reach of many manufacturers.”
Solving Problems In Shops Large And Small
By Scott Hibbard, Vice President of Technology, Electric Drives & Controls
MTConnect was conceived by the recognition of the need for an open communication standard in manufacturing by computer science experts and from input from small to mid-sized job shops. Those shops often have CNCs from more than one supplier on their floors, and struggle due to incompatibility in getting even basic information from them. Large scale high production projects, such as in automotive, aerospace, and farm implement industries may not have been as vocal in the beginning. The sheer size of their projects often affords them the luxury of dictating either a single supplier of controls, or conversely, an in-house standard that defines the communications methods to all control systems on the floor. There is a hidden waste to this however, from the repetitive creation of differing standards by each large user, to the customization programming required on the part of the machine suppliers as well as controls suppliers.
Bosch Rexroth sees a great benefit in the availability of a common standard for data access in these high production areas of application as well as the job shop environment. By developing to one standard, every user of MTConnect will benefit from the collective base of knowledge in the industry. Users, machine builders and controls suppliers will remove waste in projects by not reinventing a new network scheme for every project. Even more to the point, the use of conventional open standards makes this an almost "free" feature. Most modern CNCs use either PC or embedded PC technology for front end visualization and control interaction. Such architectures allow MTConnect to be added to a system with no additional hardware, little or no additional wiring, and essentially no additional cost. It's not often that a standard comes along where one can state that!
Machine Output In The Same "Language"
By Eric Ostini, Product Manager
At EMO 2009, AgieCharmilles used the MTConnect protocol to monitor two machines, a FI240ccs wire EDM and a new FORM 2000 diesinker EDM. Both machine had different controls so “Adapters” had to be created to change the output language of the machines control into the MTConnect language.
With the FI240ccs, an option called e-Supervision was used to retrieve the machine's information using a TCP connection, where as the FORM 2000 used a new option called AC Connect to send messages from the machine control out using a UDP connection. Not only were the controls different, but also the outputs from the machines were different. I say “were” because with “MTConnect agent” and an adapter I created for each machine control using Visual Basic 6.0, the output is now "in the same language." This means the software application used to monitor the machines was easy to create. It uses only 100 lines of code using Ruby.
Now that the machines are MTConnect compliant other “applications” such as RNS (Remote Notification Software) or Maintenance reporting applications or Machine utilization applications or etc… Now that the machines output is the same language one application (software) could be used to for multiple machines using different controls from the same manufacture or from different manufactures.
In addition to the demo at EMO, GF AgieCharmilles is supporting and promoting MTConnect in other ways. For example, we have developed and contributed sample code for programming in Visual Basic to MTConnect. This solution was created internally and made available to the MTConnect Institute to further the standard's development. I believe that MTConnect will do a lot to transform modern manufacturing. Increasing productivity and efficiency is the key to strengthening the global competitiveness of American manufacturers. Creating a common communication protocol for all manufacturing equipment will redefine the productivity we can achieve.
Linking To A Business System Is Critical
By Larry Schwartz, President
Okuma America Corp.
I believe that, in North America, manufacturers have been waiting for a platform to test and apply software and hardware provided by manufacturers other than machine tool builders. I also believe that manufacturers, for more years than we want to know, have been very eager to get information directly from the machine tool to understand manufacturing processes and identify areas of opportunity—in real-time. It’s remarkable that for a long time now, business systems can be readily integrated throughout multiple departments, can clearly handle the financial and accounting needs for businesses and can transfer that information globally, yet even within a single manufacturing facility the machine tool controller has remained isolated from these systems. It’s unthinkable that the machine tool, which we promote as a very sophisticated piece of equipment, has little or no ability to adapt itself to the ever-changing needs of manufacturing and business systems. So I think Okuma and its control engineering group clearly had an opportunity to listen to the voices of manufacturing leaders from all over North America. It was clear that they no longer wanted to deal with the issues of proprietary software—stifling their need to retrieve information, send information and use it to improve productivity.
The time has come to change this. I believe that Okuma has developed the technology that is closest to what they need. It’s my opinion that every machine tool builder in the world will have to respond to the same demand. Manufacturers don’t care how we handle motion control—that’s not the issue. What truly matters is how they use that machine tool in a productive way that goes beyond cutting metal efficiently.
MTConnect is promising, although it is still in its infancy stages. While it is maturing, I believe that someone needs to build a device to provide some level of integration to machine tools that are currently in the field. This device must be able to extract information in real-time as well as relay management’s response back to the control, even though this exchange may be somewhat limited. What is important is the potential of such a device to bridge the gap between the machine tool and the business system while a company waits to completely overhaul its plants to an open architecture control platform, a prospect that may not be feasible or financially possible. MTConnect can help create a software package that’s flexible enough to integrate with business systems while being able to interface that device to existing machine tool controls. That will allow the company to pick up whatever information is available from the controls. At first, this may be limited to spindle run time, which in my opinion is the lowest level, but the effort will still be valuable. As these devices are able to get additional information, their value will grow. I think these devices will ultimately play a key role in bridging the gap between the old and the new, thereby bringing manufacturing closer to a real-time environment in which information drives productivity upward.
My experience with MTConnect is that, for now, it’s very focused on device-to-device communication such as tool presetters talking to machine tools and vice versa. At this time, MTConnect isn’t really focused on the business systems side of integration. For example, an MTConnect working group for business systems hasn’t been formed yet. In time, as that focus emerges, the return on the investment in this standard will be much greater.
Okuma’s method of getting data in and out of the control is designed to enable connectivity and the openness to share information. I believe that this capability sets a foundation for manufacturing integration that will compel other control builders to move in this direction. We need to keep this momentum. Of course, advances in proprietary technology will still continue. But the connectivity and the openness to share information is what’s really important—equipment talking to other equipment. That is what will drive manufacturing to the next level.
Having fully interactive access to shopfloor control software enables supervisors at metal finishing and repair job shop to monitor shop activities and make better decisions on the spot.
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.
An MTConnect-enabled monitoring system gives this shop a clear and simple picture of machine tool usage.