David Edstrom explains how the MTConnect standard will foster open communication among machine tools.
Why is there a need for the MTConnect standard in manufacturing?
The challenge I found at IMTS in Chicago two years ago is the machine tool industry was really 10 to 12 years behind the computer industry in terms of technology. The problem was everyone had their own protocol on how they would speak to each other and to the outside world. Manufacturers needed the ability to speak a common language and embrace technologies around the Internet and the browser. Imagine GE and Fanuc have a box, which on one side has an Ethernet connection and on the other side has different connections to talk to a machine tool. It acts as a converter. It takes whatever proprietary machine tool protocol there is and converts it, making each machine tool look as if they're a Web browser. If you look at the cost of trying to integrate a system, up to 70 percent of the cost might be the integration itself. Machine tool vendors with MTConnect can just use a software development kit, which provides the tools to talk to their existing system on one side and provide information for others like a Web server.
What does the MTConnect Technical Advisory Group hope to accomplish?
A lot more manufacturers will be joining MTConnect after this first rollout. Customers are going to companies without MTConnect and saying they need to be MTConnect compliant. We will see this start to go international. One of the things will be to continue to improve the software development kit. With MTConnect, everything is open source and royalty-free. This makes a huge difference in adoption. Systems can immediately start speaking. We're open sourcing our whole stack.
Subgroups will also start to form. You have companies doing very different things with machine tools. With the original MTConnect stack, it's a standard dictionary of information. With XML people can define their own standards.
What immediate benefits will the manufacturing technology industry experience with MTConnect?
With the new standard, analysis companies that monitor machine tool performance can speak MTConnect and can concentrate more on higher level value add.
When you have a standard way to get data from a system, you'll want to have that data existing on a cloud or database. The ability to go back and look at the data on how something was created is very important. Machine tools have wear and tear. Machine tools doing a lot of cutting and turning start to get dull and motors start slowing down. The ability to gather all that data and do analysis becomes important. Today it might be in the head of the machinist, standing there running the tool. The ability to provide more intelligence is becoming really important. Companies can tie MTConnect data into back end IT systems. Customers' systems all over the globe can be monitored and there is the ability to optimize operation and save time and money with real-life data.