The Move Towards Machine Tool Data Standardization

May 18, 2001

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When it comes to machine tool data, metal workers, fabricators and manufacturers speak a different language -- precisely why the NIST and the ASME are leading the charge for standardization.

Metalworkers, fabricators and manufacturers, spurred by competition, are perpetually in pursuit of tighter production cycles. These companies want to make their products faster, cheaper and of a greater quality. Aiding them in this quest are standardization bodies whose collective purpose is to guide the manufacturing industry over the hurdles to reaching these goals. The leading impediment to progress facing industry at the moment is the lack of standardization surrounding machine tool data. Specifically, no set format exists for storing this information and the translation of incompatible file formats is costly and time-consuming.

Typically, standard-setting bodies are industry-led, but not always. In the case of deciding the standards for machine data it is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), together with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), that is leading the crusade. Leading industry players are taking part in the reform as well. Manufacturers such as Boeing and Caterpillar were two early initiators in the drive towards machine tool data standardization during the mid-'90s and these two companies, as well as eight others, continue to be intrinsically involved with NIST in this matter.

Once machine tool data standards have been decided upon, manufacturers can put together comprehensive machine tool databases that will have applications in almost every facet of their operations. Data testing and standardization would streamline basic business efforts, including budgeting the time and cost of repairs and the scheduling of the machine's maintenance. Furthermore, standardized machine tool data would allow manufacturers, suppliers and vendors to transmit, store and read machine tool information regardless of software platforms or legacy systems that currently hinder communication. The NIST has decided upon extensible markup language (XML) as the ideal format for recording and exchanging machine tool data.

One of the advantages of this common language, once it is agreed upon, would be that users could then compare and contrast capabilities of tools made by different vendors and even compare current performance levels of their existing machines with past results. Standardization's proponents say it will soon be possible to upload test results of machine tool performance on an ordinary browser. If the user of the tool finds something amiss, the information can be relayed to the machine's manufacturer for further analysis. Ideally, once machine tool data has been made universal, toolmakers will share information with customers as proof that they can manufacturer parts to required degrees of precision; the equivalent of automakers posting the results of independent performance tests. Their records will speak for themselves.

Databases of performance information also have potential uses for the burgeoning field of virtual machine tooling. Though this technology is still in its embryonic stage, proponents believe that by supplying computer aided manufacturing (CAM) programs with a machine's test data, designers can incorporate automatic compensation into the machine tool's design with the intention of offsetting any potential errors.

In addition to machine tool data, another initiative that is gathering steam is the standardization of machine tool specifics sheets. It is hoped by many that this information will eventually be stored in electronic databases as well. Since suppliers currently describe their machines in a variety of ways, the NIST wants to standardize a method of noting the information. This information could be used, not just by the process planners and the management of the machine shop, but also by design, accounting, maintenance and other departments, thereby extending standardization to encompass other facets across industry.

The current initiative towards the standardization of machine tool data can be seen as the latest step in what may turn out to be a long walk, with the ultimate destination being the achieving the minimum amount of procedures between design and production. The standardization of machine test data will help transform industry into a smoothly running…machine.

Source: Smarter Factories
Harry Hutchinson
Mechanical Engineering, April 2001
http://www.memagazine.org/contents/current/features/smarter/smarter.html

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