One technology the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) wants attendees at the upcoming International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) to learn about is MTConnect, an open-source, royalty-free communication standard designed to collect production data from equipment, devices, and controls and convert it to a universal format for sharing and analysis to improve their utilization.
MTConnect is a development by AMT, the organizer of IMTS, which runs Sept. 8-13 at McCormick Place in Chicago. It is an interoperability standard designed to give manufacturers a universal protocol that is easy and economical to use and which eliminates disparate and proprietary (and costly) data-collection techniques. Translating data from various machinery and equipment brands into a common language, MTConnect, AMT hopes, could lead to additional capabilities including machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.
MTConnect will be on display at IMTS in the Emerging Technology Center (Booth N650), where it will be collecting live data from manufacturing systems on display at other exhibitors' booths, as well as from equipment and controls elsewhere around the world. There will additionally be an MTConnect Users' Group meeting on Sept. 9, from 8 to 10 a.m. in Room W471A, to give attendees an opportunity to learn about the machine standard, meet people who use it, and hear about their experiences.
One of the standard's benefits is its ability to provide a common set of rich data that can help plant managers and shop-floor personnel raise their machine utilization rates, which, in turn, can improve productivity and profitability for machining businesses and other manufacturers. Based on feedback from companies that are already using MTConnect, a 15 percent increase in machine utilization is the norm.
MTConnect has been available for seven years, but its use is primarily among equipment OEMs and big manufacturers. (Boeing, for one, has a large number of machines operating on the standard.) "Although we have worked with smaller job shops, the market penetration hasn't grown as fast as with the larger shops," said Paul Warndorf, vice president of manufacturing technology at AMT, who is responsible for the ongoing development of the standard.
Owners and managers of small machine shops might believe that since they run only a few machines, there is no need to collect and analyze production data. The stated benefits of machine utilization, however, make a powerful incentive to use the standard, especially since it costs nothing to download.
MTConnect is supplied on new vertical and horizontal machining systems, related equipment, and controls by a number of OEMs. Retrofits on existing machines are possible, although they might entail costs. Warndorf says that in such cases, the cost of installation would be the same as with most interfaces - around $2,000.
MTConnect is neither software nor hardware. It is a standard for which the MTConnect Institute provides a downloadable sample program. The standard enables plug-and-play data connectivity that is comparable in its universality of use to a USB flash drive.
"Data from any machine and monitoring device can be read and understood with MTConnect," said Warndorf. Allowing subsequent machine utilization analysis gives shop managers and operators a major tool for increasing productivity and lowering operational costs.
In machine shops, for example, MTConnect can check machine modes and spindle operations and monitor axes of motion. Because the standard is based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), shops can extend capabilities to collect and analyze data not included in the basic standard. The standard uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) web-based language for data transport, so information can be readily transmitted within a facility or on the Internet.
The current MTConnect version is 1.2. By the end of September, Warndorf says AMT plans to release version 1.3, which will include the collection of more data items, as well as a machine-to-machine interface that allows equipment to communicate with each other using a read-read method. Examples of this, Warndorf cites, include a robot "talking" to a tool-changing system, or a machine tool "asking" a bar feeder how much metal remains for fabrication.
Late next year or in 2016, version 1.4 will be released. Hilena Hailu, MTConnect product manager, says this version of the standard will include metrology among its capabilities and use data collection to track the history of a part through every stage of production. This will, among other benefits, allow the rapid correction of machine errors that might affect part quality or other aspects of fabrication.
Hailu adds that version 1.4 may also be applicable to other types of machining systems such as electrical discharge machining, as well as non-traditional production methods like 3D printing (additive manufacturing).
The idea for MTConnect emerged from a discussion about manufacturing in the Internet age at AMT's annual meeting in 2006. Based on input from speakers, the organization's directors allocated $1 million for the development of a universal communication standard to improve machine connectivity. William Sobel, a widely known software architect, developed the standard with input from Georgia Tech.
The first demo of MTConnect was showcased at IMTS 2008 and made available later that year.