Monday, August 22, 2011

The Presidents Window -- Thinking Like Lord Kelvin

As President and Chairman of the MTConnect Institute, Paul Warndorf asked me to start writing a monthly newsletter article for the MTConnect Newsletter.  Great idea Paul!  Here is the first one.  For those of you who ARE not MTConnect members, please join here!

The President's Window
Thinking Like Lord Kelvin
Dave Edstrom
President and Chairman of the Board
MTConnect Institute
This is a new feature story that Paul Warndorf, VP of Technology for AMT  The Association For Manufacturing Technology, has asked me to write each month.  I thought it was a great suggestion and I hope to get feedback from you on what is interesting and topics you would like me to address.  This will not be strictly about MTConnect, even though I hope to have a thread to our open and royalty-free protocol.  I chose the name “The President’s Window” because it is concise, and I hope it conveys the open theme of these monthly articles.  Since this is thefirst article, I thought I would start off with one of my favorite themes.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was my account for 6 years starting in the mid 1980s when I was a Systems Engineer at Sun Microsystems.  I loved having NIST as an account because the institute was always doing something very interesting and pushing the limits on what Sun could provide in terms of computing power.  On one of my first visits to NIST, I was brought into a conference room and saw the following engraved in the floor:

“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be.”
                    Lord Kelvin (Sir William Thomson)
That phrase is built into the DNA of computer science and science in general.  To provide a simple example of this, when you walk into a data center that houses thousands of computers in countless racks, you will find that every single one of those computers is monitored extremely closely.  But according to industry and academic experts,only 4 to 5 percent of machine tools are monitored today.  This percentage is mind-boggling to me.  How can any plant possibly make intelligent decisions if they cannot quantify what a machine tool is doing?

Let’s look at some of the laws in the computer industry and see if there are similarities in manufacturing.  Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, made a statement that has now become known as “Metcalfe’s Law.”   Metcalfe’s Law basically states that the value of any network is the number of users or devices connected to the network squared.  If we apply Metcalfe’s Law to manufacturing, we would modify it slightly to state: The value of any manufacturing shop floor’s network is the number of pieces of manufacturing equipment that can speak MTConnect squared.  Why MTConnect squared and not just the number of pieces of manufacturing equipment squared?  Because it is MTConnect that makes these pieces of equipment able to all speak the language of the Internet, which is XML.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say, “there are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns.”  Stated another way, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”   The real purpose of MTConnect is to quantify the known unknowns and provide the framework to discover the unknown unknowns.  You can’t manage what you don’t know.  And unless you are quantifying what you don’t know, then you are shooting from the hip, which is never a good idea.

In order to quantify how well a manufacturing plant or job shop is doing, you first must easily get the data and put it in a standard quantified form.  That is exactly what MTConnect does.  Getting the data in an open and royalty-free way is what will allow you to first monitor what you are doing and then to share the information with all your applications and all your partners.  While the most obvious use of getting common information out of a piece of equipment is monitoring, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  The real win with MTConnect is when quantified information is available anytime, anywhere to any application, to any partner and on any device, it drives up productivity.  I imagine Lord Kelvin would change MTConnect’s mantra to: “MTConnect – to measure is to know.”

Please remember to get the word out on the MTConnect: Connecting Manufacturing Conference [MC]2!

MTConnect: Different Devices, Common Connection
MTConnect: To Measure Is To Know

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