Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The History of MTConnect

   Please note I wrote this for the IMTS-Insider   


                                 The History of MTConnect®

                                                                 April 13, 2011
As President and Chairman of the Board for the MTConnect® Institute, I get asked all the time: "How did MTConnect come about?" It is a story that I love telling and it clearly demonstrates why AMT is such an exceptional association.
In March 2006, AMT asked me to come up with a speaker from Sun Microsystems who also had knowledge of manufacturing to speak at AMT's Annual Meeting in Lake Las Vegas. I went through three such speakers over a six-month period as each one either left Sun on their own or had their position eliminated. After the third speaker left the company, I was out of candidates. I felt embarrassed for both Sun and myself that I let AMT down. When I apologized to John Byrd, AMT's President at that time, for not being able to deliver a Sun speaker, John suggested that I do the keynote. I was more than happy to do this, but I knew little about machine tools. John came up with a great suggestion: I could spend two days at IMTS 2006 with AMT's CTO and VP of Technology, Paul Warndorf, in preparation for the keynote. It was a brilliant idea and I jumped at it. Paul took me around to countless exhibitors to learn about the different technologies and ask questions about them.
After we finished the two days, I met with John and Paul where I made two observations and two suggestions.

My observations:
  1. Manufacturing does not have a manufacturing problem. Manufacturing has a computer science problem. The manufacturing industry was like the computer industry back in the mid-1980s. There were too many network protocols and the fight was to own the winning protocol. Back then it was very expensive and you had to place a bet on which network protocol was going to win. It could easily be an additional $700 to enable your PC to be networked in the enterprise. TCP/IP and ethernet eventually won the network battle. When this happened the number of computers networked grew by multitudes, as did the software that would take advantage of the ubiquitous networking. It was the classic story of a rising tide lifting all ships.
  2. Until you have an open and royalty-free way for these machine tools to speak to the rest of the world, nothing else really matters and manufacturing will just continue to struggle. The technologies are already out there today with XML, http and TCP/IP. There was no need to reinvent the wheel. A usable solution could be built on the de facto internet platform that already existed. Additionally, it was important to avoid the "country club approach" that had failed in the past in manufacturing and other industries — the kind where you charge for the protocol and you charge for each deployment.

The suggestions:
  1. You need an economic wake-up call on why it is important to have an open and royalty-free way for these machine tools to speak to the rest of the world.
  2. You need someone who has led a revolution or two, since this is what we are really talking about. They asked me who I suggested. I said the only person I would recommend would be Dr. David Patterson of the University of California at Berkeley (UCB). Dave Patterson is a computer pioneer and a true legend in the computer industry. Dave is one of the most recognizable names in computer science. I knew Dave because he was the advisor at UCB to Bill Joy. Bill was a co-founder at Sun and has been called "the Edison of the internet" by Fortune Magazine. Bill is a legendary programmer and system visionary. I also knew Dave from working with him when I was chairman of a futures conference in 2000.

John Byrd asked if I would reach out to Dave Patterson. Luckily, Dave agreed to work on the project provided I come out and brief him and that we work together on both presentations. I was thrilled to work with someone of Dave Patterson's stature. It was like being a high school basketball player and having Michael Jordan say he wants to work closely with you.
Dave and I worked very hard together to create two hour-long keynote speeches. Dave joked that if he knew how much time he was going to put into it, he might not have said yes to me. But our presentations were a huge success. Rick Kline of Gardner Communications came up to me afterwards and said that our presentations were two of the best that he had ever seen in manufacturing. It was great to see that we'd had such an impact.

Doug Woods was AMT's Chairman of the Board, leading AMT along with John Byrd. John and Doug suggested that AMT seriously consider our proposal for a common way for machine tools to speak using proven internet protocols. I told my wife that night that I felt great about what Dave Patterson and I had accomplished, but I was not convinced a manufacturing association had the courage to execute this plan to revolutionize manufacturing.
John and Doug proved me wrong. In November, just one month after the AMT Annual Meeting, a small group of us went to meet with Dave Patterson at UCB. Dave brought in Dr. Armando Fox from the Computer Science Department to help lead this effort, since Dave simply did not have the time. Paul Warndorf, AMT VP of Technology, brought in Dr. Dave Dornfeld of UCB's Mechanical Engineering Department to join the MTConnect team. Armando later brought in Will Sobel, who was an Assistant Professor at UCB. It was Will who did the real heavy lifting with MTConnect. It was Will who put countless hours leading the efforts to create the actual spec and writing the adapters, agents, demos and so many things for MTConnect. Will continues to do a lot of the heavy lifting today, but his time is also spent running his new company, System Insights. MTConnect would have never happened without Paul Warndorf's expertise, passion and guidance. Paul has been MTConnect's shepherd, conductor and guiding light.
I am very proud of the work I did with Dave Patterson to lay out the roadmap for MTConnect. That was the seed and I am extremely proud to have planted that very important seed. It was AMT that funded MTConnect. We used the working groups made up of industry experts, which was the exact same approach that Sun used to create Java. It worked for Java and it is working for MTConnect. We pulled together a diverse group of very smart people like Paul Warndorf, John Byrd, Doug Woods, Dr. Dave Dornfeld, Will Sobel, and Dr. Armando Fox and many others to create MTConnect working groups.
John Byrd has said that, "MTConnect will be more important in the 21st century for manufacturing than CNC was for manufacturing in the 20th century."  I could not agree more. MTConnect continues to grow at an incredible pace and I know John Byrd will be proven 100% correct.