Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Precison Manufacturing MTConnect Article - "Different Devices, Common Connection"

Feature Story: MTConnect

September 14, 2012

Different Devices, Common Connection

by Dave Edstrom

In 2008, Paul Warndorf, vice president of manufacturing technology for the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), wrote an introductory article for Precision Manufacturing on the topic of MTConnect. A great deal has happened since then. A wide range of organizations has invested in MTConnect, from small shops up to the U.S. Department of Defense. More importantly, members of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association (MPMA) can change their shop or plant productivity radically by embracing MTConnect.

The beginning of MTConnect goes back to late 2006, when AMT held its annual meeting in Lake Las Vegas. This is where MTConnect was born—an open and royalty-free standard with the potential to dramatically change manufacturing around the globe.

In preparation for the annual meeting, I worked with Dr. David Patterson of the University of California-Berkeley. Patterson and I worked closely together on our back-to-back keynotes for the meeting and it was there that AMT decided to fund MTConnect.

What Exactly is MTConnect?

MTConnect is an open standard that converts the many different proprietary manufacturing equipment data formats into the common language of the Internet, which all applications speak. Think of MTConnect as a standard using proven Internet protocols that are the “rules of the road” on how information will be shared. MTConnect is the Manufacturing Technology Connection between manufacturing equipment and applications.

Another way to think of MTConnect is like a “bluetooth for manufacturing equipment.” Bluetooth works when two different devices support it, such as your cellphone and your car, or your computer and other peripherals. MTConnect works when both the manufacturing equipment and the software applications support MTConnect.

To clarify, MTConnect is not an application, such as Microsoft Excel, but it is how a machine tool would speak to a shop floor monitoring program. This program might be running a PC or Mac on the shop floor, on your iPhone or the PC in your office. In other words, now you can see what is happening on your shop floor anywhere, anytime on an Internet-enabled device.

Shop floor monitoring is the first obvious type of application that has become MTConnect-enabled. Some popular examples of information that could be analyzed through monitoring include OEE, asset utilization, diagnostics, and machine health. If you are a shop owner, a plant manager, or anyone in manufacturing who manages productivity and profitability, the first questions you should be asking are: How can monitoring our shop floor improve our business; and why is it important that MTConnect is the standard that is chosen to connect our shop floor to our applications?

When considering shop floor monitoring, it is important to remember John Turner’s Five Laws of Manufacturing:
  1. We measure what goes into production and what comes out; we have little data on what really happens on the production floor.
  2. If anyone says “I know exactly what is happening on my plant floor” – don’t believe them.
  3. We don’t gather data because it’s hard, and someone has to look at it.
  4. No one solution or set of data works for everyone.
  5. If you don’t have an avid champion, save your time and money.
How you Get the Data

When you decide to monitor your shop floor, remember this: How you get the data matters. Choose a standard that provides the widest selection of solutions and provides the greatest flexibility as your needs change. MTConnect is a standard that provides the most widely adopted manufacturing data standard in the industry. It currently is used in more than 14 monitoring applications with more coming.

If you are attending IMTS 2012, please stop by the Emerging Technology Center. We will be showing MTConnect-enabled applications in the following categories:
  • Efficiency: Understanding Hidden Cost
  • Utilization: Discovering Untapped Capacity
  • Sustainability: Minimizing Negative Environmental Impacts
  • Managing Your Plant Anywhere, Anytime (mobile devices)
The Technology Behind MTConnect

In order to better appreciate how MTConnect works, we need to dive down just a little bit into the technology. Everyone is familiar with the concept of a Web site such as If you type that address into your browser, information shows up on your screen. Information shows up on your browser because the MPMA has a web server that answers your requests and sends information back to your browser. The two primary technologies that make all this work are http, which is how your browser communicates with MPMA’s web server, and XML, which is the actual language passed to your browser that represents the data being displayed. MTConnect basically works the same way.
MTConnect puts a very efficient and secure web server in front of manufacturing equipment., a machine tool simulator running on the Internet, provides information about the machine tool’s physical components and what data (alarms, spindle speed, feed rate, etc.) can be retrieved.

One of MTConnect’s key design aspects is that, when information comes back to the application, it includes a reference to a dictionary that specifically defines the physical components and the data items. The beauty of this approach is that all software speaks http and XML, so it is very easy for MTConnect-­enabled
applications to speak to your manufacturing equipment. A good example of this is using a spreadsheet to get information with MTConnect. While you likely would not use a spreadsheet to monitor your shop floor, the point here is that MTConnect makes it very easy to get the data in a format other applications can easily use.

The MTConnect Institute

Companies, organizations, and even individuals can join the MTConnect Institute for free. Additionally, it is free to deploy the MTConnect protocol. MTConnect also adopts the open source philosophy, offering collaboration for multiple end users. We do this because we strongly believe a common protocol is the technology equivalent of a “rising tide lifting all ships.” In other words, everyone wins when manufacturing equipment can easily be connected.

MTConnect Institute members may take the MTConnect protocol and bundle it with their software or manufacturing equipment. They are free to sell it or include it free with their software or systems.

Today, only 4 to 5 percent of machine tools around the globe are monitored. MTConnect is changing that and impacting manufacturing in countless ways. You cannot manage what you cannot measure and MTConnect is making it very easy for shops and plants to get manufacturing equipment data—to better manage their business in an intelligent fashion.

Many shops and plants that have embraced MTConnect. Joel Neidig, technology manager for ITAMCO, has made his shop MTConnect-enabled. Mr. Neidig has written a mobile MTConnect application that he gives away for both the iPhone and Android phone platforms. He and his company use this app so they can check their plant anywhere at any time. Others can take it and improve the app with the idea of sharing those improvements with all. This is a classic open source. MTConnect has improved productivity for ITAMCO because you cannot manage what you do not know. You know by monitoring your shop and taking action with that information.

ARC Technology Group wrote an interesting article titled, “MTConnect Standard for Machine Tools Drives Sustainable Manufacturing for US DoD.” As the author, Himanshu Shah, writes, “The Title 10 program has been taken on as a strategic initiative to further DoD activities and policies that promote the development and application of advanced technologies to manufacturing processes, tools, and equipment. While the program does not include specific metrics, it is intended to ‘… improve the manufacturing quality, productivity, technology, and practices of businesses and workers providing goods and services to the DoD.’”
Comments from those inside DoD have been made that, perhaps, MTConnect should be a standard for their department. That’s because open, royalty-free and open source technology already has been proven to help DoD become more productive (saving both time and money). Why should these lessons learned not be applied to manufacturing for DoD?

Where is MTConnect Today in its History?

We are in our third release with MTConnect, with many exciting things taking place. We had our first ever [MC]2 MTConnect: Connecting Manufacturing Conference, which was a huge success. We have made 23 hours of videos available on a number of topics, including help for the first-time MTConnect user, end-user discussions on lessons learned, and how to write MTConnect-enabled software. Be sure to visit to learn more.

At the MTConnect Institute our mantra is “MTConnect is Different Devices, Common Connection.” As the president and chairman of the board for the MTConnect Institute, my final message is that MTConnect is REAL, it is a revolution in manufacturing, and you should investigate it today to help improve productivity in your shop.

A great place to ask questions regarding shop floor monitoring and MTConnect is at the new

Dave Edstrom is president and chairman of the MTConnect Institute.

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