Sunday, April 18, 2010

MTConnect's Tipping Point - Priming The Pump

We are absolutely at a tipping point with MTConnect MTConnect is an open and royalty free standard that enables machine tools to speak in a common language.  As Doug Woods, President of AMT likes to say, "MTConnect allows different devices, common connection." The speed of MTConnect's creation is remarkable to say the least.  I have been involved in numerous standard efforts in my 31+ year career in computers and no standard has moved as quickly.  The obvious and logical reason for this was the incredible need for an open and royalty free standard in manufacturing.

While MTConnect's adoption rate has been amazing, we are at an inflection point where priming the MTConnect pump can take MTConnect to the next level.  I am going to discuss the specific next steps of what we must do in order for MTConnect to be truly ubiquitous.

Yesterday, Saturday April 17th, I discussed the current state of machine tool standards and how similar it is to the PC industry in the 1980s.

If you did not read yesterday's blog, please do.  The net of my blog yesterday is that we have seen this movie before in the computer industry in the 1980s when a new open and royalty free standard was on the verge of taking off.  We learned a lot back in the 1980s in terms of what is needed to really to kickoff innovation and reduce cost in an industry.   There are many lessons learned that I discussed yesterday. Today's blog is about applying those lessons learned to the machine tool industry in 2010.

It is impressive just how quickly and effectively the initial phases of MTConnect have been accomplished.  From my perspective, below are the phases of MTConnect:

  • Phase 1:  The Economic Wake Up Epiphany
    • Dave Edstrom did this at AMT's 2006 Annual Meeting
  • Phase 2:  The Industry Call To Action
    • Dr. Patterson did this at AMT's 2006 Annual Meeting
  • Phase 3:  The Funding and Commitment of an Open and Royalty Free Standard
    • AMT's Board of Directors made this commitment at AMT's 2006 Annual Meeting
  •  Phase 4: AMT Technology Issues Committee assisted in the creation of the MTConnect standard.
    • This started at UC Berkeley in January 2007.
    • The MTConnect Technical Advisory Group (MTAG) created the standard.
    • The first release of MTConnect came out in December 2008.
  • Phase 5: MTConnect Technical Advisory Group (MTCTAG) is established
  • Phase 6: The first release of MTConnect…
  • Phase 7:  Initial Customer Deployments of MTConnect
    • This phase has already started with some great early success stories.
  • Phase 8:  Mass Adoption of MTConnect
    • This is the tipping point and we are just entering this phase in April of 2010.
  • Phase 9:  Manufacturing Art to Part, Cradle to Grave Digital Life Cycle Integration
    • A number of the leading manufacturing, machine tool, software and industry leaders already are seeing many realistic possibilities in this phase.  The age old adage of you can not manage what you can not measure - is the DNA of any truly efficient system.  Integrating MTConnect into the enterprise will take time and cost out of the equation.
      • Larger manufacturing shops, that are using MTConnect, would also like to see their partners (which may be smaller machine shops) start using MTConnect as the open and royalty free mechanism to send data up the supply chain.  This becomes much easier with MTConnect.
      • As the smaller shops implement MTConnect monitoring capabilities, expose the process capability and and use statistics in their decision making that will be a catalyst in their ability to thrive in the market place.  The smaller shops that are not doing this will find it more difficult to meet every increasing quality and production time demands.
Just as priming a pump on a gasoline engine "gives" the engine some fuel before the starter is engaged to start the engine, we need to prime the MTConnect pump.  How do we prime the MTConnect pump?

We must make it easy for the small machine shop to embrace MTConnect.  

The first step is enlisting the help of MTConnect Technical Advisory Group (MTCTAG) members.  Let me list the three steps that are needed to make MTConnect easy to embrace for the small machine shop:

  • Provide free to very low cost MTConnect reference point adapters and agents for the most popular controllers:
    • Fanuc 11M
    • Mazak M32
    • Siemens 840D
        • Let's be specific on how we should do this.  
        • We need software developers, who are part of MTConnect, to work together to build Reference Ports for each of the three adapters and agents above.
        • What is a Reference Port?
          • A Reference Port is software that provides basic and fundamental capabilities.  This Reference Port is open source software.  A Reference Port can be thought of the building blocks for a company to either:
            • The first example would be to take the Reference Port and expand upon it to provide a commercially viable software.  This commercially viable software can be given away or sold.  This is a decision that the company will make depending on their business model.
            • The second example is the company would take the Reference Port and use it to understand the basic and fundamental tasks in which this Reference Port software is accomplishing.  This will help the company as they write their own software to accomplish the same required functionality as well as to expand the capabilities.  This commercially viable software can be given away or sold.  This is a decision that the company will make depending on their business model.
            • In the context of MTConnect, a Reference Port would not be accessed by customers, nor would a Reference Port be deployed by anyone.   Customers will demand support and they only mechanism to get support is from a company, not from the MTConnect Institute.   The MTConnect institute does not compete with its members.  This is an important differentiation from some of the other standards efforts.  Continue reading below for the real point for a Reference Port.
        • What is the real point of the Reference Port as it relates to the challenge of priming the MTConnect pump for small manufacturing shops?
          • The basic premise is to help the MTConnect machine tool builders, the software companies, and partners by providing a Reference Port that will shorten the time they need to work with and commercialize the three most popular controllers.    As we see an increasing number of adapters/agents for these most popular controllers hitting the market, the economics should follow other markets with the price of these adapters continuing to drop in price.
          • There clearly needs to be a culture shift in the pricing of adapters in the machine tool market.  Vendors who believe that the end game is to charge a lot for adapters and the installation of adapters are missing the big picture and harming the overall market.
          • Those companies who will win in the MTConnect market will realize that it will be the ability to tie together machine tools into the entire enterprise, to their partners, to their customers and the rest of the world.  Charging lots of money for adapters and adapter installation stifles the MTConnect market, but more importantly it stifles companies ability to make even more money by providing the connectivity and the value added services that customers are literally begging to see happen in the machine tool market place.
  • Provide free to very low cost software than can easily ingest MTConnect machine tool feeds:
    • The important point here is that MTConnect uses XML and HTTP which means it is extremely easy for software to support reading MTConnect data.
    • We need to increase the number of software companies who are MTCTAG members.
    • We need to look at the many cloud computing solutions that are coming out.
      • Let's be clear, this is not to take anything away from the software vendors who will be selling their solutions.  This is to prime the pump.
  • Increase the number of companies who can assist these small shops get started with MTConnect.
    •  We have Will Sobel's company, Systems Insights, that have been real thought leaders in MTConnect and installing MTConnect.
    •  We need more companies around the globe which have the ability to help small companies with MTConnect deployments.
    • We need more MTConnect workshops. 
    • We need an MTConnect Developers Forum.
    • We need an MTConnect Users Conference.
    • We need MTConnect Technical Advisory Group (MTCTAG) members to start bringing software developers from their respective companies to MTCTAG meetings.
Below is a graphic showing the three areas we need to start building up to support the smaller shops that are want to start to take advantage of MTConnect.  I like to think of this as a three legged stool where each leg has equal importance.

    How do we make this happen?

    • The MTConnect Technical Advisory Group (MTCTAG):
      • Creates a MTConnect Fast Start Implementors Guide Group:
        • The new working group will also include software developers from MTCTAG companies.  This is very important that we infuse MTConnect with software developers to help write the guide.  Dave Edstrom will be the lead for this MTCTAG Working Group.  Paul Warndorf will be sending out the email to kick this effort off.
        • The Guide will address:
          1. Provide guidance on which legacy adapters should be MTConnect enabled, as well as which older machine tools might not make sense for MTConnect.
          2. Write reference Adapters and Agents for the most popular controllers.
          3. Provide Application Software Guidance.
          4. Assist in recruiting new ISVs.
          5. Assist in increasing the number of companies which have MTConnect expertise.
    This is the start of Phase 8 for priming the MTConnect pump.   This is very important for MTConnect to become the ubiquitous, open and royalty free standard that will truly revolutionize manufacturing.