Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Your Manufacturing Check Engine Light is Broken

Aug 22, 2012
-Dave Edstrom
We have all seen the check engine light come on in the car. Often, it’s because someone didn’t properly put the gas cap on. However, there are times when it is more serious and even times when it’s extremely serious. The check engine light is also sometimes called an “idiot light” because it comes on and provides no real concrete information.
Typically, the check engine light is amber. If it comes up in a red color, you are likely in a world of engine trouble. The check engine light is just an indicator of a problem. It comes on when the system determines a problem. In manufacturing, the check engine light is typically the stack light. If the operator can control the stack light, then that makes about as much sense as having a toggle switch on your dash for the driver of the car to turn on the engine light when he or she thinks or knows there is some type of problem. Think about that for a second. There is absolutely no difference between having the driver turn on a toggle switch and an operator of a machine tool turn a stack light from green to yellow or red. If the stack light is supposed to be an indicator of what is really going on with that particular machine tool, for all practical purposes your manufacturing check engine light is broken. So what do you do about it?
Just as President Ronald Reagan said at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12th, 1987, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear DOWN this wall!” As President and Chairman of the Board for the MTConnect Institute, I am saying to manufacturing shops and plants around the globe, “Manufacturing plants and shops, tear DOWN these stack lights!” The wall that separated East Germany from West Germany kept people and ideas apart. The stack lights in plants are just as dated, remind me of the Cold War time and keeping real information from reaching those who need to know it. When I walk into a plant and see stack lights I always just roll me eyes thinking to myself, “what year is this anyway — 1912 or 2012?”
Many drivers do not realize that on every car made since 1996, there is a connector or port that is typically right below the steering wheel on all cars. This port is called the On Board Diagnostics II port or OBD-II. What is very important about the OBD-II is that it is the same physical connector and same protocol (how you speak to the OBD-II electronically) for all cars. This means that if your check engine light comes on, instead of just tightening the gas cap and hoping the light goes off after a few cold starts, you now have the ability to find out what is really going on.
There are OB-II scanners on the market that allow you to plug into the OBD-II port to find out in much more detail exactly what is going on with your engine. These typically go from $70 to $200 if you want to buy one or many times you can borrow one from your local auto parts store. How these work is that you plug them in, turn on your car and then retrieve information from the OBD-II. Many of these scanners allow you to capture data while your car is running. After driving your car, you can then download this information to your computer for further analysis or replay what your engine did while you were driving. What these scanners can do varies on the price, but typically the first test users will run is scanning for codes. Scanning for codes means going through each of the subsystems of your car looking for an error code that might have been set. The scanners do not tell what to fix, but they typically narrow down significantly the areas where you should be looking.
Manufacturing also has its own OBD-II — and it is MTConnect.
MTConnect is an open and royalty-free standard for manufacturing that is connecting manufacturing equipment with applications by using proven Internet protocols. Think of MTConnect as the “Bluetooth for manufacturing”. With Bluetooth, both devices must speak Bluetooth for anything useful to happen. Just as simply having an OBD-II port on your car does not provide you with any more data unless you have an OBD-II scanner, the same “pairing” principle applies to MTConnect and software applications. You can have an MTConnect enabled machine tool or piece of manufacturing equipment, but without the software to read and analyze the data you do not have both sides of the equation.
The OBD-II scanner is really the application or the tool that you use to help you understand what is happening with your engine. In manufacturing, it is software applications, such as shop floor monitoring, that are the applications that speak to an MTConnect enabled piece of manufacturing equipment on the shop floor.
Sets of questions that I like to ask at the beginnings of my talks when I speak about MTConnect are the following:
  1. Who here is doing lean manufacturing? Please raise your right hand and keep it up.
  2. If you are doing shop floor monitoring, please raise your left hand.
I then tell the crowd, unless you have both hands up, you are not doing lean manufacturing. You might think you are doing lean or even have convinced yourself that you are doing lean, but unless you are first monitoring what happens on the shop or plant floor, you are just fooling yourself. As Lord Kelvin once said:
"In physical science the first essential step in the direction of learning any subject is to find principles of numerical reckoning and practicable methods for measuring some quality connected with it. 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."
If you are an IMTS exhibitor, you should be educating your customers about MTConnect. The other important question to ask yourself is during the end of August when this article comes out is, “Am I doing everything I can to have the BEST IMTS EVER?” If you have not purchased the IMTS 2012 app from, you are not giving yourself the true opportunity to achieve that. Remember what Peter Eelman, AMT Vice President-Exhibitions & Communications said: "MTInsight IMTS 2012 is the type of app that can pay for itself many times over — with just one extra sale. I would encourage all IMTS exhibitors to check out this app at We designed this app to help IMTS exhibitors have their best year ever at IMTS."
Also, don’t forget what Tom Snyder, AMT’s Exhibitions Sales Manager, thinks about this app for IMTS exhibitors. “I’ve been at AMT for 27 years and working with IMTS exhibitors for 22 years. I can think of no better investment for a successful IMTS than the MTInsight IMTS 2012 app.”
So, what can you do in the next six weeks to get into the 21st century of manufacturing? There are four key things you can do:
  1. Come to IMTS 2012 and go to the Emerging Technology Center in the North Hall and stop by the MTConnect Software Applications area. Here you will see the following applications being demonstrated:
    • Efficiency
    • Utilization
    • Managing Your Shop/Plant From Anywhere
    • Shop Floor Monitoring
    • Sustainability
    There will be experts from a variety of companies and institutions discussing the business and technical benefits of these four different areas.
  2. While you are at the ETC, pick up the MTConnect Institute’s [MC]2 2013 MTConnect Connecting Manufacturing Conference information sheet and register in the free [MC]2 2013 attendee raffle.
  3. Go to the brand new and join in all the conversations that are happening today about how companies and individuals are using MTConnect to save both time and money.
  4. Walk over to the MTInsight Booth and get a demo. If you are an IMTS exhibitor and have NOT purchased the IMTS 2012, BUY IT! This will be the smartest thing you can do to get the maximum bang for your buck at IMTS. Go to today to learn more!
As an IMTS exhibitor, tell your customers to tear down their stack lights, get MTConnect enabled and get into the 21st century! The only thing your customers have to lose is their old way of thinking and what they will likely gain is productivity in their shop or plant. Tell your customers to stop staring at their idiot lights, and get MTConnect enabled, so they will have the data to make intelligent decisions.
Finally, if you’re IMTS Exhibitor and you don’t have MTInsight’s IMTS 2012 app, you are making a huge mistake. Get it today at