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MTConnect® 10th Anniversary: A Decade of Open-Source Protocols Helps Drive Industry 4.0

Category: Manufacturing Technology Aug 30, 2018

MTConnect is celebrating its 10th anniversary as the manufacturing industry's open standard that fosters interoperability between equipment, devices and software. Since its introduction by the MTConnect Institute and AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology at IMTS 2008, MTConnect has become the go-to solution to easily collect and connect asset data—with the ultimate goal of making value-added decisions that maximize productivity.

Hundreds of exhibitors at IMTS 2018 will be demonstrating connectivity, some of them using the new version of the standard, MTConnect 1.4. IMTS 2018 will provide manufacturing professionals a chance to talk with industry leaders in machine monitoring to learn more about protocols that work best for data-driven shops.

From Revolution to Evolution

The manufacturing industry looked a bit different a decade ago, when the IIoT was a brand-new concept. The adoption of Industry 4.0 has made MTConnect more relevant than ever, allowing companies of all sizes to digitally link assets in manufacturing, maintenance, logistics and other areas of operation.

“Without question, one of the smartest investments that a shop or plant can make is to monitor what's happening with their very valuable assets – their machine tools – and to embrace MTConnect as their interoperability standard,” says Dave Edstrom, who was involved early on with MTConnect and authored the book MTConnect: To Measure is to Know. “Because if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.” Edstrom is now CEO/CTO of the consulting company Virtual Photons Electrons.

As more companies understand the value of digitizing their operations, they want greater access to data from the factory floor to gain better visibility. They see the promise that computers and networking can offer to even a very traditional shop. There are a lot of advantages to modernizing technology and IT infrastructure, and the open protocol of MTConnect prevents roadblocks.

“The market environment is very favorable for MTConnect right now,” says Russ Waddell, Managing Director for the MTConnect Institute. “The growing idea of smarter factories has led a lot of people to MTConnect's doorstep as they look for real world, already-implemented solutions that will save time and energy compared to developing a standard from scratch. It's providing a head start on the digital transformation journey.”

In the last few years, the industry has seen a revolutionary change in the way it thinks about data-driven manufacturing. And uses for data are expanding.

“At IMTS 2018, we'll see that we're now entering an era of true technological evolution,” Waddell says. “Anyone thinking about product lifecycle management understands that disparate information is becoming easier to aggregate and access with MTConnect. There's huge potential to unlock value that's been tied up in clunky, outdated or just onerous information management systems.”

Launching at IMTS 2018, the new MTConnect 1.4 will further expand the devices, streams and interfaces. It also features many new data items and includes extensive edits for clarity and usability.

“This new version of the standard was a long time in the making and continues to be in active development,” Waddell says. “We have a growing technical advisory group that is always working to improve the communication standard.”

MTConnect has become broadly accepted around the world because it has created an open and agnostic definition of the structure and terminology used in communications in the discrete parts manufacturing sector. It has standardized device data into a useable tool for improvements.

Open standards make it easier to develop connected systems, such as this Hurco 3-axis machining paired with an EROWA robot.

Connectivity Demo

At IMTS 2018, AMT's Emerging Technology Center focused on the digital transformation will feature a demonstration of connectivity brilliance with a fully connected system comprised of a HURCO 3-axis milling machine, a collaborative robot from Universal Robots USA and a CMM from Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, all tethered with the MTConnect protocol to create a closed-loop system that automatically updates tool offsets and enables easy part change over.

The need for manufacturing data now goes beyond internal analysis purposes. Other entities in the distribution channel want to know more about the origin of parts.

“We're seeing a lot of tier one suppliers mandating data from the part manufacturing process,” Edstrom says. “They want the specifics of how some of these parts were created. They're asking for data on how a particular part was created, down to the machine tools it was going through. We're going to see this more and more. Parts makers will have to comply or go out of business.”

IMTS Experience Provides Answers

Contract parts manufacturer MetalQuest Unlimited in Hebron, Neb., has seen the direct benefits of switching to MTConnect. Vice President Scott Volk attended IMTS 2014 to talk with software providers and machine monitoring companies to see what protocols they were using. Once he confirmed that MTConnect was being so broadly adopted, he had the confidence to migrate from a proprietary protocol to MTConnect for the facility.

MetalQuest Vice President Scott Volk has connected the company’s CMMs to its enterprise system so that the company can use SPC data to make smarter decisions, such as when to change tools.

“I spent time at a lot of exhibitor booths, talking with software vendors that do machine monitoring and trying to find out where things were headed,” Volk says. “I learned that MTConnect was becoming a lot more prevalent. Plus, it was open protocol and free, so it was obvious that we needed to move forward with migrating to MTConnect.”

Today, MetalQuest's production is tied directly into the enterprise system using MTConnect. From his office PC, he can see real-time data on all machines and make business management decisions.

“I monitor machine uptime and how much time it takes to do different activities,” Volk says. “I can measure utilization rates and adjust the weaker areas, like in setup. There's no way I could improve our productivity if I didn't know the utilization rates. MTConnect is the easiest way to connect it all, so I know what I'm dealing with and where we need to improve to stay competitive.”

Adopting MTConnect has helped MetalQuest increase utilization time, reduce scrap and use predictive maintenance to prevent breakdowns.

“I recommend taking advantage of the live demonstrations and face-to-face opportunities at IMTS 2018 to learn more about MTConnect,” Volk says. “You'll come away realizing how this open-protocol standard can help optimize your shop no matter what equipment you're using. It's a data-driven business advantage.”

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