Sometime in the coming weeks, the MTConnect Institute is scheduled to release and publish the long awaited MTConnect Standard Version 1.3, Part 3. Part 3 specifically addresses more interoperability between controls, devices and software applications.
Within a few months from this release, participating companies such as Edge Technologies that develop the software to meet the Part 3 standard will, for the first time, be able to run a simple Ethernet line between one of our FMB or Edge magazine bar feeding systems and the host CNC lathe. It allows those two pieces of equipment to recognize each other, communicate with each other, and automatically interface to one another. It’s much the same as a printer that is able to install itself to one’s home computer.
Our company has had a unique vantage point that has allowed us to understand the need for a common industry communication protocol. For almost 30 years, we have had the challenge of integrating our magazine bar feeders to hundreds of different CNC controls and their overlays via 24-pin connectors to the digital inputs and outputs.
The current interface is really only a series of handshakes and safety measures. There was never a way for us to exchange data with the host lathe. Naturally, when MTConnect was launched at IMTS 2008, we immediately joined the MTConnect Institute and pledged considerable technical support as part of its TAG (Technical Advisory Group) team. Because magazine bar feeders are a common and easily deployed automation tool, the lathe/bar feeder combination became an early and logical model from which to develop the interconnectivity aspects into the overall standard.
Part 1 and Part 2 of the MTConnect standard are already delivering handsomely on their objectives of enabling manufacturers to extract and read pertinent data from the shop floor. With the release of Part 3, the MT Connect Institute will be delivering another big payload to the machine tool industry, that is, plug-and-play interconnectivity between devices, equipment and systems.
This capability enables the shop to unlock unrealized potential benefits of controls and devices being able to exchange data with each other. Installations and integration times will be simplified and dramatically reduced. End users will benefit from equipment and accessories that are more easily interchangeable and, most importantly, manufacturers will have smarter, more flexible equipment that can accommodate lean manufacturing principles like never before.
A good example of this is Edge Technologies’ solution to a long requested need for lean manufacturers who repeatedly asked for the ability to magazine load long bars of 12 to 24 feet into their CNC lathes.
They then want to be able to run X number of 12-inch parts, then X number of 8-inch parts and X number of 4-inch parts and so on to meet their exact pull production needs as opposed to batch production. We successfully deployed this variable part programming or “nesting” as some have called it, but only with complex and time consuming software development, which is different from control to control.
MTConnect’s Part 3 Standard would simplify this by specifying the software requirements for compliance to the MTConnect standard. Think of it as an industry accepted common ground from which machines can exchange data to create flexible solutions to unique applications. This aspect of MTConnect has the potential to create the biggest impact on our industry in the years to come.
Even among active MTConnect companies who are familiar with the standard, being ready to take advantage of Part 3 will require considerable software development to realize its data exchange and plug-and-play potential. Eight years in the making and ready for practical use, MTConnect is delivering on its mission. Suppliers have a responsibility within our own companies and encourage customers to use the MTConnect Standard Version 1.3, Part 3. The goal should be to deliver a superior customer experience at installation and innovative solutions that improve the competitiveness of manufacturers long term. We all win when we manufacture better.