On the factory floor, careful measurement and quantitative observations have always been key inputs to process improvement. Eliminating guesswork has a clear and direct connection to the bottom line by saving time and money. The MTConnect standard is an enabling technology that is part of a wider movement towards measurement and quantitative analysis across all industries.
Before computer-controlled (NC and CNC) machines, manufacturing data collection was basically a secondary operation – measurement and testing was done on parts fully or partially complete. Parts get made on a machine then removed to separately get measured and have the measurements recorded. Modern CNC machines, by contrast, generate and store a massive volume of data just over their normal course of operation. That wealth of data holds insight into anomalies, previously unobserved trends, untapped strengths, and failure modes. Without MTConnect and other communications standards, though, huge volumes of data generated by manufacturing equipment sat largely untouched.
In manufacturing, data could sit idle for one of a few possible reasons. First, it might be expensive, difficult, or time consuming to collect. Second, data might sit idle because it’s unclear how to analyze it. Manufacturers are rapidly coming to expect cheaply collected data available for heavy-duty analysis, and MTConnect is helping cut the cost of data collection. In turn, both mainstream software vendors and manufacturing companies are inventing powerful new uses for that data.
MTConnect helps with the grunt work that makes huge datasets available and manageable. An MTConnect-compliant device generates data per a specific structure using common terminology defined by the standard, eliminating the cost of translating data generated by different devices. For example, useful dataset about a machine may need to treat powerstate = on as equivalent to status = ready. Standards like MTConnect remove the tedious steps of structuring and defining data that are required for good analysis.
New versions of the MTConnect standard are created with input from manufacturers and software developers alike, and it’s one of many technologies bridging the gap between manufacturing and the wider world of the data analytics. While the MTConnect standard developed to address a problem facing machines and devices on the factory floor, organized and structuring data is a problem that has or will touch virtually every industry. Thankfully, manufacturing has already made huge strides towards addressing these challenges, and new solutions that any manufacturer can understand are coming to market every day.
Russ Waddell is Managing Director for the MTConnect Institute at AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.