The Association for Manufacturing Technology (www.amtonline.org) has taken a leading position in the development of a standard protocol for computer equipment that promises to simplify communications for all of the computer devices used in manufacturing.
The AMT calls its protocol MTConnect, and it has the potential to expand inter-operability of computers directly and easily.
MTConnect is a computer standard in XML programming language that will link machine tools to the Internet. The idea of having a common language – a standard protocol – is similar to the standards that the worldwide computer industry adopted that allows computer peripherals and other devices that include mouse devices, keyboards, PDAs, gamepads and joysticks, scanners, and digital cameras to be connected to computer through a common port. And, the MTConnect concept is that powerful.
The AMT devoted its annual meeting in early October to discussing the MTConnect concept, and to explaining its uses and developments. The concept is about a year old, and the AMT is planning to put on a full demonstration of it at the IMTS 2008 trade show next September at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
The AMT compares the standardization of a computer protocol as a concept as simple – and as important –- as the standardization of screws in the 1860s. Both concepts have far-ranging consequences for manufacturing.
MTConnect is a standard the ties together what are now “islands” of computer technology in a factory so that data from those islands can be used to make those operations as effective as possible. MTConnect is designed to help machine tools communicate with automation equipment and with other manufacturing tools so that data from all of those sources is consistent and in similar formats.
The AMT has a brief video that explains the MTConnect concept at http://www.amtonline. org/section_display. cfm?section_id=117. In part, that video explains that because manufacturing has not fully embraced computer technologies and connected them as the MTConnect protocol will do, that manufacturing is one or two generations behind in adopting computer technologies to their greatest benefit.
The AMT has invested $1 million to develop the MTConnect program, and has enlisted numerous machine tool, control and software companies to promote the program. It is a non-proprietary program that machine tool, controls and automation equipment makers who are participating in developing it are embracing and are expected to adopt it.
The AMT is hoping to convince large manufacturers, such as General Motors Corp., Caterpillar and Boeing to adopt the MTConnect protocol, but it also is targeting machine shops of every size so that this program becomes widely disseminated and used.
Additionally, John Byrd III, president of the AMT, said his organization is talking with its counterparts in Japan and Germany to enlist them as participants in developing the program and to gain their support for the program, so that it becomes an international, open standard.
The program is being developed with computer scientists and engineering professors at the University of California, Berkeley, as computer software that would be unintrusive so that it can be adopted quickly and easily. The program also is being designed as an open system that can evolve so that it can be extended to equipment and software programs that will be developed in the future.
The MTConnect program is ambitious, as any program with such a far-reachig scope should be, and one of its challenges is to get the users that it is designed for to adopt it and put it to use so that they can get the benefits it promises.