NUM Corporation, which develops CNC systems for machining, now has developed its own communications interface option that it said complies fully with the MTConnect interoperability standard. It said the NUMConnect interface can be fitted to new or existing CNC systems and simplifies the integration of machine tools with third-party manufacturing management software.
Most important, the developer said users to implement powerful productivity-enhancing real-time data collection and retrieval facilities for production monitoring and analysis purposes.
The significance of the software-based interface it that allows CNC machine tool builders to add value to their products, easily and cost-effectively, by providing full connectivity for manufacturing data.
The wide availability of such manufacturing process data, along with data on past production runs and new orders, is changing how manufacturers work on their shop
floors: they have increasing levels of access to data drawn from machine tools to improve the efficiency of their cutting, turning, grinding, and other machine processes.
However, the lack of a “vendor neutral” data communications standard has meant that only proprietary technologies were available to CNC machine builders seeking to invest their machines with the emerging standard for open connectivity.
To compound this problem, most CNC systems have a closed architecture and provide a data link only via their PLC, limiting data collection to the PLC’s scan rate. The inflexibility of this approach – which also demands custom client software for each machine type – was the impetus for MTConnect.
Over the past decade, MTConnect has been a multi-lateral development for the machining industry: an initiative to optimize data connectivity for manufacturing equipment.
MTConnect is an open, royalty-free communication standard (managed by the MTConnect Institute) being adopted by an increasing number machine tool manufacturers, enterprise software (ERP) providers, CAM software developers, and of course by manufacturers.
NUM was one of the first CNC manufacturers to offer an MTConnect-compliant interface for an entire product range that does not require the use of third party or custom adapters. It introduced that original interface in 2008 on its Axium product line, and makes it available now as an option across its entire range of CNC systems.
The technology underlying the MTConnect standard is the same as that used by the World Wide Web. It uses an Extensible Markup Language (XML) to capture data that is readable by both humans and machines, with the format of all data transfers defined by hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).
So, NUMConnect can read anything that is capable of being displayed on the CNC system’s HMI, either in analog or digital format. “Even detailed, low-level machine data, such as motor, drive or encoder error messages, can be retrieved and used for monitoring machine performance, preventative maintenance or diagnostics,” according to NUM Corp.
NUMConnect is fully compliant with the latest version of the MTConnect standard (1.3.0) and is available ready fitted or as a retrofit option for all of the company’s CNC series: Axium, Flexium, Flexium+, and Power 1000.
The NUMConnect software can be installed on any standard PC equipped with Windows XP or later, and it runs in the background on any NUM industrial PC panel. The software interface consists of two components: an MTConnect Adapter and an MTConnect-compliant information provider or lightweight webserver, known as an ‘Agent’. The Adapter collects data from the CNC system, associates it with defined MTConnect data items, filters out any duplicates and then pushes the data to the Agent, where it is held in a buffer store until overwritten by fresh information.
To help minimize response times, MTConnect does not require the establishment of a formal data transfer session, and under normal use there are no log-on or log-off sequences. When the Agent receives a request for information from any client application software, it transfers the appropriate data over the network, using HTTP.
The system is inherently secure, the developers emphasize; MTConnect is a read-only standard designed to expedite data retrieval from manufacturing equipment – it does not control or instruct a CNC machine tool to take action.
NUM’s CNC systems are based on open-architecture hardware and software, which means that machine builders have extensive options for customization. It also simplifies machine integration.
“Our policy is to use open, industry-standard interfaces wherever practicable and the new NUMConnect interface option is a case in point,” according to NUM Corp. U.S. general manager Steven Schilling. “We believe that MTConnect-compliant communications will become widespread, to the point where the technology will be regarded as the ‘Bluetooth of manufacturing’.
“NUMConnect will help our customers, who tend to be small-to-medium-sized OEMs, to compete with some of the larger players in the market by producing CNC machine tools that are ready for the trend towards even smarter manufacturing.”