Somewhere, a machine shop operator notices a single setting on one of several machines he’s monitoring seems to be off, just a bit. He can’t be sure; the relevant detail is not one he’s committed to memory. Is the variance enough to affect the machine's performance, or product quality? Besides that – with a minimal staff and production volumes to maintain — is it worth the time or confusion to stop one task to locate the stray detail?
Five years ago, the answer would be no. Two years ago, the availability of that much detail about a particular machine or program might be available, but not so easy to locate quickly.
Even today, the uncertainty might be too much of a distraction for the operator to stop one task in order to peck around online looking for the right answer, or he may have his hands full, or his hands may be a bit too slick or grimy, so he cannot even flick easily through a tablet device to find the answer to the question.
If this should happen at Indiana Gear in Plymouth, Ind., there will be no confusion: “looking it up” has a whole new relevance there.
Joel Neidig, an engineer at the Plymouth, Ind., manufacturer of open gearing and precision-machined parts for heavy-duty industries including mining, off-highway vehicles, marine, and aviation, has linked one recent machining innovation, MT Connect — with an even more recent networking breakthrough, Google Glass.
Google Glass is a ‘wearable’ devive that combines a camera, touchpad, and a microphone, with an email account and Internet connection, all of this condensed into a spectacle frame. The operator wears it just like safety glasses, and gains visible contact with all manner of information technology relating to the performance of a machine and the reference tools that define the operating standards.
In parallel to this is MT Connect, a network protocol for gathering, storing, monitoring, and reporting machine tool data, designed for exchanging information among manufacturing systems and servers.
Neidig connected the MT Connect functions with the Google Glass applications, to develop the MT Connect Glassware app. The app’s users (or, wearers) are free to move about the shop, with no other hardware except the spectacle frame, gathering and sharing machine data via MT Connect, and linking to online sources for more information.
The first news of the MT Connect Glassware emerged less than a year ago, but the progress has been significant.
Neidig was awarded a $75,000 prize for his research — “Expanding Manufacturing’s Vision: MT Connect® and Google Glass” — in the recent the MT Connect Challenge 2, a competition to promote development of advanced manufacturing intelligence software applications that acquire data utilizing the MT Connect standard. The National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Defense-wide Manufacturing Science and Technology (DMS&T), the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), and the U.S. Army Benét Labs jointly sponsored the contest, and made the award for Neidig's development.
Collecting, Sharing Info Becomes Intuitive, Seamless
The new app has demonstrated its effectiveness on the shop floor at Indiana Gear, according to Neidig. While currently just a few individuals are using Google Glass, that is consequence of having just one pair of the super specs available. A wider release of consumer-grade Google Glasses are expected to be made available sometime this year, and at that time the shop will be deploying it “companywide,” he indicated.
Using the device presents no particular difficulty, according to Neidig. “It only takes about 5-10 minutes to become proficient at using the application,” he said, “… very user-friendly.”
The app offers numerous advantages in manufacturing operations, from production processes to management obligations. Collecting and sharing information becomes intuitive and seamless to regular tasks, but allow the wearer to perform his or her tasks hands-free.
In an example that Indiana Gear offers, a new machine operator may be able to watch training videos posted online while positioned at the machine, augmenting the training process or reinforcing skills available during production.
Another example: A machine operator emails information to maintenance personnel as soon as a problem develops.
Or, a CEO walks the shop floor, collecting accurate information on machine performance in real time machine, comparing it to financial, quality control, sales, and engineering data.
Or, project managers can evaluate workflow and machine readiness before scheduling upcoming work. They can reference data with 100% accuracy and share information with customers, smoothing the delivery process.
Maintenance personnel become even more effective at monitoring machines using the Google Glass app, and can respond to problems more quickly -- even improving preventative maintenance programs. They can "see" instruction manuals while working on equipment when installing or repairing machinery.
Sales personnel may use Google Glass when showing off the operations to customers or prospective customers tours, highlighting capabilities and displaying the possibilities of individual assets.
“We’re using the MT Connect Glassware app on our shop floor at Indiana Gear and have received inquires from companies that want a customized solution,” Neidig explained. “We plan to use the prize money to develop the next generation of the app, which will be available in safety glasses.”