By Leslie Langnau, Managing Editor
Manufacturing communications – Again
Years ago General Motors spearheaded a move to create a common communication platform that would enable all manufacturing devices to send data among each other. The goal was to increase efficiency. That effort was the Manufacturing Automation Protocol or MAP.
Because GM was the ‚â€œbig Gorilla‚â€ in industry, nearly all vendors of manufacturing equipment joined the effort. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the participating vendors were not always operating in the interests of the stated goal. Competition, protecting market share, and protecting separate company interests among other reasons, held a higher priority than creating a common communication protocol. MAP failed.
The idea of a common communication protocol has not failed, however. After MAP, the various vendors developed their own protocols, now known as field busses.
And we also have Ethernet in the mix.
Still, we don’t have that one protocol that meets all the changing needs of manufacturing communication.
The latest effort, which is available for your inspection here at IMTS, is MTConnect, a new open communication protocol standard that will interconnect machines, independent systems, and devices with higher-level applications. MTConnect will be a middleware standard with the capability to pass data, even from existing data transfer formats, to higher-level systems using the XML based standard.
The difference between MTConnect and other networks, said one of the developers, Andrew Dugenske, Manager of Research Services at Georgia Institute of Technology, is that it will be open and royalty free to insure widest possible acceptance and utility. One of the main goals was that this protocol be as easy to implement as possible, so it is based on Internet standards. As Dugenske put it, “we tried to invent as little as possible and use established Internet-based programs where feasible.”
MTConnect is not designed for real-time motion communication but will tell you the operational status of connected equipment. This initial version rides on top of Ethernet and sends sensor data out of machine equipment and into a receptive control device, such as an HMI or even Apple iphones. The developers will be meeting soon to develop a bi-directional version.
Twenty-four companies have implemented it. You can see demos at the Penn State Machine Dynamics Research Lab booth, the University of New Hampshire booth, and the Machine Tool Research Center at the University of Florida booth, among others here at the show.
The question is, will industry get it right this time?
Filed Under: Factory automation, Machine tool industry + subtractive manufacturing, Electronics • electrical, Fluid power, Linear motion • slides, Motion control • motor controls, Mechatronics, Networks • connectivity • fieldbuses