MTConnect for System Builders

For system builders and distributors, the question may arise: how can new or existing machine tools be made to support the MTConnect standard? And what are the benefits of doing so?

The MTConnect Institute has gone to great lengths to ease the transition to MTConnect. From a data-gathering point of view, there are many similarities between machine tools of any make or model.

Most of the commonalities have been factored into the MTConnect Agent software, which handles connectivity, XML formatting, validation, and data item storage. All that you as a system builder need to do is provide an adapter that converts your machine tool’s proprietary data into a format that the MTConnect Agent can understand.
 

MTConnect-AdapterMTConnect-Push
Two methods of connecting a machine tool to the MTConnect Agent.

1. An MTConnect Adapter translates proprietary signals into something the Agent understands.
2. Software monitors the machine tool pushes updates to the Agent over HTTP.

New Machine Tools

Modern machine tools often have computing capabilities much greater than those of the past. Many of the newer CNCs are full-fledged PCs, running the same Windows operating system as your desktop or laptop computers.

Existing Machine Tools

Often in the industry, machine tools may provide a service life measured in years or decades. As a result, there are a lot of older tools out there that may need to be retrofitted to support the MTConnect standard.

To evaluate whether a machine tool could support the standard, look at the communication options. Does the tool provide Ethernet connectivity? Perhaps it has a serial port? Are the communication protocols well-documented?

As a worst-case scenario, a tool could be integrated at a hardware level, by connecting into a PLC or other machine signals for monitoring purposes. Obviously, such a case can be time- and labor-intensive, but monitoring even a few signals (such as power-on, in-cycle, and at-alarm) can be sufficient for basic OEE calculations.

Implementing an MTConnect Adapter

As a system builder or a distributor, you probably have access to some proprietary means of communicating with the machine tool. This might take the form of a library, such as the Fanuc FOCAS software or the Okuma THINC API, or may be as basic as signals from a PLC.

Whatever the case, the next step in supporting the MTConnect standard is to code what is known as an adapter. The adapter has two responsibilities:

  1. Monitor the state of various data items, and;
  2. Send any updates to a connected MTConnect Agent via TCP.

As long as you can retrieve data from the machine tool, accept network connections, and send text such as 2010-09-29T23:59:33.460470Z|Xact|1.4198908806, you should be able to create an MTConnect adapter.

To assist you in coding an adapter, there are several toolkits available, for C++ and for the .NET framework.

Alternatives to an adapter

The standard MTConnect Agent has another means of updating, without developing an adapter. The Agent can be configured so that your software updates it directly, using HTTP POST messages to certain URLs.

This feature makes it possible to send simple updates to the Agent from any platform that supports ordinary web requests. It could even be done from a barebones Linux machine running curl.

Benefits of MTConnect

Sometimes it is difficult to explain the benefits of machine tool data gathering. Case studies sometimes provide the most convincing arguments, and there are several studies available, including a couple on Modern Machine Shop.

The general benefit of such data gathering is the ability to improve overall performance, by identifying bottlenecks or inefficiencies so that they can be corrected.

Next Steps

There is a supportive and growing MTConnect community available for anyone interested in integrating with the standard. If you have any further questions about integrating your machine tools, feel free to seek additional information or support from the community.

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