by Kip Hanson
Manufacturers and software providers aren’t the only ones on the MES dance floor. Machine tool builders are stepping in as well. One of these is Mazak Corp., Florence, KY. Application engineer and developer Neil Desrosiers says one of the ways builders support MES is by adopting open communication standards, making machine tool to front office integration a straightforward task. Mazak, for example, has made the majority of its machine models MTConnect ready.
MTConnect is an open source communication protocol designed for industrial equipment. In the past, most machine controls spoke only their native language. MTConnect was designed to eliminate this Babelesque situation, using a clearly defined set of XML (Extensible Markup Language) standards as a “flexible representation for exchanging semi-structured machine-readable data,” according to MTConnect.
Aside from using MTConnect at its Kentucky production facility, Mazak has also installed MERLIN, the MES solution from Memex Automation Inc., Burlington, ON. Despite this seeming endorsement, Desrosiers says it would be irresponsible for a machine tool builder to actively promote one MES solution over another. “You can’t just cookie cutter this and say, ‘hey, this is the product you should use with our equipment.’ The right MES solution depends on the size of the shop, its infrastructure, integration needs and so forth.”
For this reason, machine tool builders are largely software-agnostic in terms of whom your machines talk to—all they are concerned with is how that communication takes place, and how that information on the machine tool operation is shared. Another example of this is Charlotte, NC-based Okuma Corp.’s THINC-OSP control. Director of technology Brian Sides explains that Okuma wants to make it easy for partners to remotely access machine data. “We utilize a Windows-based open architecture control that supports MTConnect. This means software developers who offer MTConnect-compliant monitoring applications can easily apply their solution to Okuma machines.”
At its most basic level, says Sides, MTConnect allows for local and remote productivity monitoring and troubleshooting of alarms and service history. “Most shops have equipment from multiple machine tool vendors. Since the advent of MTConnect, Okuma has seen a significant uptick in our customers’ interest in evaluating and selecting MES software. I get calls now weekly from Fortune 500 manufacturers and job shops wanting to focus on their productivity and efficiency gains to remain competitive. Integration of MTConnect-compliant MES systems is now a viable option for them to accomplish that.”
Kip Hanson is a contributing editor.