Implementing MTConnect

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by Neil Desrosiers

Tracking and measuring manufacturing operations

Manufacturers need to improve their manufacturing operations is driving growth of MTConnect, an open, royalty-free protocol for extracting data from practically any piece of equipment, including machine tools and other manufacturing systems.

The integration of MTConnect is a major undertaking, and can be a bit challenging unless certain preparations are made ahead of time. The most critical challenge is a strong desire for improvement and a willingness to analyze the collected data and actually use it.

Shops must address other key considerations to ease the integration of MTConnect: Connection, Compliance, Goals, Big Brother Effect, and Up and Running.

Connection. Shop first must have a correctly installed Ethernet network in place, and all various pieces of equipment earmarked for monitoring should be connected to that network. Keep in mind that some machines and equipment come network ready, while others may require additional hardware that can also vary from one piece of equipment to the next.

A hardwired network provides a better connection in terms of consistency and reduced risk of interference. So, unless wireless is the only option, hardwired networks are recommended.

Compliance. Once machines and equipment are networked, they must be MTConnect compliant/compatible to support the protocol. The ages of involved manufacturing systems will dictate whether software and/or hardware-type adaptors are needed
for compliance. Very different and older machines can all be made MTConnect compliant.

Machine tool compliance is OEM specific, and several builders offer an MTConnect option. If a shop passed on the option at the time of purchase, those builders will supply step-by-step instructions that map out exactly what is needed for MTConnect compliance.

Once equipment is compliant, third-party monitoring and manufacturing-execution software is needed to gather and organize collected data. This software should be easy to use and allow for customized reports to address varying needs across the organization. It should also store collected data and archived reports on a dedicated network server or a cloud-based system.

Goals. After establishing connectivity and compliance, shops must determine goals by answering two key questions. What information do we hope to glean and what will be done with the collected data? Utilization (calculation of production, planned vs. unplanned time) and dashboards (real-time snapshots) are simple goals attained with basic-level third-party software.

However, loftier goals–feeding data back into an existing management system or measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)–can be more involved and require more robust third-party software. Regardless of goal complexity, third-party software must easily integrate with a company’s native management systems.

Shops should also plan for future system growth and expansion beyond that of simple utilization tracking. To ensure that happens quickly, easily and seamlessly, MTConnect must be implemented “purely”–meaning that all the devices intended to be monitored are using MTConnect, as opposed to other protocols.

Big Brother Effect. A fourth consideration is the big brother effect where employees perceive they are under surveillance in an effort to assign blame or hold them accountable for production inefficiencies. To prevent this, the entire organization should be exposed to MTConnect from the start so they understand it as a monitoring tool for process improvement, which will ultimately make their jobs easier and more efficient while increasing the organization’s productivity.

The front office team should also expect changes as MTConnect is implemented. Not all inefficiencies/bottlenecks originate in manufacturing.

Up and running. Shops must continuously look for improvements. After collecting all the low hanging fruit, shops need to meticulously analyze data– drilling deeper into processes, flow, manpower and other areas of operation–and continue to set target improvements.

It pays to dedicate a manufacturing engineer to monitor processes and data, and regularly question any production shortcomings. Production personnel must be kept trained to ensure equipment/technology is used to its maximum potential. This is especially critical when a new piece of equipment is added to the MTConnect network.SMT

Neil Desrosiers is developer of digital solutions with Mazak Corp.


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