In the late 2000s, cutting-edge consumer technology was surprisingly rudimentary. Not surprisingly, demand for complex concepts like connectivity and interoperability on the factory floor was also in its infancy. Consider the history of MTConnect compared to the history of smartphones: When version 1.0 of the MTConnect standard was released in 2009, BlackBerry was still the dominant Smartphone, and the iPhone App Store was just 15 months old.
Today, accessing MTConnect data from a smartphone or tablet is routine. That’s only possible thanks to standard development work that began nearly a decade ago. Underlying demand for many of the functions that MTConnect helps enable has followed a similar trajectory to mobile computing.
Established names incorporating MTConnect
Established names in manufacturing are rapidly incorporating MTConnect into their operations and R&D. Electronics giant Foxconn contributes to the standard as a member of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and also runs pilot programs to prove out the standard in a high volume, global manufacturing environment. Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) , the technology pioneer with an illustrious history in manufacturing and high-tech R&D, integrates MTConnect into cutting edge hardware and software products still in the earliest stages of commercialization and brings that expertise to the TAG to help keep MTConnect standard development ahead of the curve.
Other problems that MTConnect helps address are more universal and less manufacturing specific. Known for their networking and security expertise, Cisco Systems is bringing products to market that incorporate switching, computing and network level security in a ruggedized package specially tailored for manufacturing environments. MTConnect drastically reduces complexity in this new technology by removing translation layers across equipment types. Consultancy Ernst & Young keeps a close eye on this market space, and in 2015 they created a new Digital and Emerging Technologies Group and brought on additional staff with manufacturing experience. The company has a deep interest in evaluating and quantifying both opportunities and risks at the intersection of digital technologies, legacy systems and infrastructure. Like Cisco, they joined the MTConnect TAG in 2015.
Direct support from machinery builders for MTConnect is now widespread, which means new efforts to utilize manufacturing data are able to sidestep a great deal of low-level tasks like scrubbing, validation and harmonization. There are also new options for older machinery and equipment other than machine tools. In some cases machine or control builders support older models of equipment directly, while in other cases third party software or engineering services companies can get data off legacy equipment. For both new and old equipment, sensor packages that don’t cost much and are easy to configure fill in where CNC controls are not a valid data source. Connectivity for factory equipment is becoming the norm whether via MTConnect or other methods.
The future holds many more disruptions as the infrastructure for digital manufacturing develops and matures. While it is a significant enabling technology, the MTConnect standard is ultimately only a small piece of a much larger puzzle. How the pieces come together will define an entire generation of manufacturing.