MTConnect, the open-source standard for collecting and communicating realtime information from manufacturing processes and factory floor equipment from a variety of vendors, has been successfully demonstrated and tested by manufacturing researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
In the recent test at NIST, the software innovation enabled a robot conversant in ROS-Industrial to load and unload parts into an MTConnect-conversant lathe for cutting, precisely when the machine tool was ready to perform the task. Without MTConnect, such a synchronized interaction would have required many hours—even days—of reprogramming to occur. Using ROS Industrial and MTConnect as a bridge, coordination between machine tool and lathe was accomplished in a few hours.
ROS-Industrial sprouted from an open-source robot operating system (ROS) originally developed by a group of researchers at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The grassroots ROS standard simplified the task of linking assorted experimental research robots as well as add-on equipment such as sensors or grippers. A consortium organized by the Southwest Research Institute is now extending ROS to industrial robots and hardening it for manufacturing uses.
“The goal of this project and follow-up efforts is to make it as easy as possible to integrate factory robots and machine tools and also to reconfigure them in response to changes in orders or customer requirements,” explains Fred Proctor, leader of NIST’s Smart Manufacturing and Construction Control Systems Program. “The communications logjam between robots and machine tools made by different vendors might be surprising to users of everyday electronics and communication equipment. Thanks to widely used standards, smart phones, computers, printers and a variety of other products have almost effortless “plug and play interoperability.” This is not the case for equipment used in manufacturing operations, where operating systems and specifications for communication often are proprietary. The “meet-me-in-the-middle approach” for MTConnect and ROS-Industrial appears to be a practical solution to the proprietary systems hurdle.”