Easier Integration for PACs and PLCs with Machine Tools

Separate announcements at IMTS 2010 signal a trend to more tightly link machine tool CNCs with other controllers and factory equipment.

Updated Sept 16. New initiatives announced at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), Sept. 13-18 in Chicago, may soon make it easier for programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and programmable automation controllers (PACs) to communicate with machine tools.

The MTConnect Institute (www.mtconnect.org) said that it has signed a memorandum of understanding to work with the OPC Foundation (www.opcfoundation.org) to develop a specification for linking MTConnect—an open communication protocol standard adopted by more than 20 machine tool makers—with OPC, an open communication standard that is widely used throughout the automation space. The MTConnect Institute is an independent, nonprofit organization created to foster the MTConnect standard by The Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT, www.amtonline.org), which sponsors the IMTS event.

Also, in a separate announcement at the show, Rockwell Automation Inc. (www.rockwellautomation.com), Milwaukee, and Fanuc FA America (www.fanucamerica.com), Hoffman Estates, Ill., announced jointly that they will work collaboratively to develop closer integration between Rockwell’s PACs and Fanuc’s computer numerical control (CNC) platforms used with machine tools.

Coming soon

A press announcement formally unveiling the MTConnect/OPC understanding was released at IMTS on Thursday, Sept. 16.  And in an earlier interview with Automation World, Paul Warndorf, AMT vice president of technology, said that he is hopeful that the specification for linking MTConnect and OPC can be completed within six months.

In the joint announcement, OPC and MTConnect said they will cooperate in developing standards called MTConnectOpcUa. MTConnectOpcUa is a set of companion specifications to ensure interoperability and consistency between MTConnect specifications and OPC specifications, as well as the manufacturing technology equipment, devices, software or other products that implement those standards.

Tom Burke, president and chairman of the board for the OPC Foundation, stated,  “MTConnect & OPC collaborating will provide the necessary infrastructure to revolutionize interoperability for the complete spectrum of manufacturing technology, by leveraging the standards of both organizations, evolving the technology that has already been well accepted and adopted by the suppliers.” Dave Edstrom, president and chairman of the board for the MTConnect Institute, stated, “This is not just a win for MTConnect and OPC, this is a huge step forward for manufacturing interoperability around the globe."

For more detail on MTConnect and the memorandum of understanding signed with the OPC Foundation, listen to a podcast interview with AMT Vice President Paul Warndorf, at: www.automationworld.com/podcast-7589.

MTConnect was developed with AMT funding beginning in 2007, and describes a standard terminology for machine tool communication, said Warndorf. MTConnect  uses open standards—including HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) and XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language)—to enable plug-and-play communication between diverse machine tools and applications.

A demonstration of the MTConnect standard linking more than 20 machine tools vendors’ equipment was first shown at the IMTS 2008 show, Warndorf said. For this year’s show, communication with additional software applications was added, and MTConnect is being shown at the IMTS Emerging Technology Center. The development of the specification for linking to OPC will extend that communication to additional factory equipment.

Customer driven

For their part, Rockwell and Fanuc FA in their joint announcement cited customer demand for integrated solutions based on open platforms as a key driver for the collaboration effort between the two companies. “Our mutual customers need visibility into their manufacturing assets in order to help make more informed decisions and stay competitive," said Steve Eisenbrown, senior vice president of Architecture and Software, Rockwell Automation.

The Rockwell/Fanuc collaborative effort will enable both companies to deliver integrated automation solutions to key vertical market segments, such as automotive and aerospace, according to the announcement. The two companies will work together on connectivity between their respective controller platforms through open communication technologies, such as the EtherNet/IP and FL Net protocols. End-users and OEMs will benefit from reduced integration costs, improved synchronization between platforms and transparent data access across the manufacturing enterprise, the companies said.  
Association For Manufacturing Technology

Fanuc FA America

MTConnect Institute

OPC Foundation

Rockwell Automation Inc.

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