One only has to look at Rick Merritt’s article, US Consortium Forming on Industrial Internet, along with the comments, to see just how confusing anything to do with improving industrial communications is.
There is a huge disconnect around the concept of machines talking to each other. When they don’t share information, the result is untold millions of dollars in lost productivity, efficiency, and time.
Machine-to-Machine (m2m) Communication
Source: Vodafone 2011)
Each of these devices, and the elements they’re made of, collect information on their specific operations. While that data might end up in the hands of one decision maker at one company, or even logged, for the most part it’s lost and, worse yet, useless.
Coordinating, optimizing, and data tracking so that a factory or its systems are operating optimally is still nearly impossible. There’s no USB communications protocol equivalent as of yet that ties everything together. At the center of the challenge is: How can manufacturing-based communications mirror the progress seen in the levels of interconnectivity in IT?
One entity trying to bring it all home is the MTConnect Institute, which is designing open communication standards for interconnectivity that can mirror what has been so successful in our IT world. Its goal is to allow devices, equipment, and systems to output data in an understandable format that can be read by other devices using the same standard format.
Based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML), a widely recognized, accepted, and flexible means to exchange semistructured machine-readable data, the standards are open and royalty free in order to attract the widest acceptance and levels of use possible.
MTConnect will provide reference implementations of example software which can be used as is, modified, or reverse-engineered. Users can create their own software for use (or sale) that meets MTConnect's standard requirements.
Recently, NIST tested the concept using factory floor equipment from a variety of vendors. In the NIST test, the software innovation enabled a robot conversant in ROS-Industrial to load and unload parts into an MTConnect-conversant lathe for cutting at precisely the moment the machine tool was ready for the task. This obviated hours or even days of reprogramming. The setup in this case was accomplished in no more than a few hours.
According to Douglas Woods, president of the Association for Manufacturing Technology, which sponsors MTConnect, “This is a giant step forward in resolving manufacturing interoperability issues… Seamless communications among disparate pieces of manufacturing technology equipment and devices is imperative to data access which ultimately drives analytics and opens the door for productivity enhancements.”
So, where does the $100K come in?
The MTConnect Challenge was created to engage and stimulate the development of a broader base of advanced manufacturing-intelligence software applications that acquire data using the standard. The objective of the challenge is also to create valuable and low-cost software tools and applications that are easy for manufacturing to adopt, especially by the mid- and lower-tier producers -- who represent a significant portion of the Department of Defense supply chain. The results of the effort would enhance their manufacturing capabilities to produce parts and assemblies.
The Challenge opens July 1, 2013, and ends January 31, 2014, so you haven’t missed much time yet. This challenge (one of three) is seeking the development of software applications that harness innovation and manufacturing-intelligence breakthroughs using data acquired via the standard. Here are the important dates:
July 1, 2013 - January 31, 2014: Submission period
February 21, 2014: 10 semi-finalists announced
March 14, 2014: Five finalists announced
April 2014: Winners selected and announced at the conference.
Who can play? Students, professionals, scientists, and organizations (including manufacturing entities).
First prize is $100,000.
Second place gets $75,000.
Third place receives $50,000.
Get busy -- this is an important challenge and a pretty good reward, don’t you think?
Want more info? Go to the Challenge website!