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Protocol brings open comms to machine tools

09 September, 2008

The US-based Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) has announced a new open communications protocol designed to link machine tools from different suppliers. The protocol, called MTConnect, is being backed by major suppliers including Bosch Rexroth, GE Fanuc, NUM and Siemens.

The aim is to make MTConnect an open communications standard for machine tools, allowing equipment to output data in a format that can be read by other devices using the same standard. The protocol will allow third-party suppliers to develop software and hardware to make manufacturing enterprises more productive.

The royalty-free protocol is based on XML (Extensible Markup Language) which can be used to exchange machine-readable data. It will use commercially available technologies and will be rolled out in three phases.

The first phase, showcased at a recent US trade show, provides a connection between devices and CNCs and allows them to share data. Users can build applications that can interpret the information coming from a wide variety of devices and query other applications to find out what they do.

In the second phase, a host system will be able to control certain aspects of a CNC remotely, including starting/stopping operations, and to provide setup information on parts, fixtures and tools.

According to John Turner, engineering and solutions manager for GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms’ CNC business, the third phase will be the most exciting. "We will no longer need to rely on a host system," he explains. "Information will be shared, collected and controlled across multiple devices, similar to how it is done in a USB hub. The CNC now becomes part of a network that is defined at the machine. This will allow machine-tool builders to build entire applications on top of connection protocols that are already in place for nearly every conceivable type of device."

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