Why Lord Kelvin Would Love MTConnect

Every now and then we read an article that has immense depth and meaning for our industry. Below is one such article, just published, written by an esteemed colleague, Dave Edstrom, Director, The Office of Strategic Innovation, AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology. I reproduce it here with all credit to Dave.

Highlights:

  • The big reason why only 4 to 5 percent of all machine tools are being monitored today comes down to two reasons, technical and cultural.
  • The value of any manufacturing shop floor’s network is the number of pieces of manufacturing equipment that can speak MTConnect squared.
  • Think of MTConnect as Bluetooth for manufacturing.
  • In order to quantify how well a manufacturing plant or job shop is doing, you first must easily get the data and put it in a standard quantified form. {Note he refers to Job Shop in the same thinking as a manufacturing plant}
  • “MTConnect — to measure is to know.”

Why Lord Kelvin Would Love MTConnect

NIST was my account for six years starting in the mid 1980s when I was at Sun Microsystems. I loved having NIST as an account because, as a Systems Engineer, NIST was always doing something very interesting and pushing the limits on what Sun could provide in terms of computing power. One of my first visits to NIST, I was brought into a conference room and saw the following engraved in the floor:
“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be.”
Lord Kelvin (Sir William Thomson)

That phrase is built into the DNA of computer science and science in general. To provide a simple example of this, when you walk into a data center that houses thousands of computers in countless racks, you will find that every single one of those computers is monitored extremely closely. According to industry and academic experts only 4 to 5 percent of machine tools are monitored today. This percentage is mind boggling to me. How can any plant possibly make intelligent decisions if they can not quantify what a machine tool is doing?
The big reason why only 4 to 5 percent of all machine tools are being monitored today comes down to two reasons, technical and cultural. Too often when you speak to someone at a smaller job shop or plant, the reason for not monitoring is the cost and/or time to implement. MTConnect addresses the technical side of the challenge by making it is easy to get data off a machine tool in an open, royalty-free and standard fashion. MTConnect ‘s motto is “Different Devices, Common Connection.” MTConnect is all about dramatically lowering the barrier to entry to enabling a machine tool to speak to the rest of the world in an open fashion.
MTConnect can address the technical side of this challenge, but how do you change the culture component of this equation? As we all know, culture is a huge issue when driving change. This is true whether it is in a business or any other activity that involves humans. Education is the key to driving culture changes. There are many lessons from the computer industry that can be applied to manufacturing to drive change in the culture through education.
Let’s look at some of the laws in the computer industry and see if there are similarities in manufacturing. Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, made a statement that has now become known as “Metcalfe’s Law.” Metcalfe’s Law basically states that the value of any network is the number of users or devices connected to the network squared. If we apply Metcalfe’s Law to manufacturing, we would modify it slightly to state: The value of any manufacturing shop floor’s network is the number of pieces of manufacturing equipment that can speak MTConnect squared. Why MTConnect squared and not just the number of pieces of manufacturing equipment squared? Because it is MTConnect that makes these pieces of equipment able to all speak the language of the internet, which is XML. XML is an abbreviation for eXtensible Markup Language and it is the default language on the internet today. XML makes it extremely easy for software applications to talk to MTConnect-enabled manufacturing equipment.
One of the most common misconceptions about MTConnect is that it is an application that you purchase. MTConnect is a protocol that defines how manufacturing equipment will speak to the outside world as well as dictionary of what these manufacturing terms mean. Think of MTConnect as Bluetooth for manufacturing with a dictionary of terms. Why do I emphasize the dictionary? Because the dictionary gives meaning to the manufacturing terms. For example, imagine the English language without a dictionary. What would we have? We would have 26 letters but no words. Without a dictionary of words, we would have everyone defining their own words, and that is exactly what we had with manufacturing prior to MTConnect
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say, “there are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns.” Stated another way, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” The real purpose of MTConnect is to quantify the known unknowns and provide the framework to discover the unknown unknowns. You can’t manage what you don’t know. And unless you are quantifying what you don’t know, then you are shooting from the hip, which is never a good idea.
So, why would Lord Kelvin LOVE MTConnect? Because in order to quantify how well a manufacturing plant or job shop is doing, you first must easily get the data and put it in a standard quantified form. That is exactly what MTConnect does. Getting the data in an open and royalty-free way is what will allow you to first monitor what you are doing and then to share the information with all your applications and all your partners. While the most obvious use of getting common information out of a piece of equipment is monitoring, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The real win with MTConnect is when quantified information is available anytime, anywhere to any application, to any partner and on any device, it drives up productivity. I imagine Lord Kelvin would change MTConnect’s mantra to: “MTConnect — to measure is to know.”

Dave Edstrom
Director, The Office of Strategic Innovation
AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology

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