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MTConnect; The Digital Revolution on the CNC Machine Shop Floor

[August 20th, 2013] In our July 15th, 2013 blog post, the staff here at Advanced Precision Machining introduced our readers to the concept of 3D printing and its role in prototype development on the floor of the modern CNC machine shop. This month, we'd like to take the opportunity to share with you more cutting-edge technology making its way into the CNC machining industry; that being the emergence and growing incorporation of MTConnect-enabled technology into CNC milling and machining operations. In simple terms, MTConnect allows for the exchange of data between precision manufacturing tools, such as CNC mills and CNC lathes, and software packages that are tasked with monitoring the performance of the machine shop equipment. At its core, MTConnect is a communications tool that allows machine operators better insight into how well their machines are actually performing.

At APM, our machining services incorporate the use of complex CNC milling and CNC turning machines. The majority of this equipment is controlled via computers, hence the acronym CNC, which stands for computer numerical control. Our certified CNC machinists program a milling machine, for example, with a design for a desired part. In turn, the machine follows the set of protocols, and the part the part is produced. While CNC machining is not a new process, the effective monitoring of the processes is undergoing a change. Gaps inevitably show up between process designs and process end results, and these gaps needed an effective way in which to close them. Enter MTConnect and a digital revolution of sorts that is starting to emerge on the CNC machine shop floor.

In two lectures at the 2006 Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) meeting, David Edstrom of Sun Microsystems and Dr. David Patterson, Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, described how the Internet could be used to connect CNC machine tools in a precision machine shop. A standard protocol, or language, was soon developed that in essence, could extract and read data from the control devices on a CNC machine. For example, in the CNC machining process, alarms and messages are continually generated indicating that a particular piece of equipment is not operating as efficiently as possible. With MTConnect, information can now be exchanged between a CNC unit, data analysis software, and shop monitoring systems. As a result of the ability to more efficiently gather performance data, MTConnect is the ultimate tool to maximize return on a machine shop's capital investments. The use of the data gathered allows a CNC machine shop to optimize output, increase productivity, improve machine utilization, reduce maintenance, and ultimately lower the costs of precision manufacturing.

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About the Author

Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he partnered with his friend and colleague, Kirk Tuesburg, currently APM’s machine shop manager, together launching what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor, and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.

 

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