The electronics industry offers a sneak preview of what interoperability standards can offer machine tool users. Known as Computer Aided Manufacturing using XML (CAMX), the standards enable different machines and software on the factory floor to talk to each other in real-time. Collaborators in the industry effort include Georgia Tech's Manufacturing Research Center (MARC) and its Research Institute (GTRI).
The newest addition to the CAMX family is the IPC-2501, recently approved by the IPC, a trade association for the electronics industry. This standard provides a critical piece to the communications puzzle. Although earlier standards have dealt with the content of messages, the IPC-2501 provides a method for exchanging those messages.
The IPC-2501 features a centralized message broker, which uses an http interface to pass XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language, a universal format for Web-based documents and data) messages. "The message broker acts like a Web server and each piece of equipment or software application functions like a Web client," explains Andrew Dugenske, manager of research services at MARC and director of Georgia Tech's Framework Implementation Project.
In contrast to previous proprietary methods for message exchange, the IPC-2501 defines an open standard for routine information.
"Now manufacturers can build their own systems and exchange message seamlessly between different equipment and applications," Dugenske says.
Decreasing the complexity of communication yields significant benefits:
- Lower programming costs. According to industry statistics, for every $1 spent to purchase software, $4 is required to install and integrate it.
- Faster production. Speed is critical in today's competitive manufacturing arena, especially for electronics assembly players. Time spent waiting for custom software to be written and integrated hurts manufacturers by delaying product introduction.
- Greater flexibility. Electronics manufacturers can use the piece of equipment or software application for the job, regardless of vendor.
As a specialist in human factors, Gerth helped design a portal for the message broker, which graphically displays information from machines so manufacturers can see what's happening on their factory floors. "A standard isn't just about exchanging information, it's also about making decisions," he explains. "In the past, processes driven completely by technology often haven't provided the information individual decision makers need."
For industry efforts to succeed, Dugenske emphasizes the need for coopetition -- collaboration by the users who are also competitors.