Kathryn Lovell

Thoughts on the state of the manufacturing industry from IMTS

February 08, 2017

This past summer, my colleagues and I created a Node.js web application to modernize computer-aided manufacturing. I specifically endeavored to model real-time of machine tool processes from data transmitted by the machine tool over the local network. During this time the curators of MTConnect, an XML standard used to collect machine tool data, contacted us and asked me to show off our project at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago. Naturally, I did.

I used my time in Chicago to talk to as many companies I could about what they want and need from their computers. I found that lots of companies have monitoring systems of their own, but they developed them from within the company. For a company that does not primarily deal with software, this is a huge overhead. I’m willing to bet they would gladly use a third party tool if it could cater to the specific needs of their shop. The problem with this is that machine tools vary widely in both build and behavior. MTConnect aims to introduce a standard that can solve that problem, and StepNC shows how it can do that.

It’s the nature of the industry to be relatively slow at adopting new software, partially because it takes way more work to revamp a machine tool than it does to revamp a hard drive (It seems Apple wants to update my OS biweekly). A universal standard would help speed up that process tremendously.

With one notable exception, I primarily saw that while the more modernized companies were collecting huge amounts of precise data, they were a little at a loss as to what to do with it. Because of this, the industry is primed for a potential influx of Data Scientists to help the engineers sort through all that data. If they’re successful, it shows potential to help revive the manufacturing industry in the United States.