NIST Reports Machine Communications Breakthrough

A prototype application converts data and messages written in ROS-Industrial, preferred by robotics researchers, and MTConnect, used by the builders of machine tools, into a form understandable to both.

Mark Bello reported May 28 for NIST Tech Beat that a team of partner companies led by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining has created an application that allows data and messages written in ROS-Industrial, preferred by robotics researchers, and MTConnect, used by the builders of machine tools, into a form understandable to both of them. This is significant -- and it has been demonstrated and tested at NIST -- because it "eliminates the need to do a full-blown conversion of computer codes to get robots and machine tools from different vendors to handle complex interactions smoothly. Instead, using the bridge entails writing the equivalent of a mutually understood introduction -- a 'wrapper' in software parlance -- that makes it possible for the entire message to get through," Bello wrote.

Savings in reprogramming time and cost are significant, he reported, describing a NIST test in which the software "enabled a robot conversant in ROS-Industrial to load and unload parts into an MTConnect-talking lathe for cutting, precisely when the machine tool was ready to perform the task."

Bello's report quotes Fred Proctor, leader of NIST's Smart Manufacturing and Construction Control Systems Program: "The goal of this project and follow-up efforts is to make it as easy as possible to integrate factory robots and machine tools and also to reconfigure them in response to changes in orders or customer requirements."

The participating companies were System Insights, the Southwest Research Institute, and the Association for Manufacturing Technology. The next step is to test the generic bridge in a real factory.

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