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For Immediate Release
April 15, 2004

Factory Floor Communication: Researchers Help Standardize Information Systems for "Plug and Play" Power


Electronics manufacturers use equipment and software from a variety of vendors, and this mix-and-match scenario causes a problem: Information systems must be modified whenever there’s a change in assembly lines, which increases costs and delays production.

Andrew Dugenske (left) and Jeff Gerth pose with a Universal GSM placement machine used to manufacture electronic assemblies. Georgia Tech led an effort that resulted in an international standard for communication among such machines on the factory floor.
Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek

In response, researchers at Georgia Tech’s Manufacturing Research Center (MARC) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are working with the electronics-assembly industry to develop a family of international standards for interoperability.

Known as Computer Aided Manufacturing using XML (CAMX), these specifications enable different machines and software on the factory floor to talk to each other in real-time.

Backbone of message exchange

The newest addition to the CAMX family is the IPC-2501, recently approved by the IPC, a trade association for the electronics interconnect 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 routing information. “Now manufacturers can build their own systems and exchange messages 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 best piece of equipment or software application for the job, regardless of vendor.

Better decisions, co-opetition

“Improving factory automation is critical because downsizing, consolidation and outsourcing of factories require that fewer workers manage more and sometimes unfamiliar manufacturing processes,” says Jeffrey Gerth, a researcher from GTRI’s Electronic Systems Laboratory who worked on the project. “CAMX provides the conduit to distribute manufacturing messages, so rapid intervention can be made with a minimum of human effort.”

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.”

The IPC-2501 is a byproduct of Georgia Tech’s Framework Implementation Project, a program that began in January 2000 and stemmed from a related project sponsored by the National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative.

An important hallmark of the Framework Implementation Project has been “coopetition,” Dugenske says. A number of industry competitors joined forces to help Georgia Tech researchers define industry needs, along with security and scalability issues.

Currently, Georgia Tech is working with NACOM Corp., a Griffin, Ga.-based manufacturer of automotive electronics, and several of NACOM’s suppliers, to develop a CAMX application program interface (API). This software will make CAMX standards easier to implement and reduce costs for manufacturers.

“NACOM will be one of the first factories in the world to be CAMX compliant,” Dugenske says. “It’s great how a local manufacturer in Georgia is helping improve the international manufacturing scene.”


RESEARCH NEWS & PUBLICATIONS OFFICE
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue NW
Atlanta, Georgia 30332 USA

MEDIA RELATIONS CONTACTS: gtresearchnews@gatech.edu

TECHNICAL CONTACTS: Andrew Dugenske (404-894-9161); E-mail: (andrew.dugenske@marc.gatech.edu) or Jeff Gerth (404-894-7309); E-mail: (jeff.gerth@gtri.gatech.edu).

WRITER: T.J. Becker