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:
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.”
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