Helping manufacturers select the right combination of tools for production jobs is one of several key applications being eyed for a computer model recently developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The model now serves as the basis for an international data-exchange standard and is contributing to such innovations as electronic tooling catalogs.
The new NIST model provides a common foundation for organizing manufacturing resources and representing them in computer-interpretable form. Such resources include machine tools, along with a large supporting cast of cutting tools, tool holders and adaptors, inserts, assembly devices, and other components and accessories.
The NIST approach's primary technical strength—the means to several performance advantages—is its emphasis on common interfaces and a unifying data structure. NIST manufacturing researchers are proffering their model as the starting point for international standards that could end a confusing state of affairs. To make good engineering decisions," says NIST mechanical engineer Kevin Jurrens, manufacturers must be able to access relevant and accurate information about the resources available to them. This need is widely recognized, but it has been addressed in many different ways, most of which are company-specific or application-specific."
Such diversity can lead to information anarchy. In a single factory, data describing a single piece of equipment or one of its components may be represented in multiple ways and in multiple formats, each one specific to a particular use," Jurrens explains. This can cause real problems. An engineer may or may not have access to the most recent set of resource data. To complicate matters, different people may use the same terminology to mean different things."
Earlier this year, a committee within the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, was the first to capitalize on NIST's object-oriented approach to specifying and structuring the types of data required for manufacturing resources. The Geneva-based organization's technical committee on small tools, known as TC 29, chose a subset of the model as the baseline for a new international standard that will enable computer-to-computer exchanges of data describing the characteristics of turning tools.
Although the model's uses go well beyond cutting-tool data, the committee's decision is an important first step in the international standards arena. At a recent meeting of a TC 29 working group, NIST was nominated to head the ad hoc body that will lead efforts to achieve international consensus on all the details of the prospective data exchange standard. This work will benefit from the experiences of the Metalworking Systems Division of Kennametal Inc., one of the world's largest suppliers of cutting tools. The company volunteered to test the NIST model, using it to organize a sample tooling database. Its feedback will help guide refinement of the standard.
At the same time, Jurrens and NIST computer scientist Mary Elizabeth Algeo are serving as advisers to a committee of the American National Standards Institute. Administered by the Cemented Carbide Producers Association, the ANSI/CCPA B212 committee represents the official U.S. position in TC 29's standard-development activity.
Meanwhile, NIST is exploring other avenues for advancing the standardization of other elements of the information model. While uses of manufacturing resource data cut across manufacturing functions, Jurrens explains, standards committees tend to focus on specific types of hardware or on particular computer applications. Within ISO, standardization of manufacturing resource data is likely to require the cooperation of committees in three separate technical areas--machine tools, small tools and industrial data.
TC 29's efforts could help pave the way, suggests Jim Diener, a manufacturing research program manager at Caterpillar Corp. and head of the ANSI/CCPA committee. "It's helpful to have a vision of what a manufacturing resource model should look like and what it should do," he says. "That didn't seem possible only a few years ago. Maybe after TC 29 is done, the other ISO technical committees will see the value of using the model and efforts toward full implementation of the manufacturing resource model as a standard will go forward."
NIST researchers and their industrial partners also hope to smooth the way. They will assess the model's performance in a variety of applications, beginning with process planning and cost estimating. Results of this validation testing, along with subsequent refinements to the model, should facilitate standardization of a common data structure for manufacturing resources, Jurrens says.
The seeds for the NIST model were planted by companies participating in the rapid response manufacturing project, a five-year, 10-firm effort that receives matching support from NIST's Advanced Technology Program and RRM consortium members. In the multiproject collaboration, General Motors, Ford, Texas Instruments, United Technologies, and Lockheed Martin Energy Systems have joined with manufacturing software suppliers to develop methods that will halve the time required to design and make new products.
One technical aim is to build an integrated model that uniformly and reliably captures both product and process information. In focusing on manufacturing resources, NIST researchers are tackling a key element of the challenge to integrate software applications from design through production.
NIST's standards-focused approach, Algeo explains, would promote seamless systems integration. It also would permit tooling data supplied by vendors to be automatically entered into the databases of their manufacturing customers. That capability would eliminate duplicative inputting as well as redundant stores of information. This can cause data management headaches and impact process planning, scheduling, cost estimating, tool management, numerical control programming and other important tasks.
"For many applications, it comes down to getting the right data, and to maintaining that data," says Len Hermann, senior applications engineer at the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Sciences, a Cincinnati-based maker of manufacturing software. "If you want knowledge-based tools for process-planning or cost-estimating, then you must have access to very detailed data. Right now, unfortunately, it takes a lot of up-front labor and a lot of continuing effort to build and maintain a tool and resource database with the required level of detail. Most companies aren't willing to spend the time and the resources."
"With a common nomenclature and standard format," says Hermann, a member of the ANSI/CCPA committee, "the job becomes much easier for everybody"--tooling and software suppliers and, especially, their manufacturing customers.
Besides the RRM consortium, other research efforts are taking advantage of the model's availability. A University of Michigan professor, for example, is using the model in a project to develop a guide to aid decisions on purchases of machine tools. The NIST model also is being eyed as the basis for on-line tooling catalogs, where vendors would list the specifications of their products.
As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.