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

That increases costs and delays production.

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.

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.