ROS-Industrial – MTConnect Integration Program Completes

This work was conducted under Grant Opportunity Number 2012-NIST-MSE-01 for the Intelligent Systems Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in collaboration with AMT (Association for Manufacturing Technology), Mazak USA, NCDMM (National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining), SwRI (Southwest Research Institute), and System Insights.

Program Summary

The ROS-Industrial – MTConnect Integration program, completed this past summer, had a goal to create a bridge between the MTConnect and ROS-Industrial and demonstrate the capability with a robotic machine tending application. Similar to ROS messaging, MTConnect is a standard that describes both the symantic data definition and method of communication between devices in a manufacturing environment. The ROS-Industrial/MTConnect bridge allows devices that use either comms/messaging system to communicate seamlessly. The practical application of the bridge is to create plug-and-play capability between MTConnect devices and any robot that is supported by ROS-Industrial. The final deliverable for the program was a machine tending demonstration with a ROS-Industrial-controlled robot (Fanuc) and a MTConnect-controlled CNC (Mazac CNC Lathe). The MTConnect standard pre-defined the communications and system interactions between the robot and CNC, allowing an integration with significantly less programming than would be required from a traditional implementation. (for more information see the video below).

Importance to ROS-Industrial

While the final demonstration of the program may not be a new application, the real value in this program was to provide a method for ROS-Industrial devices to communicate with other devices (even other ROS-Industrial devices) using an industry standard. With this capability, the vision of a factory floor with intelligent industrial systems all communicating and interacting seamlessly could be realized. This is a capability that is not traditionally supported by ROS. There have been efforts at creating a multi-master system, but these efforts are not appropriate for an industrial application. Such approaches require every system to be ROS-aware which is not practical for all the systems in an industrial environment. Many devices are too simple for the overhead of ROS. Thus MTConnect provides a pragmatic solution for device-to-device communications.

In addition to this important capability, several ancillary capabilities were developed or prototyped as part of this effort.

  • Robot Task Description Format (RTDF) – A standard ROS format for capturing robot moves and way-points in a human-readable format.
  • Standard Control System State Machine and GUI – The vast majority of industrial control systems follow very similar behavioral concepts, including common states such as idle, waiting, in-process, stopped, reset, etc... With the adoption of common states, a similar GUI structure emerges. While these concepts are not new, powerful tools like those available with ROS-I now allow developers to take advantage of them.

The ROS-Industrial - MTConnect Integration Program provided many benefits to the ROS-Industrial program, including new capabilities and a real world demonstration of a robotic machine tending application. We are excited to see how others will build upon these new capabilities for their own applications.