A $59.99* Machine Monitoring System

A $59.99* Machine Monitoring System

If you are trying to implement basic machine monitoring in your shop on a shoestring budget, and your machine tools are already MTConnect aware, Raspberry Pi provides an inexpensive solution.

* Cost of Raspberry Pi kit only. MTConnect adapter solutions, networking, etc. may cost extra.

For those who missed the craze a few years ago, Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive single-board computer small enough to fit in your palm, with a target retail price of $35 and a huge hobbyist fan following. That $35 price tag gets you a bare board,but most kits (such as this one from Amazon) will bundle a USB power supply, plastic case, and MicroSD card with OS preinstalled. Maker sites like Adafruit will also sell quite a variety of add-ons. Makers have used the Raspberry Pi to build media servers, as controllers for embedded projects, and even clustered into supercomputers.

First, unpack the Raspberry Pi and set it up, following the instructions on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website. At a minimum, you will need to connect USB power, a keyboard, and an HDMI monitor. You will also need an internet connection: the current model has built-in wi-fi, but older models require either a wi-fi dongle or an Ethernet connection.

Once you have stepped through the first-time configuration, you are ready to install the MTConnect Agent. Raspberry Pi runs an OS that its makers call Raspbian, a derivative of Debian, a popular Linux distribution. Once your Raspberry Pi is up and running, install the MTConnect C++ Agent following these community-maintained instructions for Ubuntu (also a derivative of Debian). The Raspberry Pi uses an ARM processor roughly as powerful as an older smartphone, so the build process may take a long time.

After the build is complete, configure the MTConnect agent to connect to your machine tools’ MTConnect adapters, then run the agent. Go to another machine on the network, and point your web browser to the agent’s URL. (Need to find out your Raspberry Pi’s IP address? Run ifconfig on the pi’s command line.) If all has gone correctly, you will see the device configuration for the agent. You can then navigate to the /current URL to view the status of your devices.

If you are running Windows on your desktop or laptop, you can install the no-cost TrakHound Community software, which provides live monitoring and 24 hours of history. Unfortunately I don’t have a Windows machine, so I can’t demo the software.

And there you go. Using open-source software and low-cost hardware, it’s possible to set up a machine monitoring system for machine tools that are already MTConnect-enabled with minimal investment of time and money. If you are wondering how monitoring can help your shop, this is a simple method to introduce yourself to the concept.

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