MAP to Become International Standard

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What's important about MAP and how it will affect jobs in computer aided design, computer aided manufacturing, and robotics, is that General Motors and Boeing, by their sheer size and world domination, are setting communications standards for vendors. "We've demonstrated that you can drive standards home if you try hard and have enough clout," Mark Cocroft, spokesman for GM's Technical Center, candidly admits. "In the future, General Motors is going to give purchasing preference to suppliers who provide us with MAP-compatible products. A supplier who does not have MAP-compatible capabilities runs a grave risk-not only from General Motors' standpoint, but also from more than 250 Fortune 500 companies, who are stipulating MAP-compatible products."

Already, user groups interested in MAP technology have been formed in Canada, Europe, and Japan.

What is MAP?

General Motors describes MAP, or Manufacturing Automation Protocol, as a published GM specification based on the 7-layer ISO/ OSI communication model which uses existing or emerging standard communication protocols for multi-vendor data communications in manufacturing.

More simply explained, MAP is the standard of specifications that General Motors is setting for all the products and equipment it buys that involve computers talking to other computers.

MAP is seven-layer. So is TOP, Boeing's technical-and-office-protocol communication system that links engineers and offices. MAP and TOP are compatible, and share the top five of the seven layers. The bottom two layers are different. Each layer governs a different aspect of data communications on the plant floor.

Understanding the layer concept may be easier if you use an analogy. Imagine two side-by-side containers of gelatin. Both containers have seven layers. Each layer of gelatin is a different color. The top five layers of Bowl A have the same sequence of colors as the top five layers of Bowl B. The bottom two layers of Bowl A, however, are green and red, while the bottom two layers of Bowl B are yellow and orange.

From imaginary gelatin to electronic technology is a big step, but basically, that's how MAP and TOP fit together. Instead of layers of make-believe gelatin, you have layers, or protocols, of electronic specifications.

Each of the layers governs the electronic signals of a different part of the network. The instructions built into a particular MAP layer tell computers how, and how quickly, information will speed along cables that tie them together, as well as how the computers will be "addressed."

Incidentally, there's a reason why MAP and TOP are not identical in all layers. The manufacturing plant environment has different requirements than the office environment. As Cocroft explains, "A factory environment is much harsher. You must use different types of cable. And there are other differences. For instance, when you sit at a desk in an office and type on a word-processor, there is a slight delay between the time you press a typewriter key and the moment the letter appears on the screen. In a factory, that won't do. Communication between the machines has to be instantaneous."

A Map Network

A MAP Local Area Network (LAN) can serve as the communications backbone for a computer-integrated manufacturing facility. In such a MAP network, there are several characteristics. An engineering workstation provides product design information that automated machine tools and other support systems will use, such as scheduling, and managing of tools. This information is usually stored in a data center. Mainframe computers have historically stored databases used in material requirements planning, personnel information, process routings, and other data that's required for operating in the plant.

Another MAP characteristic is distributed process control. Real time process control and monitoring drives and gathers information from a variety of devices on the plant floor: robots, machine vision systems, and programmable controllers. On the plant floor itself, workstations provide manufacturing personnel with up-to-date information that improves their ability to make decisions. Such information can include process data, engineering specifications, data on personnel, or real time quality feedback.

In the factory of the future, the Manufacturing Operations Control Room is the nerve center and brain. Using production schedules as input, personnel dynamically allocate resources, schedule maintenance, and monitor production facilities.

Flexible assembly applications in the factory of the future will have come a long way from the mid-80s flexible welding and painting operations. In a MAP network, use of flexible systems will expand to meet existing and new needs for improved quality, reduced scrap, and shortened downtime.

Combining several areas of high technology equipment such as robots, automated guided vehicles and computerized numerical control machines, flexible machining centers will implement "just-in-time" material control systems, techniques for rapid setup, and predictable flow of materials. PBX's will provide the gateway to wide area networks. Integration of voice and data will allow users to access the database and transfer information to and from world-wide data centers, using both public and private wide area networks.
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