U.S. manufacturers need real-time production information to monitor and optimize the manufacturing activities in their factories. Currently, this information typically is collected manually from isolated proprietary equipment, a process that takes time and introduces human error. Connecting this equipment to the factory network would make accurate production information immediately available, though widespread interconnection has been inhibited by the lack of common information models and methods to measure performance and conformance.

In response to this need, National Institute of Standards Technology (NIST) Engineering Laboratory staff developed a measurement performance and conformance testing framework and test tools that measure the effectiveness of protocols and standards for collecting real-time production information from factory-floor sensors and equipment. The NIST Factory Equipment Network Testing (FENT) Framework includes software modules and interfaces for testing and analyzing various sensor configurations and communication protocols, including industrial Ethernet/IP and wireless IEEE 1451.5. In a test by researchers, wireless sensor networks based on the IEEE 1451.5 (WiFi wireless) sensor standard were placed in laboratories and shop environments across the NIST campus, and sensor network performance tests were conducted using various network topology scenarios. Manufacturing equipment in the NIST shops was instrumented with sensors to enable real-time machine condition monitoring. Sensor performance data was captured throughout the testing for both wired and wireless networks for analysis by the FENT modules. The new capability demonstrated by the NIST team shows the usefulness and flexibility of the FENT Framework for remote testing and analysis of sensor network performance and will help reduce barriers to optimizing manufacturing activities within a factory.