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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

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About Manufacturing Data Systems, Inc.

How long have you been in business?

The development of the OpenCNC® technology began in 1989. Our first control replacement was completed in August 1993 and since then, OpenCNC has logged millions of hours in production.

What do you do?

MDSI has introduced the first production-proven software-based open system CNC machine tool control that meets the CNC machine control needs of small and large manufacturers in all industries. Unlike other controls, the OpenCNC product is a user configurable software application that is unbundled from any hardware and does not use any proprietary hardware, motion control cards, or embedded firmware.

What industries use OpenCNC?

For both end-user manufacturers and machine tool builders, OpenCNC offers an open software CNC solution for a variety of industries including metal cutting and fabrication industries, semiconductor manufacturing, and printed circuit board manufacturing. The software is in use in the aerospace, automotive, consumer products, and agriculture industries.

Do you support NEMI and other organizations for the research and advancement of open architecture controls?

Yes. OpenCNC's open architecture, all-software design supports the NEMI (National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative) standard for modular open software control that can be reconfigured for different machine tool applications. MDSI also supports the standards for true open-architecture controls as established by OMAC (Open Modular Architecture Controls) and OSACA (Open System Architecture for Controls within Automation Systems).

When was OpenCNC first installed?

OpenCNC was first installed in production in August of 1993. Since that time, we have extended its capability and built an organization to support the needs of our growing customer base. There are regular releases of new software technology to support the changing needs of our customers and increase their productivity.

The software provides a common control technology across a full range of machine tools—single- and dual-turret lathes, single- and multi-spindle precision drills, routers, mills, grinders, gear hobs, dial index machines and gantry machines.

What is coming in the future?

MDSI releases upgrades of OpenCNC at least once a year. OpenCNC has been designed to support the changing needs of our customers to enable agile manufacturing. This includes support for the full range of metal cutting and metal forming machine tools, and electronics fabrication and assembly. OpenCNC will integrate upstream with Manufacturing Execution Systems. OpenCNC will also provide technologies to support real-time adaptive machining and predictive maintenance. MDSI will provide Internet access for real-time maintenance and production data with Web-based applications.

What is the cost?

Depending on your machine tool application, the control will be a fraction of the cost of proprietary CNC controls for the first application and through the life of the control. And it is a renewable CNC with regular production-proven software technology updates.

What is the relationship between the MDSI founded in 1969 and today's MDSI?

MDSI is a new company with a new product and technology, and it's solving a different set of manufacturing problems. The original MDSI was acquired by Schlumberger in 1980. It later merged with Applicon and subsequently abandoned the MDSI name. We did a trademark search and found that the name was available. MDSI acquired the trademark in 1996. Today's MDSI shares a common name and heritage with the original company. Although started by two of the original MDSI founders, the new MDSI is an entirely new and different company, and is neither a successor to, nor affiliated with, the original MDSI, Schlumberger, or Applicon.

How many customers do you have?

MDSI's customer base covers a broad spectrum of manufacturers in a wide range of industries. Our rapidly growing customer list includes Fortune 500 customers like Boeing, Caterpillar, DaimlerChrysler, Dana-Spicer, Detroit Diesel, Emerson Electric, Flowserve, Ford Motor Company, General Electric, General Motors, Lockheed-Martin, Marconi Precision Aerostructures, Rolls Royce, Tecumseh Products Company, Teledyne, Textron, and Vickers—as well as small contract manufacturers.


What makes OpenCNC different?

OpenCNC is different from other CNC controls because it provides:

  • Built-in real-time data collection
  • Built-in Internet-enabled and real-time machine tool diagnostics
  • Software-based growth path
  • Unbundled from any hardware
  • Single software application delivered on a CD that will run any style of machine tool
  • Documented and published Application Programming Interface (API)

What makes OpenCNC different from the PC-based controls?

Unlike PC-based controls, OpenCNC is sold as an unbundled software application, which does not use any proprietary hardware or motion control boards. In addition, OpenCNC provides the capability to collect and distribute manufacturing data from the machine automatically, without operator intervention.

What is the definition of an open system?

The test for an open system is based upon the following:

  • All control components - software, hardware, installation and training - are sold unbundled.
  • No proprietary hardware or motion control cards are required.
  • An open API is available for the customer to integrate third party applications.
  • The control will provide a facility for collecting and distributing real-time data that is user definable and sent across the network by the control.
  • The control is user installable, configurable and maintainable.

Does OpenCNC offer a published Application Programming Interface (API)?

Yes. A robust and fully documented API is available. It provides the capability to integrate other software products or technologies. MDSI customers have integrated manufacturing tools such as preventive maintenance tracking, real-time thermal compensation and in-process gauging. Programmers can write hard real-time programs using Microsoft® Visual Basic®. MDSI's API receives patent.

If OpenCNC is so good, why hasn't anyone else offered a product like this?

MDSI has developed a unique production-proven software CNC product based on patented technology and ten years of software development. A number of other companies are attempting to emulate MDSI's OpenCNC technology but are doing so with bundled, proprietary hardware.

Open systems will arrive in the CNC control market just as they did in the office, engineering and home markets. Eventually, the market will require all CNC controls to be open-system, unbundled, software-based controls.

New Machine Tools

What tools do you provide for control engineers?

OpenCNC/OEM Software Developer Kit (SDK). With the SDK engineers can design, build, test, and simulate the CNC application offline, in software, before installing it on the machine tool. For more information on this and other OpenCNC products, plus downloadable data sheets, click here.

As a machine tool builder/control engineer, how do I get started?

MDSI offers an OEM Quick Start Program, which includes OpenCNC development tools and training and support for the pilot project.

Is OpenCNC available on new machines today?

Yes. MDSI is a supplier to many machine tool builders to give you the opportunity to select OpenCNC as your control of choice.

Microsoft Windows® Support

Do you run on Windows 2000 and Windows XP?

Yes. OpenCNC runs on Windows 2000 and Windows XP using the IntervalZero RTX real-time extension. The result is hard real-time deterministic processing from a single processor and a single operating system.

In addition, MDSI is a Microsoft Certified Solution Provider and supports Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Distributed InterNet Applications Architecture for Manufacturing (Windows DNA for Manufacturing).

Do you support Windows NT®?

Not with the latest version of OpenCNC. The last version which supported Windows NT was OpenCNC 6.5. OpenCNC 6.6 uses RTX version 6.5 which does not support Windows NT.

Do you support Windows Vista®, Windows 7®, Windows 8®, or Windows 10®?

Not at this time.

I see many companies showing Windows with their control. Aren't they running Windows in hard real-time?

No. These companies are using a configuration that consists of dual-computers with multiple processors in each and dual operating systems. The CNC control in these configurations is running a proprietary real-time operating system on proprietary hardware. Connected to this CNC computer (via Ethernet or proprietary interface) is a PC running Windows. The solution they offer is more complex, more expensive and proprietary.

Networking and Data Sharing

Which network cards are supported in the recent OpenCNC release?

The following network cards are supported in the latest version of OpenCNC:

  • NE2000 compatible ISA
  • 3COM 3C905B and 3C905C PCI
  • Intel 8255X PCI
  • Realtek RTL81x9
  • Digital 2104X
  • National DP83815
  • Intel 82543GC
  • AMD 79C97X

Can I network this with my CAM system?

Yes. Because OpenCNC runs on Windows NT and PCs, all of the standard networks are supported. With this foundation you are able to connect OpenCNC to your NC programming system using a communication card you can purchase at your local computer reseller. In addition, OpenCNC has a built-in DNC capability for down loading part programs.

Does OpenCNC support NC programming systems based on RS-274D and RS-274X?

YES. OpenCNC supports standard language and graphical part programming systems. Our customers are using such systems as Parametric Technologies, Applicon, Unigraphics, SurfCAM, MasterCAM, SmartCAM, SDRC, Command, and Compact II.

Does OpenCNC provide the ability of collecting real-time machine event information via the Internet?

YES. OpenCNC has a built-in utility to collect machine events real-time without operator intervention, without specialty hardware, and send the information across the network—plus OpenCNC is Internet-enabled right out of the box.

Can I program the PLC logic with ladders?

Yes. Integrated within OpenCNC is a soft logic editor or CASE (Computer Aided Software Engineering) tool that supports all five IEC-61131-3 languages, plus flowcharting:

  • Ladder Logic (LL)
  • Sequential Function Charts (SFC)
  • Structured Text (ST)
  • Function Block Diagrams (FBD)
  • Instruction Lists (IL)


What are the system requirements for OpenCNC and WinMotion?

The following is a list of minimum system requirements for both OpenCNC and WinMotion:

  • Windows 2000 or Windows XP
  • 256 MB memory
  • Intel Pentium Processor - 300 MHz or above, including Celeron, PII, PIII, and P4 processors (recommended 1 GHz PIII)
  • Intel manufactured motherboard
  • 5 GB hard drive for Windows 2000 or Windows XP
  • CD-ROM Drive

What hardware is required?

OpenCNC uses standard off-the-shelf hardware available from multiple suppliers. Since OpenCNC software is unbundled from the hardware, you can choose what is required for your application. In general you need to select a PC, encoder feedback card, digital-to-analog converter card and I/O card. MDSI identifies, tests and qualifies hardware from a wide range of sources.

Do I have to buy the hardware from MDSI for my control?

No. MDSI will provide a complete Bill of Material and supported hardware list for running OpenCNC software. This will enable you to purchase the hardware directly from the manufacturer at a considerable cost savings.

Do you recommend any brands of PC motherboards?

Yes. Based upon quality and reliability, MDSI strongly recommends the use of motherboards and processors manufactured by Intel®. Intel motherboards are used by Dell, Gateway, HP, IBM, Compaq, and many others.

Do you support digital servo drives?

Yes. MDSI customers have their choice of SERCOS or Yaskawa Mechatrolink digital servo interfaces, or conventional (+/- 10 volt) analog.

Do I have to use an "industrial" PC?

No. We have experience with a wide range of PC solutions from office grade to industrial. So, OpenCNC can run on both industrial and commercial PCs. With more than six years of running OpenCNC on office grade PCs, none of our customers has requested an "industrial" PC.

What field buses do you support?

  • DeviceNet
  • Ethernet I/O
  • Profibus
  • Mechatrolink

Do you have a glossary of common OpenCNC terms?

Yes. Click here for the OpenCNC glossary.

Upgrading your ISA-bus PC to a new motherboard?

You've been running your OpenCNC-based machine without a hitch for years and decide it's time to replace the PC's motherboard and hard drive before it dies. (Or maybe it's already died and you need to replace it.)
Here's what you need to know about replacing an older ISA (or PC/104) bus-based PC:

  1. Sometime after the Intel 815 chipset era, motherboards no longer have an ISA bus built into the chipset; the ISA bus has been replaced with the nominally compatible Low Pin Count bus used only for communications between the chipset chips and CPU. A newer motherboard's serial port, for example, connects to the processor via the LPC bus; as far as Windows is concerned, however, it still appears as an ISA device.
  2. Some newer motherboards (particularly those targeted to the embedded market) are specified as having an ISA or PC/104 connector, but these are almost always generated from the LPC bus with an LPC-to-ISA bridge chip. The LPC bus is a hybrid serial/parallel bus that collapses the ISA bus from 98 pins to 10 pins. The bridge chips expand the LPC packets back into a fully parallel 98-pin bus. For most desktop applications, these chips can work fairly well.
  3. Unfortunately, in real time applications, we have found that some of the bridge chips do not work well. In testing several different ISA and PC/104 servo interface cards, the PC stops responding to the card's interrupts within a few seconds or a minute. We have also had reports that some I/O cards may not work reliably with these bridge chips, as well.
  4. We and some of our customers have tested motherboards using the IT8888 or IT8889 LPC-to-ISA bridge chip; none of these have worked for real time control. Winbond also makes a bridge chip, the W83626, but we have not encountered a motherboard yet that uses it.
If you are replacing an older motherboard in a system using an ISA or PC/104 servo card:
  1. If you want to keep the existing servo card, look for an older motherboard with a circa 815-vintage chipset or older that still has the ISA bus.
  2. If you want to go with a new motherboard, you will likely have to also get a PCI version of your ISA or PC/104 servo board. If the I/O is based on an ISA or PC/104 card, you may need to replace it with a PCI version as well. Ethernet-based I/O will probably still work; nearly all of these systems use a PCI ethernet port.
    When changing from an ISA Vigilant EncDac card to a PCI version, you will additionally need an I/O card. There is some minor rewiring involved as well; contact MDSI for a conversion chart.
  3. There is also the option of going from analog to digital drives-- for example moving from a Vigilant encoder-DAC card to a Mechatrolink or Sercos card. But since this also requires an add-on for each servo amplifier (or new servo amplifiers), most people choose not to go this route.