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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Hexagon and HxGN Measure Up and Beyond

June 18th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Hexagon Global Network (HxGN) 2015 Live conference. Although not held in my favorite destination, Las Vegas, this was an opportunity for my first direct exposure to Hexagon. In a word, I was not disappointed. In fact, the experience went far beyond my modest expectations that I had before attending the event.

I went to HxGN specifically for the metrology (science of measurement) portion of the conference with regard to sensing, inspection, QA, and reverse engineering applications – in other words what Hexagon Metrology is all about. However, metrology was not the only area represented, as the company known as Hexagon AB also has a huge presence with its hardware, software, and services in other industry segments, such as geospatial (GPS and surveying); process, power, and marine (PP&M); and security, government, and infrastructure (SG&I). It was a lot to take in and I focused on industrial metrology and related technologies – sensors and software used for optimizing manufacturing processes and throughput.

Founded in 1992 and headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, Hexagon AB has offices in 46 countries, 15,000+ total employees, and is R&D focused with 11% of net sales and more than 3,400 employees invested in R&D. The industrial side of Hexagon AB, known as Industrial Enterprise Solutions (IES), that includes manufacturing and industrial plant facilities accounts for about half of the company’s sales. Roughly one third of Hexagon’s business is derived from metrology.

HxGN LIVE 2015 Conference

The heritage and core of Hexagon Metrology’s business is sensing – the acquisition of information about an object with (touch probe, CMM) or without (laser, visible light) making physical contact for purposes of precise measurement for a variety of purposes. For example, measuring quality is becoming more prevalent earlier in the manufacturing process, and not just measuring a product as it comes off a production line. Earlier measurement and inspection to ensure ultimate quality are analogous to what simulation used to be – often an afterthought. Today, however, an increasing number of organizations are realizing the value that simulation and measurement can provide if applied earlier in the design and manufacturing processes.

One of Hexagon Metrology’s customers said that earlier measurement has made it reorder its priorities in making its products “better before cheaper.”

Hexagon has been at the forefront of creating closed loop systems for manufacturing, where measurement data is gathered and used with synergies between different technologies where sensors and data are combined into one cohesive environment. This is known as quality automation that connects and structures data from multiple sources. Quality automation transforms data into actionable information for optimized manufacturing.

Hexagon Metrology provides these capabilities with automated inspection cells, such as its 360˚ SIMS system that can inspect within a production line, as well as its relatively new Metrology Management System (MMS) that can transform gathered data into usable information. MMS and its potential are especially interesting and will the topic of a blog post in the near future. It’s especially interesting because of its incorporation/integration with IoT technologies, another area we take great interest in.

Since its inception, Hexagon has continually looked for ways to improve its business model and service to its customers. For example, it started as a vendor of industrial measurement technologies that has now grown to be a provider of much broader information technologies. Beginning in about 2001, when Hexagon’s scope of focus was centered on metrology sensors and systems, it began a divestiture of non-core businesses. A few years later, Hexagon’s core expanded to include geospatial sensors and systems. Around 2010, Hexagon started shifting away from its historical hardware concentration to a more balanced hardware/software mix. Since then, Hexagon has developed software-centric strategies and synergies that have brought about major shifts from quality control to productivity, data capture to data distribution, and from being a product-centric to solution-centric company.

HxGN 2015 Keynote – Human Ingenuity: An Ambitious Plot. An Evolving Tale

Beyond structural business changes, over the years Hexagon has evolved organically from within and outwardly through acquisitions, including Brown & Sharpe, Intergraph, Leica Geosystems, and more recently, Vero Software. It’s this last acquisition that we’ll focus on because it has the biggest implications for readers of MCADCafe.

The CAM Vero Software acquisition took place about a year ago and was discussed in the following MCADCafe blog – Hexagon Acquires Vero: Metrology Meets Manufacturing.

The results of the Vero Software acquisition are just beginning to become evident, but the reason for it was unique and well thought through, and can be viewed from two perspectives – connecting CAM to metrology or connecting inspection to manufacturing. It’s about integrating these two processes and automating a complex workflow. This is especially important to the overall future of Hexagon. Automation is key, and not just the use of robots, but for filling skills gaps, structuring data into useful information, and continuously improving process and product quality.

Vero Software’s diverse range of products can handle just about any material imaginable – solid metal, wood, sheet metal, even stone. There is so much to cover with Vero Software that it will be covered comprehensively by itself in the near future. Suffice it to say that Vero Software has a lot to offer and was a very smart acquisition by Hexagon for its own merits, as well as what it adds to Hexagon’s future direction.

The Vero Software acquisition was part of a bigger plan by Hexagon to move its products out of the traditional QA room to the factory floor by bringing quality issues into production. Hexagon is intent on ultimately closing the loop of manufacturing and measurement – sort of a measure/inspect as you go approach. On many levels this makes a lot of sense and may help spur a “design for inspection automation” movement, replacing an “inspect after manufacture” mentality.

Much to its credit, Hexagon is devoting a lot of resources to improving hardware and software user experience, not just user interface. There is a big difference between UX and UI and it shows with what Hexagon is doing to improve the former. This attitude and focus on customers are just a couple of the things that set Hexagon apart. As stated previously and paraphrased, Hexagon’s mantra is, “Make it better, and not just necessarily cheaper.”

Hexagon is truly a unique company with an interesting past and potentially an even more interesting future. I genuinely enjoyed HxGN because it presented a lot of valuable information, and was not just a multi-day sales pitch to a captive audience. My introduction to Hexagon, its people, its products, and its customers made the trip to one of my least favorite cities totally worthwhile.

For this part of the world, HxGN 2016 Live will take place in Anaheim, CA June 13-16, 2016. I’m already looking forward to it.

Editor’s Note: There was so much to see and cover at HxGN 2015, we will detail several of Hexagon’s hardware and software products and services over the coming months.

Disclosure: Hexagon AB covered conference fee, hotel accommodation, and some meals for HxGN 2015.

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