June 19, 2017
Last week, when Ola Rollen, president and CEO of Hexagon, delivered his keynote to the audience at HxGN LIVE 2017 conference (The Venetian, Las Vegas, NV, June 12-14), he felt he needed to travel back in time to bring up an important lesson. So he virtually sailed 200 years back to the battle of Trafalgar, conjuring up the spirit of Horatio Nelson.
“According to navel warfare textbooks, Nelson should sail his ships straight up to the combined French and Spanish ships, line up his against theirs, then fire at one another,” Rollen pointed out. “But Nelson didn’t do that. When he approached, he came from two sides.”
When recounting the decisive battle, historians often pointed to Nelson’s unorthodox and risky strategy as the primary reason for his victory over the enemy’s numerically superior fleet. The British victory was a costly one. Lord Nelson, the architect of the victory, died from a French musket shot during the engagement.
“If you disobey the rules, if you do the unexpected, you can reach new heights,” Rollen noted.
One of Hexagon’s recent surprise acts was the swift acquisition MSC Software, a computer-aided engineering (CAE) vendor. In February, Hexagon announced its intent. By April, the transaction was complete, making MSC Software part of Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence (MI) Division.
Widely known for its MSC Nastran solver, MSC Software is a household name in the tight-knit computer-aided engineering (CAE) community. Such vendors make attractive M&A targets for the computer-aided design (CAD) and product lifecycle management (PLM) market leaders, due to the complementary nature of digital design and digital simulation technologies. For a metrology solution provider like Hexagon, the acquisition may warrant some explanation.
“In the factory, it’s no longer clear what’s physical and virtual,” said Norbert Hanke, president of Hexagon’s MI. “We’re talking more and more about virtual integration of functions and activities that turn ideas into finished products ... With the acquisition of MSC Software, we’re on our way to bringing together the real world and the virtual world.”
On Wednesday July 14, Dominic Gallello, MSC Software’s president and CEO, shared the stage with Hanke.
MSC Software Under the Hexagon Umbrella
Even though MSC Software and Hexagon appear to exist in different universes, the two have about 70-80% customer overlaps, according to Gallello. Sometimes, without realizing it, the two companies supplied software and hardware to the same automotive and aerospace firms.
“In autonomous vehicle development, for example, we have the broadest portfolio for simulation,” Gallello pointed out. “And Hexagon has a wide range of sensing technologies. Marrying these two can bring synergy.”
Because both companies are interested in industrial scale additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing), there could also be opportunities to develop ways to analyze the strength of a part as it’s being printed.
“Let’s say you’re printing a titanium part,” said Gallello. “It can cost you $100-150K per part, and it takes days to grow that part. If there’re distortion and flaws after the first half an hour, you’d probably want to know so you can stop the machine. This kind of capability doesn’t exist today.”
CAE solvers can be used to analyze and predict a part’s strength and potential for failures. Similarly, metrology and precision measurement equipment, like those offered by Hexagon MI, can detect deviations that are difficult or impossible to detect with the naked eyes. The combination of these two technology specimens can spawn creative ways to prevent costly printing errors in large-scale metal-based 3D printing projects.
Hexagon acquired Vero Software, the makers of Edgecam, in late 2014. The company also acquired Apodius, a composite measurement and analysis vendor, in late 2016. In both cases, the preexisting brands live on long after the acquisitions. There’s no reason to believe the company will treat the highly visible MSC Software brand any differently.
Acquiring While Being Acquired
Just one month after Hexagon announced the completion of MSC Software acquisition, MSC Software also announced it has closed the deal to buy VIRES GmbH, an autonomous vehicle development tool provider.
“We are just in the very early days of testing with confidence vehicles that need to reach Level 5 autonomy,” said Gallello. “VIRES’ outstanding environmental simulation technology fits perfectly into our overall strategy of connecting the off-line, real-time, big data, and analytics technology-chain. With this acquisition, we will enable vehicles that are not only safe but that also retain the special driving characteristics of their brands.”
Level 5 autonomy, as explained by Wired magazine’s transportation reporter Alex Davies, is “The car that can handle all driving tasks and go anywhere. No human, no steering wheel, no pedals. Climb in, tell it where you want to go (if it doesn’t already know from reading your calendar), and get back to looking at your phone.”
During his onstage appearance at HxGN LIVE, Gallello said, “Up to now, our simulations have been about the car, its structures, whether it might break, and all of that. But in our simulation, we now need to figure out how to replace the human driver’s decision making, and burn it all onto a chip.”
Data-Driven Processes, Data-Driven Simulation
2.5 Quintilian (25 followed by 18 zeroes) bytes is the volume of data people on this planet create everyday, Rollen reminded the audience. Data and server giant IBM cites the same number in its online discussions about Big Data.
“If we have 10 times more data, why isn’t our decision making ten times better?” asked Rollen.
With this amount of data, it’s impossible to identify the scientific breakthroughs and innovations that hide in plain sights in the mounds of data.
Metrology and measurement equipment contributes to the growing data output, part of the 2.5 Quintilion created daily. Simulation technology offers the opportunity to use the data to develop better vehicles, planes, and products. But finding nuggets of wisdom and insights in Big Data—that would take machine learning and AI.
Alas, the days of finite possibilities and calculable risks—when someone like Lord Nelson could map out on a hand-drawn chart how his 27 ships would engage the 33 Franco-Spanish ships—are long gone.