HxGN Live 2019: Forging a Path in the Data Forest

Hexagon proposes finding intelligence in manufacturing data as the way forward

At its annual conference HxGN Live, Hexagon executives propose finding intelligence in manufacturing data as the way to gain competitive advantage and build responsible, sustainable production processes.

Press tour of the HxGN Live 2019 exhibit floor. Image courtesy of Hexagon.

A few corridors away from The Venetian's neon-lit jungles of poker tables and slot machines, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence's (Hexagon MI) president and CEO Norbert Hanke proposed some navigation tips out of the data forest.

In his keynote titled “Smart is hiding in plain sight,” Hanke said, “Ich seh den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht,” the German version of “You can't see the forest for the trees.” Manufacturing, he argued, is “obsessed with the trees. Everyone is looking after their tree, their silo, their own path in the process. Trees are, to a certain extent, the status quo. We need to look beyond the trees and see the forest.”

Hexagon's roots are in metrology, the devices and technologies for precision measurement. But through a mix of acquisition and organic growth, the company has broadened its portfolio to include simulation, location-based intelligence, and manufacturing, among others. In 2017, the company purchased MSC Software, known for its CAE offering.

The proliferation of AR-VR (augmented reality, virtual reality) demos at the recent show suggests Hexagon MI is also looking at the intersection of metrology and the emerging mixed reality applications as a new frontier to conquer.

“We need to move beyond the status quo. Let's not treat design, production, and metrology as functional silos anymore. They rely on one another,” said Hanke.” The goal should be “to put data to work, to empower an ecosystem that's connected and increasingly autonomous.” To spawn such a system, Hanke argued manufacturing should be (1) digital first, (2) infinitely connected, (3) with intelligence built in.

Norbert Hanke, president and CEO of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, proposes ways to navigate through the data forest. Image courtesy of Hexagon.

LightRunner, facial recognition for factories

A forerunner of the type of smart manufacturing Hanke envisioned could be seen in LightRunner, a recent product from Hexagon. “Think of it as facial recognition for factories. It provides constant absolute positioning for automated measurement,” explained Hanke. “With that, we eliminate mapping time and measurement of parts.”

In its product home page, Hexagon describes LightRunner as follows: “Projecting a pattern with millions of reference points on to the part during measurement, LightRunner offers a unique way to establish an absolute reference position for tiles in a 3D optical measurement cell. The system completely eliminates the need for mapping in the setup of new parts and during measurement of parts, simplifying the workflow and freeing up the cell to get even more measurements done.”

Hanke called LightRunner “a new class of solutions we're committed to providing.”

Hunting for manufacturing intelligence

When Hanke said, “smart is hiding in the air we breathe,” he meant it quite literally. The air temperature, humidity, and vibration of the manufacturing floor, for example, may have an impact on product quality. If the manufacturing plant were a patient, these might as well be the patient's vital signs, he pointed out.

“Are you monitoring them? If not, why not?” he asked rhetorically. “Why limit it to environment only? Why not machines as well?”

Monitoring could be done with minimal cost with Hexagon's devices such as PULSE, part of the company's manufacturing accessory line. But correlating the variables to quality (for instance, is a sudden spike in temperature a sign of impending equipment failure?) may be more complicated.

“What if we apply machine learning to the massive data we have?” Hanke suggested. “We big data analysis, we can learn from the past, and predict the future.”

Sheet metal cost estimate

FormingSuite, a sheet metal design software package from Forming Technology Inc., a division of Hexagon, hints at how to put process data in manufacturing to good use. “FormingSuite’s ability to provide extensive valuable information on many topics including formability, material cost, tooling cost, springback, etc. has led to the introduction of a new, comprehensive reporting system that automatically generates a single report summarizing an entire project in either Excel or PowerPoint format,” according to Hexagon.

“We're trying to move that same concept to other processes,” said Paolo Guglielmini, CEO of MSC Software. “We have so many customers in injection molding, welding, and additive manufacturing. As a result, we have a powerful set of data on material use, machining, surface treatment, and metrology inspection. We can use it to do sensible, reliable cost estimation from the get go.”

Guglielmini envisioned implementing cost estimation tools for the designers, who he believes should drive the process. “You don't want this to happen post-design. You want to do this early to control the cost,” he added.

Guglielmini also revealed the company is looking at composite and additive manufacturing (AM) as the two areas of growth and innovation. Thus, these two segments are the focus of its cost estimation tool development.

Soon after the conference, Hexagon announced it's acquiring AMendate, a generative design software maker targetting the AM industry.

Xalt for digital twins of factories

In connected manufacturing workflows, Hexagon expects its product Xalt can play an important role. “Xalt allows you to identify, assign, and take action on quality anomalies as they occur. The platform arms workforces with real-time information and alerts to drive behavioral and operational best practices. It also helps tailor the inspection process with on-premise, cloud, and sensor assets,” according to the product description.

Such a product can be the foundation for building digital twins of factories, with real-time updates that reflect what's happening on the floor.

“Digital twins of factories is an exciting concept,” said Brian Shepherd, senior VP of software solutions for Hexagon MI. “We're in a unique position since we have sensors to capture product quality, processes, and spacial arrangement—the reality of the factory. It's achievable for us; we're already doing it in some parts of the company. In Hexagon PPM (formerly Intergraph Process, Power & Marine), we have seen digital twins of entire refineries.”

Digital twins of factories and plants powered by sensor data is the vision for Industry 4.0. With vested interest and product portfolios in the design, simulation, and measurement sectors, Hexagon has good reasons to believe it has the upper hand.

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Kenneth Wong

Kenneth Wong is Digital Engineering’s resident blogger and senior editor. Email him at [email protected] or share your thoughts on this article at digitaleng.news/facebook.

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