Consolidation along the Digital Thread seems to be all the rage among companies today, including Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. While acquiring technologies outside its core metrology might make sense as a business, is there advantage technically in adding CAE and CAD/CAM?
In 2015, Hexagon Metrology changed its name to Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, signaling a shift in emphasis from a pure metrology company into – well, something different. Oftentimes, a mere name change does not mean much. Not so with Hexagon. With its continuing acquisition of companies whose technology are so different than its base, the name change signifies something real. They are in good company with PLM companies, such as Siemens PLM, PTC, or Dassault Systemes.
Where is all this heading?
“We need to give metrology a new vision,” explained Norbert Hanke, president and CEO of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, at the company’s recent international conference HxGN LIVE. “To be clear, the heart of our company is and will be metrology.” He said this in the wake of finalizing the purchase of the CAE simulation company MSC. This is on top of recent additions of Vero Software (CAD/CAM), and Forming Technologies Inc, or FTI (sheet metal simulations). “Our overall vision is to support capabilities of the ‘smart factory’,” said Hanke, including enhancing information feedback loops, especially in manufacturing operations such as machining.
While it may have been a surprise to the community – it was to me – it may have surprised MSC as well. “We never did think about Hexagon in regards to future business development or purchase,” said Dominic Gallello, president and CEO of MSC. “Inspection was never in our vocabulary.” He has acknowledged it made more sense once the case was made by the purchasers. “Building out or contributing to the Digital Thread concept is extremely important to all of us”, referring to the concept of mimicking actual products and production processes in a parallel digital simulation. Metrology contributes with the real data that can feed and update digital models and simulations.
While an independent company, MSC itself added additional technology to its portfolio. Building from its roots creating one of the earliest FEM codes, NASTRAN, it recently included CFD with its purchase of the Japanese company Software Cradle. More importantly for Hexagon, MSC re-acquired Simufact Engineering in 2016, with its CAE aimed at welding and forming operations. “We definitely think that Simufact is where some of our near-term technology collaborations with metrology will occur,” said Gallello.
Where might it be most useful? “Aerospace makes the most sense for the marrying of these technologies,” said Gallello. “Everybody wants to fly good parts, and parts are getting ever more expensive. You simply cannot extensively test-to-destruction parts that cost $50,000 to $150,000, which are becoming more common.” That is where well-calibrated simulations will play an important part, understanding the limits of such parts in place of physical testing.
Comprehensive Smart Factor
Another term that is often bandied about along with Digital Thread is the Smart Factory, a term that is as exciting as it is imprecise. There may be a reason for its imprecision. “One of the key realizations has been that the Smart Factory is not one thing,” said Stephen Graham, vice president, marketing, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. “The smart factory is something specific to each customer that we talk to.” He also emphasized that Hexagon does not view itself as competing with the PLM companies, most with roots in extensive CAD and CAE offerings. “It is highly unlikely that any company could come up with a full portfolio of everything that an individual customer or factory would need. We have pieces, and we will work with other suppliers and use open systems to piece together a solution,” he said.
That is why he emphasizes that Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence is dedicated to open systems and supporting open standards. “Interoperability is as important as supporting data standards,” said Graham. As an example of this dedication, he pointed to the company’s support of the Advanced Quality Data Exchange Format (AQDEF) standard. The goal is to reduce the effort for both measurement system manufacturers and end-customers by combining the requirements of multiple specifications for interfaces and data formats into one.
Another example of Hexagon’s open standards work is its SMART Quality software package. Described as a platform for enterprise quality, presumably it would be an important element of any Smart Factory. It was described by Scott Mahrle, business development manager and SMART Quality Lead for Q-DAS, Inc., a part of Hexagon, as providing asset and workflow management among metrology devices as well as providing actionable statistics and information. “It is designed to work with all machines, including Zeiss, Mitutoyo, or Nikon, as well as our line of metrology devices,” he said, echoing Graham’s comments that even at the metrology level no one company can provide everything.
A particular emphasis of the marketing message for SMART Quality is its scalability. It features a highly-configurable standard toolset that can be tailored to the specific requirements of most manufacturers without the need for extensive development or costly customization work, according to the company.
This brings us full circle to the recent purchases of CAD/CAM and CAE companies. Hexagon’s dedication to open standards begs the question of whether they needed to buy companies versus simply working with them on open data formats. “I agree that we could get some of the same benefit from commercial or partnership agreements that you do with buying and incorporating companies together,” remarked Hanke. “But you do not get the same team know-how. You just don’t get the same level of expertise and collaboration without buying a company.”
Without going into detail, he explained how people from metrology are sitting together with CAD/CAM experts from the Vero company “on a constant” basis. Reading between the lines, I would say their first fruit of collaboration will be in a closed-loop machining process that brings together metrology with a predictive CAM capability. Just a guess…stay tuned.