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Digital Twin

Hexagon Hopes to Make Factories Smarter with Hidden Data, AI, and the Cloud

20 Jul, 2019 By: Cadalyst Staff

At its HxGN Live 2019 conference, Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division showed how the notion of Smart Factories goes well beyond Industry 4.0.


At Hexagon's annual user conference, HxGN Live, Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division showcases the transformational advancements moving manufacturing forward. The multi-faceted conference provides essential information on emerging trends including those critical for Smart Factories, such as cloud computing, autonomous processes, AI, and additive manufacturing. This year, the program included keynote, technical presentations, workshops, and roundtables covering topics from machine learning to new advanced materials that shape products and processes in the digital manufacturing enterprise — in other words, the Smart Factory and its benefits.

Smart Factory is a general term for a set of industry initiatives to deploy new advanced technologies and digital transformation across an entire enterprise to drive the next wave of productivity and quality improvements in product manufacturing. In a recent report, industry analyst firm Capgemini calculated that Smart Factories could add up to $1 trillion in value to the global economy by 2022.

Smart Factories are possible because of a “fourth industrial revolution,” widely known as Industry 4.0. (The previous three revolutions were industrial mechanization that processed iron and steel using new energy sources, from roughly 1760 to 1830; mass production, huge industrial growth, and new forms of transportation, from roughly 1870 to 1920; and industrial automation, made possible with digital computing and robotics, starting in the 1950s and continuing through to today.) Industry 4.0 is the name given to the current trend of integrating automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It encompasses cyber-physical systems consisting of mechanisms monitored and controlled by algorithms, the IoT, cloud computing, and cognitive computing intended to mimic human thought processes.

Although many people equate Industry 4.0 with Smart Factories, the former is actually a subset of the latter. Industry 4.0 is primarily about interconnecting sensors and systems through web connectivity (for example, the Internet of Things [IoT]). Smart Factories include those same IoT components plus big data–processing capabilities, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and advanced production processes, such as additive manufacturing (AM).

What Is Hexagon’s Role in the Smart Factory Movement?

While several companies say they are involved in making Smart Factories a reality, very few have the required capabilities to actually make it happen. Hexagon is one of the few poised today to bring the concept to fruition. In addition to new technologies, Hexagon believes that a new mindset is coming for bringing Smart Factories online, and the company is doing all it can to further that cause.

Hexagon, based in Sweden, serves diverse industries that range from construction surveying to metrology (manufacturing measurement), and has grown tremendously in recent years, both organically and through several strategic acquisitions that cover a broad range from CAD/CAM to simulation to production automation. Today, the company is well positioned in the manufacturing sector as Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, with hardware and software products that cover virtually all of the product development lifecycle including design, engineering, simulation, production, inspection, and data asset management — in other words, all of the pieces and interconnections necessary to build Smart Factories.


Benefits of the Smart Factory approach include higher product quality and lower production costs. Image source: Hexagon.

Earlier this year, Hexagon strengthened its Smart Factory position with autonomous production technologies by acquiring Etalon, a provider of equipment calibration solutions. Etalon’s technologies continuously monitor and initiate compensation of machine tools, measuring machines, robots, and structures to ensure the dimensional accuracy of manufactured parts. Etalon’s portfolio strengthens Hexagon’s calibration capabilities, but also nicely complements its on-machine measurement solution range, which now incorporates machine tool probes, software, and calibration equipment.

‘Smart’ Isn’t Just More Automation

In his keynote at HxGN Live 2019, Norbert Hanke, president and CEO of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, said, “Customers are demanding more product personalization and higher-quality products that are driving forces behind increasingly autonomous Smart Factories. ‘Smart’ doesn’t mean just more automation; ‘Smart’ now means the ability to be more adaptable and agile during the entire product development lifecycle.”

Hanke continued, “A new business model is emerging that increases operational efficiencies — connected, data-driven, and intelligent, with autonomous production being driven by putting ‘hidden’ data to work.” By “hidden,” Hanke was referring to his estimates that approximately 90% of data collected from current manufacturing sources is unused, neglected, or just ignored. This presents an opportunity, he believes, to pass along accurate data to where it adds value, so each stage of the workflow can be optimized.


During a keynote address at HxGN Live 2019, Norbert Hanke explained that along with using data more effectively, the Smart Factory also harnesses the power of machine learning and algorithms, and seeks to digitize the entire workflow from the supply chain to the customer. Image source: Hexagon.


Hanke said that he is witnessing a big shift in the perception of Smart Factories. According to recent survey conducted by Intel, 95% of manufacturing CEOs surveyed see advanced technologies (such as those needed for Smart Factories) as an opportunity, not a threat; 66% see the necessity of employing “Smart” concepts to maintain competitiveness. These leaders realize that connected data creates the potential for predictive and proactive solutions. In other words, data connectivity and access become critical when put to work across a manufacturing ecosystem. In Hexagon’s view, design, engineering, production, and metrology should not be separated in “silos” anymore — too much productivity is lost because too many processes are still siloed.

Hexagon has real-time environmental monitoring to predict behaviors with machine tools and metrology equipment. It also just launched HxGN SFx Asset Management, a dashboard that currently supports only metrology equipment, but will grow to encompass all aspects and processes in a Smart Factory.

“With simulation (courtesy of MSC Software’s CoSim),” said Hanke, “we can create more accurate representation of real-world behavior while making a smarter digital twin and digital reality. Finally, Hexagon is in the early stages of connecting an additive manufacturing (AM) workflow with its many software solutions to manage data at every stage of design, production, and verification of parts with what it calls its end-to-end solution for AM and other manufacturing techniques.”

Making Changes in Manufacturing

Doug Woods, president of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), said that Smart Factories provide both major disruption and major opportunities that leverage technology to increase productivity. Woods said that ultimately, the value from the connected factory is that data can be descriptive, predictive, diagnostic, and prescriptive, with a factory that can “recommend” or “suggest” a direction to take for optimizing inventory, production, and the supply chain. “The real value from the connected factory is that it can drive a broad range of benefits, including improved asset efficiency, improved quality, reduced cost, and improved safety and sustainability,” he explained. “The future of value from the connected factory comes from the next-level use of data including digital twins, manufacturing as a service (MAAS), additive/subtractive hybrid manufacturing, and cognitive automation that can assist making smarter manufacturing decisions with help from AI,” he explained.

“The degree to which manufacturers can get on board with all this is governed by a readiness factor and a willingness factor,” Woods continued. “At this point, more manufacturers seem more ready than willing to incorporate the digital ideas, but this is changing rapidly with new job roles, responsibilities, and contributions within and from the IT staff.”

Levels of Digital Support

Today's manufacturers are looking for smarter ways to improve quality and productivity, and Hexagon is intent on making this happen by offering multiple levels of support for the transformation.


Hexagon is offering multiple levels of digital transformation support for the Smart Factory. Image source: Hexagon.

Brian Shepherd, senior vice-president for software solutions, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, said this transformation is possible because design, engineering, simulation, and metrology are all important sources of data for the Smart Factory. While it is important to connect, integrate, and deliver (consume) data, most critical is the ability to connect and integrate data from many sources. Maintaining a cohesive and comprehensive digital thread throughout all processes and making the digital thread tie all things together is absolutely essential, as is optimizing planning and execution of the processes with help from the simulation domain.

Building a Smart Factory Strategy

Last year, working with MSC Software — a simulation software company acquired by Hexagon — Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence began building its newest strategy supporting Smart Factory initiatives that comprises connected devices, the digital thread, and artificial intelligence/machine learning. All of these elements combined enable data at all stages of the product development process to be used more fully and effectively, resulting in better decision making and better products.



According to Stephen Graham, president of metrology software and vice-president of marketing for Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, “From the beginning, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence has been interested in promoting smart manufacturing and Smart Factories, but realized early on that the Smart Factory isn’t so much a destination as it is a journey that has to be taken one step at a time. … In our view, a Smart Factory is not just a building, but rather a ‘virtual’ notion or construct linked together by data, and sharing it through an integrated ecosystem that optimizes an end-to-end workflow.”

Simulating systems and processes, as well as autonomous operations, are essential for the success of Smart Factories. Hexagon’s legacy technology and business, metrology, bridges the digital world and the real world with what it touts as metrology-assisted manufacturing — something that really sets the company apart from the competition as Smart Factories, still in relatively early stages, evolve. While not exactly betting the entire farm on Smart Factories (it is very a diverse company that covers several industries), Hexagon has all the parts required to make Smart Factories happen. Because it has most — if not all — of the necessary technologies, Hexagon today is better positioned than its competitors who are striving to make factories smarter.

Hexagon has made tremendous strides to make the Smart Factory a reality, but it also realizes that the journey is really just beginning. As a company at the forefront of the Smart Factory movement, Hexagon continues to formulate the strategies necessary for leading the fourth industrial revolution in a big way.


About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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