Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (HMI) has been focussing on providing solutions to customers around manufacturing and production workflows, based on its vast experience in the area of metrology. Auto Tech Review spoke with Norbert Hanke, President & CEO, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (HMI), to understand about its focus on manufacturing in the automotive industry, future possibilities and technologies that would be leveraged in the manufacturing arena.
Hanke holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, and had served in the role of Financial Director at Brown & Sharpe prior to joining Hexagon in 2001. He has also previously held several positions within Kloeckner Group.
ATR _ Could you give us a brief about metrology for Hexagon and how it has transitioned over the years?
Norbert Hanke _ Hexagon began its business on the metrology side, and we have seen that it is of great use since it provides information on what exactly went wrong in design or manufacturing. This information was good to make changes and cut errors, but a lot of data was being accumulated. This was followed by customers asking for analytics of such data, which is what led the company to question itself about what is to be done with this data.
Initially, the quality instrumentation and equipment was brought into the shopfloor, where the real production takes place. This led to the establishment of portable business on arms, trackers and others, and this was a big step for the company. This was also during the early days of Industry 4.0, where digitalisation was the key factor for which Hexagon wanted to offer solutions in the faster prototyping and manufacturing of new products. Hexagon already had the metrology data, which are “rules of errors or acceptance” in reality. The next step was to identify data that is appropriate for use, and then find out ways of using it. The identification of relevant data and making use of it helped the company to move beyond metrology, towards quality data for superior manufacturing.
Give us a perspective about the kind of disruptive technologies that HMI develops for industrial manufacturers to create life-changing products of tomorrow.
Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence’s focus is on creating solutions for the smart factory, enabling data-driven approaches to manufacturing. When you look at our technology base, it falls into three areas of the manufacturing process: design & engineering, production, and metrology. Metrology hardware and software solutions are where our company’s heritage lie and we have built an unparalleled portfolio in this space. More recently, we’ve added solutions in the field of computer-aided designing (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) as well as complementary production software. We have also added solutions in computer-aided engineering (CAE) and simulation with the acquisition of MSC Software last year. These technologies place us in a unique position to converge data from traditionally discrete phases of manufacturing and leverage it to provide transparency, proactivity and agility promised by the smart factory.
What are the major trends you are witnessing in the automotive domain with regards to manufacturing?
There is a lot of hype built about the automotive industry moving towards electric vehicles; of course, the autonomous vehicle technology has grabbed newspaper headlines as well. But I think there are a lot of other interesting movements emerging within the industry as the automotive industry learns from other consumer business models. For example, the software-as-a-service model is increasingly embraced by home computer users; now we are starting to see automotive OEMs shifting from being producers to service providers in their bid to forge closer relationships with consumers. We are also seeing more intuitive, consumer-electronics-inspired interfaces in vehicles. All these trends are demanding a lot more agility in the production process – even changing the shape of the production line as we know it. There are many challenges, but it’s an exciting time for the automotive industry.
How is HMI addressing these megatrends?
We believe that data holds the key. Manufacturers and automotive manufacturers in particular, generate huge amounts of data through the various phases of their manufacturing cycle. The trouble is this data tends to be hidden away in isolated systems and is never fully analysed or passed to other departments it might be useful to. At Hexagon, we’re advocating data sharing to improve communication between departments via a digital first and digital throughout strategy. However, we also recognise that digitalisation of an industry is a complex and lengthy process, so we are also supporting the immediate needs of customers today by developing discrete solutions to solve specific manufacturing problems.
How is HMI adopting newer technologies like additive manufacturing/ 3D printing in the development of the shop floor?
Additive manufacturing is a great solution for manufacturing particular types of part, and is increasingly becoming an attractive option for manufacturers, but it can for sure be cost prohibitive. We are looking at how our technology can make the additive process more efficient, so that it is tested properly and is robust enough to be viable for more use cases. Our metrology equipment is frequently used to capture data for reverse engineering, but we also now have some highly effective simulation tools, which can be used to model the additive process itself as well. Making sure that you are optimising the design of both the part and the process itself, specifically for additive, is the way to unlock major cost advantages.
Given the increased scrutiny of parts and components, and ever-increasing levels of product recalls, how is the company helping manufacturers in enabling high levels of production quality?
As I mentioned before, our heritage is in metrology and it accounts for a large section of our technology base, so we have a real connection to the traditional quality assurance function. What we do today is bring that appreciation of quality into all areas of the manufacturing process. These days, it’s simply not good enough to make assumptions through your process and rely on the quality department to tell you whether a part is good or bad. Today, we need to be designing quality into the part, right from the start. We need to be simulating its manufacturability, so that the design intent can be maintained when we go into production. And beyond quality assurance, we need to look at how a product performs in its service life and learn from it to improve the next iteration.
Certain industries, such as aerospace and medical, require traceability throughout the process, which we also answer with our statistical data and analytics solutions. Ultimately, perceived quality is much more important to consumers today, and to meet their expectations manufacturers need to adopt a much more holistic approach to quality and that’s the direction that we are moving in.
What’s your take on Industry 4.0 and digitalisation of manufacturing?
The concept of Industry 4.0 was born at Hannover Messe, the huge international manufacturing technology fair in Germany in 2011. Back then, we were Hexagon Metrology, and I cannot deny the fact that the concept of Industry 4.0 has influenced our journey to become Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence today. But back in 2011, the idea of Industry 4.0 was largely focussed on using technology to improve industry – so how combining online connectivity with advanced technology like wireless sensors and robotics can yield significant gains in productivity, efficiency and precision.
What we at Hexagon have come to realise is that the technology is only one part of the story. Digitalisation has transformative potential, but digital transformation is as much about mind-set as it is about technology. If your people don’t understand the impact of technology on the business and harness it for the best, the company won’t have the success that it aspires to. Then there’s the challenge of using data effectively, which is where our concept of Autonomous Connected Ecosystems (ACE) that manage and contextualise data, and automate some of the decision-making, come in to play.
How is the process of manufacturing itself evolving globally? How do you vision the future?
At a global level it’s very difficult to tell as there’s a definite shift now towards trade dynamics and policy around the world. I can imagine many companies are rethinking their globalisation strategies and how they do business internationally. I think we could see an increase in partnerships and cooperation between large enterprises and that will require more collaboration tools and open-architecture infrastructures. Whatever the future looks like, it’s going to be critical to be responsive to changing needs in the next few years – that’s what we’re targeting as a company and that’s how we intend to support our customers.
Enlighten us about the HMI business in India. What can we expect in the coming years?
Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence has around 400 employees in India currently, mostly based at our Pune facility. We also have a factory in Noida, and a growing network of service centres around the country as we firmly believe it is important to stay in close proximity to our customers. Hexagon as a whole has a large presence here, including a dedicated services facility in Hyderabad. I think India has the potential to play a huge role in our future as we are increasingly focussed on manufacturing software, and software development is a real strength in this part of the world.
TEXT: Naveen Arul
PHOTO: Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence