Slowdown Is An Opportunity To Weed Out Waste Spaces In Manufacturing

Interview Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence December 2019 Slowdown Opportunity Weed Out Waste Spaces Manufacturing
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The company offers a variety of solutions that enable increased levels of efficiency in the area of product manufacturing

Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence addresses various design, simulation and engineering services focussed on manufacturing. On the sidelines of the Group’s MSC Indo-Pacific User Conference 2019, Auto Tech Review caught up with Sridhar Dharmarajan, Executive Vice President & Managing Director, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (HMI) India & MSC Software, Indo Pacific, on the various trends and developments concerning manufacturing.

Sridhar Dharmarajan is responsible for the India sales operations for the Metrology and Production Software portfolios as well as MSC Software and Q-DAS at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (HMI) India. He also oversees the MSC Software Indo-Pacific regional business operations across India, ASEAN, Australia, and New Zealand. Dharmarajan joined MSC in 2007 and established the company’s first sales office in the region. Prior to joining MSC Software Corporation, he was responsible for successfully setting up the MatrixOne operations in India, before which he worked with Wipro and SDRC (now Siemens PLM). At SDRC, he was the recipient of numerous technical and sales excellence awards, and played a vital role in the success of the company in India. Dharmarajan has completed his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

ATR _ What is the MSC Indo-Pacific User Conference 2019 all about?

Sridhar Dharmarajan _ At this conference we have tried to present ourselves as a single entity called Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, where we try to handhold and tell customers that you cannot operate design, engineering, production and metrology in silos. All these operations need to be digitised and fully connected along with in-built intelligence. The idea of HMI is to try and fuse together the physical and digital spaces of manufacturing, in addition to ensuring that the various operations that are being carried out in solitude are all digitised and well-connected along with in-built intelligence.

Industry 4.0 is the path towards hyper connectivity and connectivity within all machines, and moving towards automation and autonomy in manufacturing. Autonomy in production is actually cognitive automation. Our vision is to take customers to an autonomous future.

Give us your perspective about how simulation should be adopted in the auto industry?

When it comes to simulation in India, we’re still scratching the tip of the surface. Automotive industry leaders that use simulation solutions need to share more information and build confidence of smaller companies in leveraging such virtual testing technologies and providing their benefits. These benefits could be in reducing the amount of prototyping as well as in the use of materials for production itself. This is especially key since saving a prototype for a small company could prove much more valuable than a large OEM or component supplier.

The penetration level of simulation across manufacturers is low, and according to me all companies should take the simulation route. This will only happen once industry leaders publicise the usability and advantages that simulation brings to the entire development cycle, thereby providing benefits to the entire ecosystem. Therefore, through simulation the entire ecosystem can save material and cost, while optimising the design, which is a huge saving for the entire country.

Autonomy in production is cognitive automation, and the company’s vision is to take customers to an autonomous future

Can you talk us through the solutions offered for autonomous vehicle development?

Our virtual test drive product helps scan the complete environment and simulate how an autonomous vehicle should behave in complex environments that we operate on. The other divisions of the Hexagon Group provide cameras to scan the entire city or environment so that it can be used for future simulation as real-world conditions. Therefore, the company has the capability on the software side to take inputs from cameras and create digital twins or sorts of various physical conditions that can be subsequently used for simulation.

In addition, we have a product called Adams for multibody dynamics simulation that is focussed on the development of ride and handling aspects of vehicles. The decisions of an autonomous vehicle need to be taken quickly in real time, and in line with what a driver should typically do in various situations. The company also offers solutions to track the exact location of a vehicle and has the ability to take all the collected data and create hardware kits that can convert a regular vehicle into an autonomous one.

Hexagon offers solutions for the entire autonomous space, right from scanning the environment to a final autonomous vehicle, along with retrofit capability as well. A lot of companies in present times are using this complete autonomous ecosystem technology and we are helping them design their whole autonomous journey.

Can you give us an insight into how high-tech tools such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality and virtual reality assist in the development of future mobility trends for connected and autonomous vehicles?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) mainly work on the data that you already have. Essentially, there is a need for a lot of data, which most companies in the mobility space in present times have. There are huge amounts of data available for various kinds of analysis today and all this can be used to carry out the complete simulation activity. AI enables one to predict the potential outcome of a particular design change as well as the product’s behaviour in real-world conditions. This allows customers to try multiple design iterations, and once the most optimum one is discovered they could rerun it with the original solver and observe the product’s behaviour depending on the design complexity. Artificial intelligence as a technology really helps reduce our product development lifecycle.

In terms of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), the company offers solutions that offer a highly-immersive experience, especially through the VR headset. We offer the software that supports the virtual headset capability so that it can offer real-life experiences as to how a certain part feels to some extent, and there are certain technologies that even simulate the feeling of weight. Essentially it means you are seeing a CAD model and then feeling how it looks and feels. These high-tech solutions are aimed at augmenting the final decision-making of customers towards products, based on the results predicted in the simulation environment.

Can you elaborate on the APAC region’s role in HMI’s development work?

Since India is a highly cost-sensitive market, selling a product is not just about developing a good quality product and one has to factor-in the cost parameters. Local R&D paves the way for development of not only low-cost but high quality products. This has ensured a number of products developed in India are exported to numerous international markets as well.

The overall number of engineers is completely skewed to Asia, where there is a challenge of selling product in a market base that is highly-sensitive to cost. Therefore, cost is one of the main design parameters that is taken into account in the early design cycle. The combination of knowledge and engineering talent, with the sensitivity to create products at a good price point is what this development in the APAC region brings to the table. The advantages available in developing products in a market like India will also help the manufacturing environment to leapfrog ahead.

A large amount of data is available for various types of analysis, and it can be used to carry out complete simulation activity

How has the auto industry slowdown affected the overall development?

Slowdown is always an opportunity as it helps weed out waste spaces in manufacturing and other processes, and increase innovation. I believe more and more simulation should be carried out during a slowdown, in order to make products more efficient and lighter, and really focus on getting better products into the market. This also ensures that the products are ready to take-off without any snags when the market conditions improve. The slowdown is an opportunity for customers to fine-tune their development and manufacturing, leading to better overall products. At Hexagon, we see it as an opportunity to push out products and offer solutions to help improve development and remove redundancies from the system.

How do you see additive manufacturing getting into the mainstream?

Every company has a vision to make a product unique to each customer. The first step taken by OEMs in this direction was in offering modular designs for vehicles, where a few options were provided both for exteriors and interiors. The modular design, in fact, was the first step towards offering customised cars for each customer.

Additionally, with autonomous vehicles and additive manufacturing coming into play, a number of non-traditional companies are entering the automotive sector. This is leading to existing automotive companies not knowing, where the next competition is going to come from. Many of these new companies do not invest in traditional plants with a huge capital investment, but can start making products, using additive manufacturing. This form of manufacturing is getting into the mainstream; however, I do not mean it can ever replace a mass manufacturing plant.

The market is also evolving, where there is a requirement for customised products. Hence, the modular vehicle concept along with additive manufacturing is helping companies create products for different individual preferences. Earlier, additive manufacturing was mainly used for creating prototypes, but today 3D printed parts can be actually used as working components. Therefore, additive manufacturing parts are being used in a production environment and not in just in a prototype environment as before.

What’s your take on adoption of Industry 4.0 in the auto industry?

Industry 4.0 is one of the most misused words. China has now defined a new set of manufacturing targets, called Factory 2025. The whole concept is moving from mechanisation to mass production, and then finally to connected and cognitive automation. The idea is to see if repetitive tasks can be carried out without any human intervention, or would it be possible to predict machine failures in order to prevent downtime. Additionally, new technologies like 5G can enable data exchange between machines at a much faster rate than earlier. Machines can talk to each other as well as to the main control system, with the latter monitoring the health of each machine. The system has the ability to visualise potential machine failure and provides the company with the opportunity to plan ahead for maintenance and repairs.

As the health of the machine is being monitored, there is a lot of data that is continuously created and this can potentially act like a digital twin for real production. When AI is applied to this data, the machine can actually predict when a particular part is going to fail. This whole concept of Industry 4.0 is really what I want to call a smart factory. The most imperative fact is that various machines are able to communicate with one another, while being connected intelligently and infinitely.

TEXT: Naveen Arul

PHOTO: Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence