LAS VEGAS — Hexagon challenged professionals across industries this week to “rethink quality” and embrace digital transformation during a week of high-level keynote presentations, technical sessions and product demonstrations at HxgnLive 2018 in Las Vegas.

CEO Ola Rollen set the tone during his keynote presentation on Tuesday, framing the Internet of Things as the biggest disruptive force bearing down upon manufacturing, mining, safety, infrastructure, and all other industries. IoT has the ability to alter nearly every facet of our lives, Rollen said. But the key to realizing its potential is harnessing the mass amounts of data being created by machines, and closing the gap between data creation and data use. Powerful edge computing, cloud orchestration and artificial intelligence promises to be the bridge—or shield—between human and machines, organizing and visualizing the overwhelming amounts of data into actionable information.

Rollen described autonomous connected ecosystems (ACE) where machines communicate between formally siloed platforms. ACE facilitates an environment where data is connected seamlessly through the convergence of the physical world with the digital, and intelligence is built-in to all processes. This will enable organizations to make the leap to autonomous smart factories, in the case of manufacturing. In a parallel to smart cities and smart transportation, it’s not enough to have a smart car; the goal is a smart fleet.

The three-day event played host to more than 3,500 attendees from 70 countries. Five keynote presentations and hundreds of sessions were organized into six tracks: manufacturing intelligence, geospatial, geosystems, mining, PPM and safety & infrastructure.

Hexagon has expanded rapidly in recent years with purchases of several software and hardware companies, expanding its domain expertise notably with the purchase of Catavolt last year, and AutonomouStuff—a supplier of integrated autonomous vehicle solutions—this month. Viewing the pattern of acquisitions provides insight into where Hexagon believes the markets are headed, and what its vision of the future is. Catavolt’s mobile app platform is already offered by Hexagon for monitoring CMMs remotely, among other applications, and is a key building block of the company’s new Xalt framework, which was premiered during the conference. Though sometimes nebulous in description, Hexagon intends Xalt to fast-track customer “ability to fully leverage IoT data,” Hexagon wrote in press materials. During a press luncheon Thursday, Rollen further expanded upon Xalt’s development and meaning, describing it as a cable that runs through all of Hexagon’s varied industry divisions. Technologies falling under the Xalt banner include AI and edge computing developed in the company’s R&D division, combined with external technologies acquired over the last 10 years, such as Catavolt.

The idea of converging the digital and physical worlds was further defined by the idea of the “digital twin,” as explained by Michael Grieves, executive director, CAMID, Florida Institute of Technology, during the Manufacturing intelligence keynote Wednesday afternoon. In factories that have fully implemented the digital thread, every product has a digital twin, or digital model, that can anticipate the physical part during simulation, and then follow along with the real-world product during the entire lifecycle. Sensors on components feed back to the digital twin, allowing for statistical insight for preventive maintenance—technicians won’t replace a part on an airplane when it becomes defective, but before the problem occurs at all.

“Where I’m really going to shine on this thing is to take products in use, and aggregate that information so I can do a better job of predicting failures,” he said. “When I see these characteristics from sensors, I’m going to have a failure, so I’m going to replace the item before it occurs.”

Quality as a Driver of Productivity

During the Manufacturing intelligence keynote, the crowd was asked how often they hear their quality department referred to as a “necessary evil,” or a “cost without contribution.” A live, mobile app-enabled survey projected on the screen indicated these were not uncommon sentiments. Hexagon proposes that instead, feedback loops between smart metrology technologies and the machine tool counterparts can bring quality into the forefront of manufacturing. During a breakout session on 7-DOF (degrees of freedom) machine control, Joel Martin, Hexagon product manager for laser trackers, gave the example of laser trackers seamlessly correcting the movement of a robotic arm, improving a cutting or stamping process in real time. These technologies that were previously relegated to off-line or end-of-line inspection can be used as positioning systems for the tools of production themselves. To hear Martin describe the future of instant feedback loops and in-process quality, listen to an exclusive podcast interview here.

Using laser trackers and scanners in-process, communicating with CAM software, can also help build bigger and more complex additive manufactured parts, or combine additive and subtractive in the same autonomous process.

“We want to be able to do additive manufacturing on polymers as well as on metals and be able to interweave them correctly and appropriately,” explained Joel Martin. “What that means is we need a CAM solution to be able to drive and monitor this process as we go in a better autonomous way than we do today.

“We’re going for huge deposition rates, and this is sort of the catch-22 in action. The faster you lay down material, usually the more heat you generate and the more process variation that comes with it. Because we have all of these other technologies, including the ability to scan the part while we’re building it, we can throw down as much material as possible, scan that layer, understand what’s there and modify the robot program for the next layer.  So you don’t get this common stack-up that you get in AM where, as you start to build layer-by-layer, you start to get this Leaning Tower of Pisa affect where things start to get out of control.”

Executive Interviews

Quality had the opportunity to sit down with Hexagon Manufacturing intelligence leadership during the conference Thursday morning, and receive high-level perspective on how the digital thread and the next leaps will shape the company.

Brian Shepherd, senior vice president of software solutions, added to Rollen’s descriptions of Xalt.

“It has everything to do with data, bringing data from the edge and transforming data,” he said. “And with middleware applications, visualizing data with machine leaning algorithms. So there’s a broad set of capabilities that in many cases we acquired, and in other cases we developed internally. So it’s a combination of build and buy in our Xalt framework. So it’s not just a marketing lasso, it’s not just organizational. But it is both of those things too. Because we’ve had this technology, but we’re putting it under an umbrella that kind of messages it so people understand how it all hangs together, with a team that’s responsible for evolving it in the future. And importantly, it’s the foundation of what divisions like [manufacturing intelligence] is using to do build things like smart factories. We’re using all of that technology in the heart of our products.”

Angus Taylor, president and CEO, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence North America, described a future where the smart factory is the status quo, and not a vision.

“We’re thinking where are we going to be in 10 years?” he said. “People will just expect things to work that way.”

Ed McMenamin is an associate editor of Quality. He can be reached at