Closing the Loop at HxGN LIVE 2017
Ian Wright posted on June 26, 2017 |
(Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
(Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
There were two overarching themes at HxGN LIVE 2017, Hexagon’s annual international conference: potential and limitlessness. Every presentation, from keynotes to info sessions, seemed shot through with these two ideas.

It makes sense, especially if you’ve been following the company’s ambitious trajectory over the past decade, with high-profile acquisitions like MSC Software.

I’ll admit, before I attended HxGN LIVE, I’d thought of Hexagon primarily as a manufacturer of metrology equipment, such as coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) and laser trackers. I knew the company’s reach went further, but until I stood on the show floor (a.k.a. The Zone), I hadn’t realized just how far it extends.

Mirroring Hexagon’s portfolio, the conference is organized along six tracks:

Although my focus was on manufacturing intelligence, many of the talks and conference sessions had a much broader scope. The opening keynote by Hexagon president and CEO Ola Rollén, for example, was centered around the idea of exceeding limitations to reach one’s full potential.


Limitless

Hexagon president and CEO Ola Rollén delivers the opening keynote. (Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
Hexagon president and CEO Ola Rollén delivers the opening keynote. (Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
With humor and playfulness, Rollén’s keynote used the Audience Response System—or “ARS”—built into the HxGN LIVE app to survey his audience of over 3,000 attendees. One particularly telling question concerned Moore’s Law, with the vast majority of respondents predicting that the exponential growth of computing power would continue unabated, at least in the medium term.

However, as Rollén pointed out, the challenge we face today is less about computation than information. He noted that we’re currently producing 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day, ten times as much as we were in 2015. This raises an intriguing question: If we’re producing ten times as much data as we were two years ago, why isn’t our decision making ten times better?

The answer, it seems, is that we’re lacking actionable information. Rollén noted that there are more than 35,000 measurable characteristics in a conventional combustion engine, but the majority of the data regarding these characteristics is not being utilized to its full potential.

Rollén’s solution to this issue is an ambitious one: augmenting human perceptual and cognitive capabilities to overcome our innate limitations. The idea of what he called “The Digital Nervous System” is a fascinating one, even if it is still some ways off.


Building the Factory of the Future

Norbert Hanke, president of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, delivering his keynote on smart factories. (Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
Norbert Hanke, president of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, delivering his keynote on smart factories. (Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
A keynote that focused more on the near term—and which ended with the announcement of a new factory in China—came from Norbert Hanke, president of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence.

According to Hanke, smart factories could provide $500 billion USD in added value to the global economy. The question is: How do we implement them? To answer this question, Hanke discussed several concrete examples of the technologies that will enable smart factories, and with them, the fourth industrial revolution.

“AI and machine learning are going to take exabytes of data and filter out what is useful,” Hanke said. This is where Hexagon’s acquisition of MSC Software comes in, with Hexagon leveraging MSC’s simulation expertise to improve advanced production technologies, such as additive manufacturing.

Hanke also cited the value of virtual reality in manufacturing, emphasizing its ability to help us understand complex structures, like those of composite materials. This was something I got to experience first-hand later on in The Zone.

But of all the ideas Hanke’s keynote touched upon, it was real-time feedback loops that seem to be the biggest enablers of smart factories. By feeding data from CAD files, machine tools, CMMs and other inspection equipment into statistical process control (SPC) software, the entire manufacturing process—from costing to final inspection—can become more efficient and self-improving.

“A smart factory is driven by data and powered by learning,” said Hanke. As an example of what closing the loops in manufacturing can do, he cited the fact that industrial robots are efficient and precise, but not accurate. Adding feedback loops to the robots’ control systems via laser trackers can reduce this limitation, effectively combining the laser tracker’s accuracy with the robot’s precision.


In The Zone

(Image courtesy of the author.)
(Image courtesy of the author.)
HxGN LIVE’s technology expo featured technologies and exhibits spanning Hexagon’s entire portfolio. From a 40,000-piece LEGO smart city to VR and AR demonstrations, The Zone brought the potential of many up-and-coming technologies into sharp relief.

A few highlights:

Software for the Apodius sensor shows carbon fiber orientation on a test part. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Software for the Apodius sensor shows carbon fiber orientation on a test part. (Image courtesy of the author.)
  • Scanning Composites in Virtual Reality: Hexagon recently launched an inspection system for composite materials based on its ROMER Absolute Arm with integrated scanner and the Apodius HP-C-V3D Vision Sensor. Steffen Mergheim, software developer for Apodius GmbH (another Hexagon acquisition), was there to demonstrate the system, identifying carbon fiber orientation in surprisingly short order.
    Scanning like a pro thanks to VR! (Image courtesy of the author.)
    Scanning like a pro thanks to VR! (Image courtesy of the author.)
    For me, the real treat was trying the system out using an HTC Vive headset, which rendered the scanning arm in full virtuality. Not just a gimmick, the VR view gave me information on the correct angle and distance for scanning the sample component. Although Mergheim stated that this is strictly a proof of concept, it’s easy to envision how it could be used to shore up the looming skills gap in manufacturing.
  • Expert Assistance with Augmented Reality: I’ve written about this topic before, but this was my first chance to experience how augmented reality can be used to guide novices through complex technical tasks. For the demo, I began by donning a DAQRI smart helmet. Facing a mock-up of an industrial electrical panel, the helmet projected a frame around the particular section of the panel I was meant to be attending. Once I centered the frame in my field of view, I was prompted to carry out a sequence of switches and button presses by AR overlays (which, to be fair, were slightly out of alignment with the physical hardware).
  • Another HxGN LIVE 2017 attendee tries out the HoloLens. (Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
    Another HxGN LIVE 2017 attendee tries out the HoloLens. (Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
    With my task complete, I was invited to view the same scenario from the expert’s perspective. Trading my  smart helmet for a Microsoft HoloLens, my attention was directed toward a nearby table, on which sat an AR version of the panel and surrounding booth. I could also see a computer model of a worker wearing a smart helmet with a cone representing the worker’s field of view. By making various gestures, I was able to guide the worker through the same sequence I had just experienced.
    The stereoSCAN neo. (Image courtesy of Hexagon.)
    The stereoSCAN neo. (Image courtesy of Hexagon.)

  • See What You Measure with 3D Optical Scanning: Getting hands-on with industrial-grade AR and VR has been on my manufacturing bucket list for a while, but the last highlight from the Zone that I’ll mention was totally unexpected. Tucked away near the back of the Manufacturing Intelligence booth I found Philip Lewis, Hexagon 3DOS eastern regional sales, demonstrating the AICON stereoSCAN neo, an optical scanner with a twist.
  • The stereoScan projecting measurement results onto a part in the Manufacturing Intelligence booth. (Image courtesy of the author.)

    The stereoScan projecting measurement results onto a part in the Manufacturing Intelligence booth. (Image courtesy of the author.)

    In addition to being a high-resolution 3D scanner, the stereoScan neo is able to project its measurement results (compared with a CAD model, for example) directly onto the surface of the part being measured in the form of a color map. This map allows users to identify and intuitively understand surface deviations that might otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. What’s more, it means you don’t need to go running back to a computer to check the results of a scan, since they’re right there on the part itself.

HxGN LIVE 2017

There’s a lot more I could (and will) write about my first HxGN LIVE, but perhaps the best way to understand the conference is to hear from the attendees themselves.

Jérémy Arpin-Pont and Hubert Dubeau of AMRIKART, a Quebec-based metrology services company, cited two common reasons for attending HxGN LIVE: networking and seeing new technology.

Larry Kleinkemper, CTO at Lanmar Services offered another common motivation: “Checking out the competition,” he joked.

Angus Taylor, president and CEO of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence North America, has seen his fair share of HxGN LIVE events, and cited a specific highlight of this show for him:

“The digital wall shows the connectivity of engineering tying into manufacturing, manufacturing tying into validation and all of those tying into SMART Quality. That connectivity can happen regardless of the industry segment you’re in, and our customers want to see that we’re moving in that direction.”

The digital wall displaying the entire manufacturing loop for a medical implant. (Image courtesy of the author.)
The digital wall displaying the entire manufacturing loop for a medical implant. (Image courtesy of the author.)
If the underlying question of HxGN LIVE 2017 was, “How can we exceed our limitations to realize our full potential?” then Taylor’s response suggests an answer, at least for manufacturing: We do it by closing the loop, from costing to engineering to production to testing and back again.

Stay tuned for more stories from HxGN LIVE 2017, check out my Twitter page for live tweets from this year’s conference or visit the HxGN LIVE website.

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