It’s easy to become dazed by the continuing stream of buzz words. It is my job to keep up with these concepts, including Industrial Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Thread, and Smart Factories.
For those of us in manufacturing, all this buzz creates a sense of impending change, but no clarity on what that change might be. Uncertainty means anxiety. To their credit, the executives at Hexagon AB (Stockholm, Sweden) are trying to help by giving us their vision of how the buzz might turn into something real. I recently attended Hexagon AB’s annual company event, HxGN Live 2018 in Las Vegas, and heard them put these buzz words—and more—into something that they think could happen. Even more important, their actions support what was said in their speeches.
It starts with recognizing that we are overwhelmed with data, much more than humans can make sense of. Machines and sensors are producing more data in a year than ever existed. Next year it will again create more than ever existed. Somewhere in the data is value, and a way to make manufacturing more efficient.
The way to make sense of this data deluge, according to Ola Rollén, president and CEO of Hexagon AB, is to not only aggregate data into central hubs, but use AI and machine learning to convert “low level” data into higher level information that humans can understand. Visualization techniques—charts, graphs, pictures—are needed to make data easy to understand.
Here’s how it might work, using a factory as an example. The robots and machines in a factory send billions of data points into a central data aggregator. This data is connected. The huge pool of data is then analyzed using AI. Processing this low level data is autonomous. If there is a problem, say the analysis is predicting that a production line might get shut down for some reason, a message is sent. The result is an ecosystem with a human in the loop and smart computing at the edges. “A Smart Factory is the ultimate autonomous and connected ecosystem,” Rollén said in a speech.
To support this vision, Hexagon has built a set of tools called Xalt, an enabler for Rollén’s vision of an autonomous and connected ecosystem. “Xalt is not a platform,” emphasized Rollén, such as others are rushing to offer.
Hexagon is enabling this vision through its subsidiary, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, which has grown through acquisitions from a metrology company into a provider of software tools and components along much of the manufacturing product development process. It now provides CAE with the acquisition of MSC Software (simulation), a CAM company (Vero), metal stamping simulations (FTI), statistical analysis (Q-DAS), and metrology programming (PC-DMIS) in addition to a full line of metrology equipment, from CMMs to laser line scanners. It even developed its own CAD capability for use in special situations. A manufacturer can analyze a design, simulate how it might be manufactured, create the instructions for machining and measuring it, and analyze how well it meets its quality goals using tools and software from Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence.
Their next task is integrating these tools more seamlessly, according to Norbert Hanke, president of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. “We need [an] integration layer and we are ramping that up now. We must move from silos to a product-centric process, and move away from thinking of sequential processes,” he said, to match what is happening in industry. Integration is the key to an autonomous, connected ecosystem.
It is nice to talk technology, but it’s not enough. “The biggest challenge to integration is mindset,” said Hanke. “People make things happen.”