2015-06-01 17.49.50Hexagon shepherds to market such diverse offerings as Vero’s CAM software, Intergraph Process, Power and Marine’s SmartPlant, CADWorx and plant-specific simulation solutions, Leica laser scanners and Hexagon Metrology optical probes (for manufacturing tolerance measurement), mine operations software, and much more. The annual HxGN Live user conference is a mash-up of global challenges, industry solutions, hardware pitches, software releases and implementation stories. It’s a lot to grab hold of, but let’s try to make some sense of it all.

Every presentation I attended, whether customer or company, centered on how to create, manage and use data more effectively. In plant design, this could mean reusing model components to save time and money and to standardize across facilities. In the geospatial world, this might be combining data from many sensor sources for analysis and action — is the water level different and should we evacuate the town downstream? All of this requires data consistency, access across disciplines but in a form that makes sense to the user, collaboration across sites and function — and each of these spawns its own technology issues.

Hexagon CEO Ola Rollén kicked things off with “Human Ingenuity: An Ambitious Plot. An Evolving Tale”. His point was that technology enables invention, especially as applied to the big problems in the world today. How to we feed a hungry, growing population? How does our progress shape the world? Like many keynote speakers this conference season, Mr. Rollén drew parallels between the digital and physical worlds; connected by sensors. He sees the world moving away from isolated points of data or technology and towards collaborative processes, visualization and the growth of intelligent, connected devices. For Hexagon, Mr. Rollén says this means focusing on

  • the smart, connected factory where production robots will incorporate metrology so that we can know quickly whether finished goods meet quality standards (and, presumably, correct if they do not)
  • more intelligent management of construction. To him, this means building with the end in mind and connecting the real and digital with sensors to bring dynamic data back into SmartPlant
  • autonomous intelligence gathering for public safety and security, using robotic intelligence gathering for dangerous or repetitive tasks
  • crowd-sourced maps, to capture more details and more frequent updates to feed our insatiable need for smart phone map data
  • autonomous everything –farms, mines, cars, etc.— to make more efficient use of existing assets and perhaps change the way we think about our needs going forward. I didn’t know this: there are 800 million cars in the world, most used less than 10% on any given day. What could we do if we connected them in some sort of network, sharing them as needed? Perhaps having them (autonomously) drive us and position themselves for the next user?

The data centricity message was a big part of Intergraph PP&M’s sessions, too, centering on the importance of reducing risk, increasing efficiency in design through construction and into operations — a needed evolution as engineering companies (EPCs) seek to offer more services to their owner clients. PP&M CEO Gerhard Sallinger spoke  about the stresses placed on capital expenditure programs in the oil and gas world, with project cancellations or postponements affecting the EPCs’ order book and staffing levels. The answer: rely on technology to increase productivity and cut cost for those projects that do continue.* Mr. Sallinger highlighted PP&M’s portfolio, spanning conceptual design, front-end engineering (where the basic parameters of the plant are laid out, costed and planned), detailed design, procurement, fabrication, construction and operations over the 30, 40 or 50-year life of the plant. All of these solutions, he said, can be integrated over the cloud — as are 25 customers** so far on a number of projects with more customers investigating the cloud offering.

Mr. Sallinger gave a brief business overview, saying that PP&M’s 2014 revenue was roughly $544 million, up 7% or so year/year. By geo, the Americas accounted for 34%, Europe, 30% and Asia, 36% of total revenue. Keep in mind that these are all percentages of percentages; on that basis, revenue from the Americas was up 5%, over last year, from Europe, down 2% and from Asia, up 21%. Mr. Sallinger said that 2014 was the first year that Asia was the largest region for PP&M, that it did “super good” while other regions did “great”. On the research & development front, Mr. Sallinger said that PP&M’s R&D investment has doubled since 2004, in dollar terms. A bit of digging through old data and some math leads to a total R&D spend in 2014 of around $85 million, or 16% of revenue. That’s coincidentally dead-equal to the percent spent on R&D by arch-rival AVEVA and just a bit behind Dassault Systemes at 17%.

PP&M’s keynote also announced that Hexagon is entering the building information management (BIM) market by applying existing PP&M technology to airports, building complexes and other built asset projects. Mr. Sallinger was quick to reassure oil and gas customers that this wouldn’t divert resources from their needs, but expands current technology for a new market. He said that SmartPlant Materials, Construction and Foundation could be used by BIM projects to reduce material costs and eliminate excess materials, ensure schedule adherence and improve efficiency — leading to better project outcomes in the BIM world as well.PP&M is trialling what’s code-named SmartBuilding now but doesn’t see an imminent release.***

There were no other major announcement from PP&M at HxGN Live this year, just the calm sense that everything is continuing, evolving to plan. That’s a good thing, as a lot of the EPCs and owners in the audience are still working to implement SmartPlant’s many modules across their projects.

HxGN Live showed off how sometimes 1 plus 1 is more than 2. Solutions that span companies or divisions for manufacturing, mining, water and other verticals are starting to show that Mr. Rollén’s seeming grab bag of companies was created very carefully and with quite a bit of logic. Take Vero. Vero was added to the Hexagon family last year, bringing computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) into the fold. Combining CAM with metrology (measured quality control) enables manufacturers create proactive manufacturing processes, possibly avoid problems before they occur and certainly resolve them quickly when they do occur. It also brings Hexagon from the back-end of the process, after the item is made, to the front end: helping program and control the machine tools that make the parts themselves. It’s early days yet, but programming the metrology probe and the production tool together, and feeding the data from the probe back into CAM to adjust production could lead to new levels of quality for a lot of manufacturers.

Auto, aero, oil, gas, mining, machining, surveying … One thing became clearer and clearer over the week: we’re just at the very early stages of living in a data-centric world. We might be able to connect a quality measurement to the machine that’s making the widget; we might be able to tell that our construction project is 4 hours behind schedule, or that a truck in a mine is idling too long. But we’re just getting to the point where we can take action as a result of that data. That’s exciting.

*Many EPCs still have plenty of work, on maintenance projects or at the cheaper end of the CAPEX spectrum. Cancellations and postponements seem to be centered on the risky, expensive projects that wouldn’t, at today’s price of oil, yield sufficient profit — projects in the arctic, very deep water, or those that are very large and, therefore, risky at any price.

**I’m not sure how many customers PP&M has these days, but Mr. Sallinger said that over 700 were in attendance at HxGN LIVE. Saying that 25 have started working on SmartPlant Cloud implies a relatively low penetration rate but it’s actually pretty good. This product is new and many PP&M customers have long said “never” to the cloud and are very resistant to change; getting 25 to try it and more to consider it is a solid start.

***Given how many EPCs work across plant, building, civil and other disciplines, expanding the Smart portfolio to BIM makes sense. But there will be roadblocks: Smart is not considered to be an inexpensive alternative; the built asset world outside plant often has much lower margins, so pricing will be an issue. Too, any BIM offering will have to meet standards such as the UK’s Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) and that’s clearly not a plant/oil & gas kind of thing. Finally, Hexagon said that it has no plans to create a CAD solution for BIM; its focus is on 4D/5D/6D and so will have some of the same integration issues as other non-CAD BIM offerings.

Image credits: Photo of Ole Rollén taken by Monica Schnitger

Note: Hexagon graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.

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