HxGN LIVE merges old and new, urges epic leaps forward

Jun 17, 2018 | Hot Topics

HxGN LIVE, the Hexagon group’s annual userfest, brings together thousands of people from manufacturing to fire/rescue/police to construction to mapping professionals. Walking the halls, it’s hard not to run into someone who does something I know nothing about — truly an interesting mix of technologists, end-users, industries and geographies.

Lots of stories to come, but the main news out of this year’s event was the launch of Xalt (pronounced “exalt”), a combo of current and future technologies that create what Hexagon calls its Autonomous Connected Ecosystem (ACE). Hexagon bristles when you call it a platform; they see it as a mechanism that delivers industry-specific solutions for Industrie 4.0. Depending on the end-industry, this may be a combo of  sensing technologies (via its own brands or third parties), software from its divisions, and data orchestration. While the name Xalt is new, bits and pieces have been in development for years, and some of it already has installed customers. CEO Ola Rollén says that Xalt has 50 to 60 customers, some operating  hundreds of NC workcells that embody what he believes Xalt will eventually bring to all of Hexagon’s end-industries: smarter, connected, digitally-enabled decision making that operates faster than humans can. His example: a Hexagon metrology device is embedded into a production line, measuring parts as they are produced. The metrology device has some analytical ability via edge computing, and can tell the line manager that a measured flaws means a tool is about to fail — replace it soon! This is faster than in today’s typical workflows, where metrology happens in a Quality Lab, offline, feeding back into production perhaps too late to be truly useful. Of course, Xalt will also feed data to a cloud analysis engine to enable queries such as “is this tool failing across all machines?” to help optimize production even further. That’s just one example — Hexagon CTO Claudio Simão says his team has identified over 500 applications for Xalt,  and that’s before Hexagon’s 8 divisions start adding in their specific applications.

And that, the domain expertise from the divisions, is what Hexagon believes will make Xalt different from everything else on the market. Mr. Rollén sees huge potential in the vast amount of data created every day by comms-enabled devices, but a huge lag in what is actually used. He sees Xalt as a framework that accelerates customers’ ability to harness that data simply, even autonomously, where that’s appropriate. Rather than being a toolkit, Xalt will be embedded in the hardware and software Hexagon sells, so that the customer decision becomes where and when to use it, and not so much how. The “how” will be enabled by the solutions from Hexagon Process, Power & Marine, Manufacturing Intelligence (as in the example above), Mining or or or… The experts in the divisions will leverage the core Xalt tech from Mr. Simão’s group, add to it as needed and serve it out to customers. Rather than being an IT/OT research project at each customer site, Xalt will jumpstart the realization of business benefit from all of that data. Action, rather than IT.

A couple of other quick thoughts –again, longer posts to come:

  • MSC Software, acquired by Hexagon a bit more than a year ago, shared their development priorities for the next year. UI improvements, adding more solvers to Apex, closer coordination with sister companies in the Manufacturing Intelligence division — all good ideas. What amazed (and heartened, to be honest) me was the level of energy. Hexagon is investing in MSC, boosting resources in R&D, support and sales.
  • And that’s true across brands and divisions. Hexagon told investors that it plans to spend 10% to 12% on R&D in 2018 and beyond. For a company that still gets over 40% of revenue from hardware, that’s a lot. And in real terms, it’s a lot, too: about €350 million in 2017.
  • There were product announcements across the divisions, more that I can cover here in this brief post. But if you’re a PP&M customer, look into HxGN SDx, SaaS solution that aims to help owners create and maintain a “digital twin” of an industrial facility and EPCs run projects. SDx is based on SmartPlant Foundations, so migration is simplified — but the end-result is modern, work-process and role-centric.
  • The least surprising thing I learned? I spent as much time as I could in PP&M sessions and it still seems as though oil & gas/chem/etc. is still stuck in patterns technology can’t fix. Why doesn’t design talk to purchasing? Why don’t owners pay EPCs for digital models? Why are contracts to adversarial? These issues haven’t changed in the many years I’ve been in the industry, and it’s truly a !@#$ shame. We keep talking about it but little changes.
  • The most interesting thing I learned? I tend to thing of  Hexagon as a holding company, with each division doing its own thing. That’s changing, as Mr. Simão’s team works with CTOs from across the divisions to reduce duplicative efforts — and, as a huge side-benefit, expose cool concepts from one industrial area that can benefit others. Hexagon has typically been slow to create cross-division offerings, but it sounds like we’ll see an acceleration there.

More to come. In the meantime, I suggest you check out Mr. Rollén’s keynote about epic leaps and the risks of being left behind — and hang in there because the baby bird makes it (yup, spoiler but necessary):

Note: Hexagon graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The cover picture is of Hexagon CEO Ola Rollén, courtesy of Hexagon.