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Collaboration is key to increased visibility and closing the digital loop


At HxGN LIVE Global in Las Vegas, Mark Venables caught up Stephen Graham – executive president of metrology and production software, to talk about Nexus, Hexagon’s newest and most exciting platform announcement that was revealed at HxGN Live. It claims to bring unprecedented collaboration capabilities to the entire portfolio.

Graham joined Hexagon in January 2017 as vice president of marketing and is based in Cobham, UK. He has been leading the metrology and production software business unit since 2020. Prior to joining Hexagon he worked in marketing positions for over 25 years in the technology industry, most recently for Qualcomm, a major supplier of semiconductors for the mobile phone, consumer electronics and automotive industries.

How is Nexus different to other collaborative platforms?

Quality is a huge part of our heritage and that is a lot stronger in our offering than any of our competitors. The openness of the platform is different; in particular the way that we are approaching the openness. The idea that you can build a solution from whatever pieces you have got already. Even within Hexagon we have a very large portfolio of software, very little of which is cloud enabled already, a lot of it is desktop based.

Nexus connects to those solutions, whether they are cloud based or desktop based, whether they are new technologies or old technologies, and it can establish that link to share data into the cloud. You can choose which data you want to share or which data you want to consume. That gives complete freedom to connect any two things together wherever they are. It is arriving at a customer and whatever it is that you have got today, we can start with that, we do not need to displace anything.

So, even if they were using any company’s CAD package that would not matter to you?

There is an integration process, which is in its early stages, that we are going through with many of our own products at the moment. As we gain experience in that we are figuring out how to make that easier. The objective is to get to the point where we can publish an API that can easily be used by a third party integrator and ideally by our customers themselves, to connect to whatever they have got.

There are a host on terms bandies about for this digital connection. Many companies call it a digital thread but you have opted for digital reality. Can you explain the thinking behind that?

My interpretation of digital reality is the connection to the real world, which I think often differentiates Hexagon compared to our competitors. In all of the different spaces where we operate, we have sensing technologies that measure what is really going on in the world and that is a core competence of Hexagon, especially in manufacturing intelligence, with metrology technologies, but I think across all the divisions, those sensing technologies are really a core competence.

It seems to me that sensing is probably one of your strong points. Talk to me about the importance of your sensing background in building up this digital reality.

We started 20 years ago, in the quality inspection space, which is about metrology and making precise measurements of what is actually been made. Historically that was about determining whether it meets a spec or not, and if it does not meet the spec, you throw it away, and if it does you ship it. Over time that has matured to become a much more important part of the overall solution because sensing what is going on in the real world now makes the bridge into the digital world, so you can make a comparison between what the digital twin thinks should be going on, versus what is actually going on. It is in that difference that you can do the analysis to generate the insights to see what has gone wrong. So, the power of the digital reality is the combination of the two is what’s critical.

We have got some of the most accurate simulations yet. We have never seen software that is so accurate with the most accurate simulations for certain types of physics that I have seen, but it is still a prediction. If you then go and manufacture that product, what comes out the other end is never design intent. The closer you can close the gap and have feedback loops between what you have designed and predicted and what is actually happening, the more confidence you have in the decisions you make.

For example, Advanced Composites were able to not only predict the performance of a carbon fibre reinforced 3D printed part, we can also inspect that part with CT scan analysis. We can now feed that back into our simulation model to improve them, so that next time we get more accurate. Within machining we can programme a machine, then take the statistical process control and metrology data over time. So, it is not a simulation in this case, we are building a statistical model and we can use that to actually directly correct that machine based on quality data.

When you go out in the market selling this end to end digital solution, do you still find companies that see you as a metrology company?

Yes, we also get asked if we are a CAM company too. It all depends on what the customer happens to have bought from us. It is another thing that Nexus is going to try and address, and it is unlikely we are going to present the full breadth.

Are you making good inroads into this automated sector with your digital offerings?

We are. The three primary domains where we operate are metrology, production, and design and engineering space. In the metrology area and the CAM area, we are number one in terms of market share in both of those areas. But if you think about automotive, specifically the de facto standard for multi body dynamics, understanding the vehicle dynamics, its handling and how the tires interact with the road and thus the car is going to be safe. That is Adams, which is what people associate with MSC software, you do not need to start to associate that with Hexagon. The structural analysis of the structure and if it is safe is the remit of MSC Nastran; it is the de facto standard. The crash test is a combination of our software and other people’s software together. So, we’re very deeply embedded in automotive even in the OEMs design phase.

When it comes to CAM, it is much more complicated because it is a tier three, two, and one suppliers using our software, and other people’s software that is much harder to understand.

I have been talking to quite a few companies about requirements based design, how the are building the quality tests at the start, is that something you get involved in?

Romax is the most popular software for developing new concepts for gearboxes and drive trains and here we have taken that software, which is model based systems engineering and started to combine that with our gear measurement software Quintas. We are combining that with some of our more analytical software to make sense of that information, particularly in serial production, to be able to design for tolerance so you do not over engineer a gearbox.

What happens today is when you are trying to get the best efficiency, you specify the accuracy of the final part inspection, the tolerances that you need will be massively over specified. What we are doing now is looking at combining the simulation of what the gearbox needed to do functionally, with the knowledge of the metrology and the tolerances that are required. With that we can specify what the tolerances need to be.

Do you need to throw these gears away on the shop floor? Or can you use them? Do you need that level of precision or not? Could you save a lot of money by not having ultra-high precision everything. Coming from a Hexagon standpoint of precision engineering that is a hard pill to swallow. But we have got people who are experts and we’re going to help them predict what the tolerances need to be, so they do not over engineer.

Hexagon have a bewildering array of different products and I suppose Nexus is a shop window that brings it all together neatly.

Definitely, it is part of the value proposition from our point of view for developing it. It is all about bringing together disjointed technologies to create solutions, and that fits perfectly with the portfolio that we have built up. It also fit perfectly with the idea of being open to any technology partners that come in and with a company that is highly acquisitive, that is going to go and buy the next thing. What Nexus does, means that when we buy the next thing, we can immediately plug it into lots of different solutions. With Nexus you have one interface and once you can connect to that interface, you can add anything to it.

Could you just talk a bit about the importance of closing the loop and end to end visibility?

Closing that loop is ultimately what it is all about. That is how we deliver on the autonomy vision; in the end you cannot get there without feedback loops. I think almost by definition, autonomous systems need feedback loops in order to operate. Building a collaborative platform is about building feedback loops, but with people involved and that is the starting point, but with the longer term vision for automating that process to drive towards an autonomous system.

How does this data and the way you operate help manufacturers be agile?

What Nexus has been created to do is to be far more flexible and responsive. So, today there is a lift required to interface any particular solution into next up but you only do that once. We are working on making that as easy as possible to connect the technology. You decide what data you want to share, and you decide what data you want to consume. Once you have made that connection, it becomes very easy to reconfigure solutions as needed to solve whatever today’s problem is.

It is clear Nexus is far from finished, what can we say about moving forward?

It is going to evolve; we are engaged with a handful of Lighthouse customers today, and the intention is to ramp that up through to the end of this year. Once we’ve got 1000s of customers on the platform, that will still be the start of a journey.

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