The heart of the Automation Center at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. (Images: Ralf A. Niggemann)
The heart of the Automation Center at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. (Images: Ralf A. Niggemann)

Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence

Automation Trends

In the new Automation Center of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence customers are able to experience firsthand what can be achieved by the intelligent combination of high-precision measurement technologies and industrial automation platforms.

It was the year 1983 when American rock band Styx stormed the international charts with the refrain “Domo arigato Mr. Roboto”. In their music video, robots danced to electronic chords to conjure up a transparent secret: “You’re wondering who I am – machine or mannequin – with parts made in Japan – I am the modern man.” That’s more than thirty years ago and meanwhile has an almost nostalgic ring to it.

That’s how automation works

There’s not much mystery to robots nowadays, and robotics has long ceased to be the exclusive domain of the Japanese. Particularly in automated manufacturing, German mechanical engineers are among the technology drivers. Robots are part of a highly complex system that relies on the interplay of many factors: the specific production lines and their digitization, the robots and their intelligent use, interfaces and data handling, and not least the optimal coordination of throughput, cycle times and quality control while maintaining maximum flexibility. That’s how automation works – in theory, at least.

The way to attain automation excellence in practice can now be seen at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence in Wetzlar, where the company has invested around a million euros in its new Automation Center. Building work at the Wetzlar site was completed in only six weeks. The heart of the Automation Center is a high-tech plant, whose design and choreography, on the evening of its opening ceremony at least, were more reminiscent of a large 3D cinema. Effectively, this is a center for presenting the latest automation solutions and devising future concepts: not virtually but in reality; without 3D glasses but for inline 3D measurement.

Integrating high-performance metrology into manufacturing environments

In the new technology center it’s not so much a matter of enhancing the performance and precision of measuring machines by another 0.1 micrometer, as Holger Fritze, Managing Director of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence stresses. The focus is much more on optimally integrating high-performance metrology into the customers’ state-of-the-art manufacturing environments. “If you’re as deeply involved in the subject as we are, you can’t afford to ignore the latest trends: Industry 4.0, digitization of manufacturing processes, fully automated production. The special challenge of our company is to develop and offer a comprehensive fully automated process and quality control that actively promotes these trends rather than chasing them.”

This is exactly what’s happening in the newly opened Automation Center, where sustainable concepts are developed and turned into practical applications. The demonstration effect is impressive and above all convincing. Here, customers in the automotive industry can see fully automated measuring techniques in use in the assembly line. And they can understand why these techniques require a holistic approach and comprehensive solutions. At Hexagon, they are called 360° Smart Inline Measurement Solutions (SIMS). They are the result of many years of experience in the development and implementation of measuring systems. The 360° SIMS solutions inspect all dimensional quality specifications in an uninterrupted 360-degree view, providing a complete and fully automated dimensional process and quality control. They allow flexible cell configurations for robot-controlled 3D measurement and process control in car manufacture. And what’s more, this is done in the assembly line, within the production cycle time and round the clock, so correspondingly high throughput is guaranteed.

Measurement data volumes are collected and analyzed in real time

Measurements are taken with Hexagon’s white light sensors. They capture surface and element data; in the continuous scanning mode substantial measurement data volumes can be collected and analyzed. An industrial robot meets defined measurement points in a matter of seconds. Using the patented RPS measuring device, even complex workpieces can be aligned and hard-to-access elements measured. A touchscreen at the monitoring station shows the line operator the measurement results in color on the basis of the measurement points and tolerances. The data itself can be called up by different users and can be specially edited for the user groups. This facilitates data management and enables the data to be analyzed in real time or over longer periods, significantly shortening reaction times in the relevant areas of activity.

“Our 360° SIMS measurement cell in the Automation Center shows all the benefits of inline 3D measurement,” enthuses Gerhard Ehling, Project & Sales Support Manager at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. “And our customers in the automotive industry have the opportunity to try it out on their own components.” The car industry is regarded as being one of the main pioneers of manufacturing automation. Rigorous standards apply in both process and quality control – in the production line, within the specified cycle times, round the clock. And with its intelligent combination of high-precision sensor and software technologies in connection with industrial automation platforms, Hexagon is playing a major role in this development.

Live demo at the Automation Forum

The guests that had been invited to the two-day Automation Forum were able to see this for themselves. Apart from the live demo at the 360˚ SIMS measurement cell, high-profile speakers from science and industry, from Hexagon and other companies, gave application-oriented, practical and comprehensive insights into the new technology. Topics ranged from Industry 4.0 via assembly line digitization to fully automated metrology solutions for body assembly; from recent case studies at Volkswagen to future concepts of the robot manufacturer Kuka; from automated hardware to application-centric software tools.

At the end the message was clear: this is how automation works, not only in theory, but in actual industrial applications. Is this the future? “We’re quite convinced it is,” says Gerhard Ehling. “But it has already become reality. Our 360° SIMS measurement cell is already delivering reliable and precise results in the assembly line and can be used extremely effectively and flexibly as a primary measurement system in the manufacturing process. This is a development that is not only beneficial for us, but even more importantly, one which drives our customers’ progress.”


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Live demo with white light sensors. Right: Gerhard Ehling, Project & Sales Support Manager.
Live demo with white light sensors. Right: Gerhard Ehling, Project & Sales Support Manager.