The more we automate, the less we waste

Author: Burkhard Böckem

We are all increasingly aware of the impact of climate change. And we need to care deeply about the environment if we all want this Earth to be preserved for future generations. And I am concerned about the future. At the same time as Hexagon’s Chief Technology Officer, I am also optimistic. I believe in the power of technology and innovation to solve the most pressing problems. Much of the technology that will significantly reduce waste and emissions already exists, and at Hexagon we’re determined to make it more inclusive and more broadly available in more seamless workflows.

The pandemic crisis has accelerated digitalisation everywhere including in our own company. Because of travel restrictions and safety requirements, we’re now collaborating entirely digitally both internally as well as with our partners around the globe. Traditional innovation processes that include different prototypes and real-life testing can use up a lot of resources. Engineers, for example, usually produce and physically test multiple samples. Within digital workflows, however, engineers can use computer simulations to study the performance of different materials and test them virtually. In 2020, we changed our innovation process including testing and production planning to be entirely virtual. A team in one country developed the product and created a virtual prototype which was then tested by a team in another country to check the design was correct.

Sustainability is a theme throughout the entire process. We always ask how much faster can you do a job? Where can the process be leaner? How can you do it more efficiently? Which elements can you simplify? And usually, sustainability factors are in line with user needs. Energy-efficient tools and devices are not merely environmentally friendly, they are also more convenient for users because you need to recharge or change battery packs less often. Our brand’s emphasis on high-quality, durable products ensures long lifecycles which are in the customers’ interest and are more eco-friendly. Our training, maintenance and service ensure products stay in good working order and reduce the risk of accuracy issues that could lead to reworking costs, scrap and material or energy waste. Predictive and preventative maintenance avoids unnecessary machine downtime and further drives sustainability. Support staff can solve issues remotely and anticipate the need for site visits. Planning such trips and predicting the need of spare parts — rather than merely reacting to issues — avoids unnecessary journeys while saving the customer time. Consultancy also helps eliminate unnecessary activities and thus unnecessary emissions. So, as we optimise for customer outcomes in the innovation process, we optimise for sustainability.

We empower customers to put data to work to increase efficiency, quality and productivity so that they can use resources more wisely and avoid waste. But it is only when the collection and interpretation of data is easy that it becomes a powerful tool for optimising operations, eliminating unnecessary patterns and developing lean processes. Harnessing the power of data is often complex.

In addition, autonomous systems and processes need to be able to deal with changing situations. In the autonomous future Hexagon is envisioning, work processes and even entire industries will be able to adapt intelligently and autonomously. Real-time data impels autonomous, fully optimised and sustainable workflows. Hexagon is adeptly positioned to drive this autonomy with its sensors, software and autonomous solutions.

Many people still associate autonomy with cars. It can do so much more — but the example can help demonstrate the impact of autonomous processes. Autonomous cars are more fuel- or energy-efficient than human-driven ones. Self-driving cars reduce congestion and thus engine idling time. In fact, one study showed that even a single car with autonomous speed control can have a noticeable impact on traffic flow. Researchers demonstrated that self-driving cars could reduce the fuel-consumption of vehicles in phantom waves by 40%. Many areas do and will benefit from data-fuelled autonomy. It can make fossil fuels cleaner, renewable energy farms more efficient, mining safer, manufacturing leaner, buildings smarter and cities more liveable. As our products support these autonomous systems, we’re helping customers — and societies — to reap the advantages.

We keep pioneering autonomous innovations and we democratise them. Technologies such as the Leica BLK portfolio of solutions and our HxDR platform are easy to use and make the benefits of digitalisation and autonomy accessible and available to a broad set of industries and users.

Envisioning — and witnessing — how pairing fully digitalised processes with artificial intelligence (AI) breaks new ground is exciting. Deep learning can extract new learnings from data and enable solutions and applications we currently can barely imagine. AI has already transformed how we do machine visualisations and image processing. Coupling AI with Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, and its ability to self-navigate alongside smart sensors with processing at the edge, will boost robotics and unlock additional potential for autonomy.

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