Additive Manufacturing capabilities from Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence – Is it a game changer for the jigs and fixtures industry?

Currently, jigs and fixtures professionals face several challenges. The need for customized products and the rising complexity are leading the pack. Executives prefer milling to manufacture their jigs and fixtures, but unfortunately, it is not cost-competitive when producing them in small quantities. 

The time for machining is high, and much-needed organic shapes are difficult to manufacture. The compromise is to create multiple components and assemble them. This process further increases the cost and time for assembly.  These challenges are prime opportunities for additive manufacturing to step in. 

Mathieu Perennou and Sashank Ganti outlined the capabilities of Hexagon’s additive manufacturing solutions for the jigs and fixtures industry at Hexagon Live 2023.

Using Hexagon’s Nexus Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) technology, engineers can create a digital twin of the 3D printer. They can then digitally simulate and perfect the printing process before printing the component. 

Digital simulations are helpful in other ways, too – engineers can optimize the use of materials, explore plastics, and create lightweight parts. Further, machine shops can print their jigs and fixtures on-premise and on-demand.

The nature of the additive manufacturing beast is such that more complexity doesn’t cost more. It gives engineers tasked with manufacturing jigs and fixtures the ability to create them lightweight and sustainable. Further, they can explore new materials and easily manufacture organic shapes.

What’s My Take

What do I think of this new Nexus solution from Hexagon? We know that AM is a fabulous technology for the jigs and fixtures industry. But designing and printing these components using a 3D printer is easier said than done. When engineers use Nexus DfAM, they can harness the power of simulation to see how parts will behave during printing. They can further optimize their initial designs using generative design. They can explore cheaper and more sustainable materials. 

Finally, all of these are available on the cloud for small and mid-sized companies to harness the power of this technology without much upfront computing and hardware investment. These capabilities help engineers to print the part correctly the very first time, thus making the Nexus DfAM solution a game changer in the jigs and fixtures industry.

Nexus for Developers: What is Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence’s strategy?

Hexagon AB announced tools developers could use to build SaaS applications involving the nexus platform. This initiative is called Nexus for Developers. It is a set of APIs and frameworks that allows third-party solution providers to connect their solutions and applications to Hexagon’s solutions.

So, why did Hexagon release this initiative? 

To answer this question, one needs to understand their approach to providing an ecosystem of solutions to customers. Hexagon realizes that customers want a choice and are likely to choose a basket of solutions (from Hexagon and competitors). Another fact observed in the industry is the inclination of manufacturing companies to migrate to the cloud for their digital software needs. Not least, manufacturers have realized they need superior collaboration tools for product development. The Nexus for Developers program enables Hexagon’s customers to enjoy these.

Without Nexus for Developers, Hexagon’s customers would have to waste effort and time to manually import/export data from one program to the other. Automating tasks becomes challenging. And stakeholders will be forced to collaborate through office tools such as emails and documents – not a good situation for increasing productivity.

What’s My Take

Hexagon has a great start with this initiative. But just providing SDKs for the developer community will not see adoption. The app store concept looks all too lovely as a strategy till you start to see that only a few (I can only think of two) companies have a genuine business model from it. But Hexagon is doing a few things that will encourage adoption. It is building a portfolio of connected Nexus applications using its own and a few partner solutions to show what is possible with Nexus. 

The custom-built Nexus solution for additive manufacturing, mold design, and PCB thermal validation (using Altium®365, a Hexagon partner) proves this initiative will likely bear fruit. Hexagon has a good grip on its customer needs and has a modest expectation around the growth of the Nexus ecosystem. 

By talking to their executives, I was convinced that Hexagon truly wants its customers to benefit from the Nexus technology by connecting great solutions, creating automated workflows, and enabling better collaboration. These advantages will allow its customers to develop high-quality products and bring them to market faster. In that way, Nexus for Developers is a crucial enabler. My colleagues at Lifecycle Insights and I look forward to seeing practical solutions that address complex manufacturing problems – something possible with Nexus for Developers.

Why am I optimistic about Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence solutions for battery manufacturing?

At HxGN Live 23, I had the opportunity to converse with Mahesh Kailasam, Gary Peacock, and Daniela Handl on different topics related to battery manufacturing, current challenges, and potential opportunities for Hexagon AB.  My curiosity started when I noticed Hexagon wasn’t talking much about batteries, while every other solution provider in the design and manufacturing space did so vociferously. Not making much noise doesn’t mean Hexagon has little to offer battery manufacturers. Au contraire!

Let us start by reviewing the challenges battery manufacturers are currently facing. Any greenfield project needs several months to get to an acceptable production quality. Moreover, the amount of wastage (material, energy, water, etc.) and rework in this period is mind-boggling. These are not just for new manufacturers. Even established players face this when scaling up or setting up new plants in other geographies.

So how can Hexagon help? I want to take you back to 2019 when Hexagon acquired a company called Volume Graphics. It turns out that computed tomography (CT) software from Volume Graphics can find anomalies (in a non-destructive manner) at every stage of the battery manufacturing process. Moreover, companies can automate the inspection process and detect problems quickly at each step. This CT software solution helps to seek poor-quality batteries. It allows companies to bring out great-quality batteries to the market: a fantastic quality control tool but not much for quality assurance.

But there is more, in my opinion. Hexagon’s impressive simulation capabilities can augment the ct solution in many ways. Engineers can simulate the battery manufacturing process and discover why errors such as anode overlap and delamination occur. Further, they can use the simulation models to fine-tune the manufacturing parameters to prevent these errors. Not all manufacturing defects are equally devastating. #thermal runaway simulation can help understand acceptable tolerances. I have just scratched the surface, as one can do much more with Hexagon’s simulation solutions in battery design and manufacturing.

Hopefully, I have highlighted the synergy between the different Hexagon solutions that helps solve a critical industry problem.

Be sure to check out our other coverage of Hexagon Live: 

The Benefits of Integrating Technology Into Your Manufacturing Design and Maintenance

How To Transform Your Manufacturing Plant To Have A Quality Mindset And Culture