How new cloud connectivity is unlocking better machinery utilisation and transforming profits

by Greg Holdsworth, senior product manager, digital operations, Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division


The manufacturing industry has always been at the cutting-edge of technological innovation, using advances in machinery to cut costs and deliver higher quality goods to customers.

Investment in high-tech and advanced factory floor equipment is crucial for upscaling manufacturing capabilities and efficiencies, but many companies are not fully realising the benefits of their newest machinery investments because they lack the operator data to take full advantage of their new manufacturing assets.

The demand to increase productivity has always been a strong driver for factories around the world and in the age of automation, interconnectivity and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it seems as though modern machinery with all the bells and whistles is central to new levels of productivity.

But many manufacturers will spend upwards of £200,000 on a single CNC machine only to not reap the rewards of its fullest potential. Downtime in such factory floor machinery eats into a company’s efficiency and therefore profits, but a number of factors can be addressed to reduce this downtime. That is, if you know about them.

Currently, data collection from machinery used on the factory floor is inadequate to address the root causes of machinery downtime. Often this data is collected by a human measuring perhaps 50 data points in an hour, when a digital application could track this data to 80 or 90 data points per hour with much higher accuracy avoiding the prevalence of human error.

Analysis, and action upon this data, is crucial to reducing downtime and increasing overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). OEE currently sits at around 60% for discrete manufacturing tools but the gold standard is considered to be 85%. At Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, we are developing solutions that are setting businesses on their way to reaching this target.

Collect and analyse

SFx Asset Management is a cloud-native monitoring system that connects CNC (computer-numerical control) and other assets such as metrology equipment to offer rapid transformation of shopfloor operations of any size without big investments.

Manufacturers using the application to collect and analyse factory floor data will achieve a significant reduction in machine downtime in a number of ways. Once the data is collated through the application, it is possible to categorise the reasons for downtime with precision, and therefore take the necessary steps to avoid the issue in the future.

Hexagon’s software can be easily integrated with over 85% of currently available CNC machinery, and the set-up process can be completed in minutes. User-friendly dashboards provide live access to analyses and the current status of machinery – even accessible through mobile phones and tablets. The intuitive mobile-optimised access to status alerts makes it easy to train operators to use the tools, which are connected via a secure cloud platform and do not require a complex virtual private network to be established.

Access can be set to different employees based on their role, and access permitted based on assets and sites required, further enhancing the collaboration capabilities of remote working and reducing delays in access to important information. This differentiation of access based on roles allows, for example, an operator to switch on a machine, leave it running and be provided with live updates on its function, or for a maintenance manager to receive machine error signals and immediately develop action plans to get systems back up and running.

Operators require insights into a number of contributing factors to the OEE of machinery in order to streamline its processes. Whether that’s set-up time, maintenance requirements, or even collisions. SFx Asset Management develops a tag for each of these causes which is then removed once the system is back to normal operational standards. By tracking and charting this data it is possible to simplify job scheduling and highlight usage issues with particular machines and identify opportunities to improve gaps in productivity.

Daily use

While new to machine tools, SFx Asset Management has been introduced to factory floors around the world. Paragon Medical is a leading global supplier of medical hardware, surgical instruments, implantable components, and design and development services for the medical device marketplace.

Paragon is using the Hexagon solution at its Pierceton plant in Indiana, and is planning to deploy the system to other machines at other plants in the near future thanks to the impact on productivity. Linking up 14 different CMMs and their programming software, SFx allows Paragon’s managers to have a clear overview of all work being carried out on the factory floor.

“It is in daily use for us,” explains Ashlee Chapman, CMM programmer at Paragon Medical. “With SFx Asset Management we know what we’re running, how efficiently it’s running; if there are any crashes on the floor, and if we have to help CMM operators with more training.”

Make the connection

The interconnectivity and monitoring provided by this type of IIoT platform is also vital to move towards the wider goals of Industry 4.0. Open, cloud-native platforms can quickly and reliably connect the shopfloor, providing the ‘glue’ needed to transform immediate operations and underpin more efficient design-to-production workflows.

A ‘backbone’ like Hexagon’s platform makes the introduction of productivity-boosting robot-assisted automation and lights-out autonomous machining possible without investing in plant-wide transformation projects.

The need to maximise return on expensive capital investments such as machine tools, CMMs and robots, is a given, but many manufacturers do not achieve this because they are hindered by machinery downtime and otherwise invisible operator productivity issues that add up and eat into profits.

Harnessing this valuable data can improve machinery efficiency by a number of percentage points, allowing workers and factories to produce more without burdensome paperwork and ensure customers receive their products on time and at margins that justify the manufacturer’s investments in their capabilities.

Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence



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