Hexagon 2012—Thinking Forward

A 741Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

The Experience
For those of us who used to attend the Leica Geosystems HDS User Conference in laid back San Ramon, California, Hexagon 2012 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada was at the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, but that is not Thinking Forward–the theme of this year’s conference. First of all congratulations to the Hexagon event organizers and the MGM staff–they put on a first class event, particularly when you consider that they had thousands of (hungry) people to accommodate, often in a matter of minutes.

Variations on the Think Forward theme were everywhere. The evening social events included Think Progress, Think Exploration and Think Again with the latter including an Elvis impersonator, who could really sing and other retro Vegas acts that were a lot of fun. If you were not able to attend, fear not, word is they signed a 3 year deal. Next year’s conference will be held June 3­6, 2013.

Hexagon AB, the parent company has 3 major divisions—Hexagon Metrology, Intergraph and Leica Geosystems. This conference recap will mainly focus on Geosystems, in fact primarily the HDS or laser scanning track. I wish it were possible to cover it all, but it was more than a challenge, especially logistically at times to get to all of the sessions that looked interesting.

I must admit I wonder sometimes how many people are interested in reading these recaps, but much to my surprise one of the Geosystems marketing people credited last year’s recap with helping to increase this year’s attendance, which was up 70% I believe–very encouraging.

Overall more than 3,000 people from 76 countries attended this year’s event. There were over 40 sessions representing 29,000 hours of information transfer plus 60 sponsors in the trade show.

The Corporate Vision
The opening sessions followed the same agenda as last year with CEO Ola Rollen providing the high level vision of the future–"use the model world to improve the real world," followed by the division presidents providing somewhat more specific information related to their target markets. These leaders all seem reserved, sophisticated, and somewhat understated "C-level" business professionals. It is not all about technology as with some conferences.

My first impression was that I wanted to hear more specific details, but as I thought about later I realized that this is what senior management should be discussing and in fact this is where the seeds are being sown for collaboration and integration. The word osmosis comes to mind.

This opening session is the one time in the entire conference where everyone is together. It’s not the same as the Esri User Conference or Autodesk University. There is not a common software or hardware connection which unifies the group, even though they may be from different markets.

This is a challenge, but at the same time it is also a unique opportunity for Hexagon to innovate and integrate across multiple product lines and technologies. The potential rewards are much larger, if they can pull it off, which if you think more in terms of evolution than revolution there are some signs that this is starting to happen, driven largely by customers who are seeing the opportunity to take advantage of other Hexagon technologies.

As a company Hexagon tends to fly under the radar, as compared to a Trimble or Autodesk, but as Ola Rollen pointed out at his press conference they have purchased over 100 companies in the past 10 years, albeit many of these are relatively small, and they are not going to stop now. When I asked Ola about the recent investment in Blom, a European geospatial data services provider he noted that this was a way to create more value for customers. He followed up by indicating that Hexagon may have an interest in providing "data as a service". That would be different.

Leica Geosystems
During his opening address to the Geosystems track Juergen Dold, President, Hexagon Geosystems shared the stage with Ken Mooyman, NAFTA President. Juergen highlighted two new areas of integration with Intergraph–Dynamic GIS and Dynamic Plant Management. Both involve the use of Geosystems survey instruments to supply digital data to Intergraph’s GeoMedia and Smart Plant 3D, respectively. This was referred to as "making the digital world real."

Ken Mooyman introduced the concept of the "Hexagon Geosystems Advantage". In a follow up interview with Ken, he noted that customers are finding their own workflow integration. By bringing the players under one corporate umbrella customers are being exposed to new synergistic products. This creates the Advantage.

As I noted in a LiDAR News blog post following the conference Ken and his team are "shaking things up a bit" within Geosystems. The new product ideas, especially on the software side coming from North America are getting more traction. This is not your "grandmother’s Leica Geosystems."

Turning to the HDS laser scanning technical sessions Geoff Jacobs continues to recruit a first class line-up of diverse presentations. All of the major application areas were represented–plant/offshore/ marine, infrastructure, forensics, historic preservation, mining, BIM, construction and more.

One of the first speakers noted that for his firm, "laser scanning is a catalyst." This is one of the recurring themes that Geoff likes to emphasize, along with the "little engine that could"–small firms who are using laser scanning to work on BIG projects around the world often through a network of contacts that they establish at this conference.

These are powerful messages that are not just marketing hype. Geosystems HDS has the projects to back it up. The speakers are required to tell "how" they do things, not just produce eye candy. In the end it’s all about solving 3D problems. That is how the successful firms in the laser scanning business create value for their customers. The physical scanning is becoming a commodity in some markets.

One of the more interesting Geosystems presentations was provided by Chris Thewalt, Vice President, Scanning Software. Chris provided a refreshingly honest, detailed look at the software development roadmap for HDS. Some of the new efforts he highlighted were a new compact scan format (3bytes/ point), automated target registration, automated modeling tools for terrain and pipes and a new focus on improving the user experience through better UI design. Having worked with Chris on the ASTM E57 Data Interoperability subcommittee I can assure you that these were not empty promises.

Tony Grissim continues to build on his highly successful forensics track. Tony keeps a low marketing profile due to the sensitivity of the work his customers are involved in, but law enforcement agencies and other forensic related users are seeing the benefits of 3D laser scanning on a geometric scale. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation gave a presentation documenting the benefits of their investment in laser scanning and why they are buying additional scanners to cover the entire state.

One counter intuitive result was reported by a firm that works in the pulp and paper industry. Their customers prefer their 2D workflows so they find themselves using laser scanning to deliver 2D data–go figure.

Back to the "osmosis" concept, I noticed that the HDS sessions involving plant and offshore projects were being held in the Intergraph Process, Power and Marine area of
the convention center. This fosters the possibility of cross pollination between two of the leading hardware and software firms in these industries.

I did not get to spend a lot of time in the TechPark as it was called, but I did get 30 minutes with CSA on the latest upgrades to their PanoMap technology. They have a fully intelligent, specification driven modeling capability that creates a mesh data format that is less than 1% of the size of the point cloud. This modeler can be customized to the client’s preferences and is capable of producing fully intelligent 3D models.

Jody Lounsbury from CHA reported on their successful 34 mile railroad mapping project involving the integration of static and mobile scanning. The latter was provided by Terrametrix. Cyclone II Topo turned out to be a very efficient software for processing the data. The static scanner was used to fill in those areas that were not seen by the hi-rail vehicle. This is another example of the successful teaming approach that is promoted at this conference.

This is just a small sample of what was offered – if only they could perfect that cloning software.

You can accuse me of drinking the "Kool Aid", but I still believe that Hexagon is extremely well positioned with a large upside potential for powerful technology integration that few if any firms can match. Assuming you have to make a bet on a technology provider, I think Hexagon is building a strong case that they will deliver 3D innovation on a number of levels.

With the ability to acquire data, process it and then apply it to the solution of real world problems across the entire lifecycle of a project they are covering all the bases. If they decide to add the geospatial data piece of the puzzle they can make the claim that they are perhaps the only company with this breadth.

For the short term customers seem to be driving a lot of the integration–there’s a novel approach. As long as people are listening this is fine, but as we know this not usually the right environment for big risk taking, R&D, disruptive innovation. For that we may still need to look to the start-ups who don’t have as much to lose and are therefore not afraid to fail.

Gene Roe is the Managing Editor of LiDAR News. He has more than 40 years experience in the surveying and mapping industries.

A 741Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE