WGIC member Hexagon Geosystems shares some recent highlights, new products, acquisitions and future plans.
By Ken Mooyman, WGIC Board Member
Although 2020 was dominated by the pandemic, we do not see it as a lost year. Working within severe humanitarian and economic challenges, our customers still drove their businesses forward and achieved successes. We continued to innovate in what was, more quietly than expected, our 200th year of business. While we couldn’t celebrate our bicentennial in the ways we imagined, we honoured it in the ways that matter.
Throughout 2020, we created new solutions that serve our customers evolving needs, and we welcomed new businesses into the Hexagon family. We stayed connected with our valued customers digitally and virtually. And we are so proud of how our teams supported our customers and one another during unprecedented and difficult times. We also witnessed the flexibility and resilience of the industry through the acceleration of digitisation by companies adopting new ways of working that are safer, more efficient and environmentally conscious.
Of course, we can’t summarise 2020 without considering the impacts of COVID-19, but first, let’s look at the leap in digitisation our industries experienced this year.
Acceleration of digitisation – looking forward to an autonomous future
Industries have been on a journey of digital transformation – by using digital tools to automate tasks and to bring stakeholders together in online ecosystems – for many years, but this journey is now accelerating. Embracing digitisation can help businesses create new opportunities, stay competitive and improve productivity. We empower our customers worldwide to grow their businesses by expanding their services and improving their workflows, and I am always impressed by how they use our solutions within their business models.
For example, the acceleration of digitisation in building construction has streamlined workflows and led to shorter, more efficient customer interactions. Kolb GmbH, a scaffolding supplier in Germany, has modernised its project estimation workflow with the Leica BLK3D real-time 3D imager. By capturing 3D images on site, the company has reduced its in-field estimation time by more than 80%. And by using the BLK3D to connect field data to estimators in the office, the company now provides more accurate estimations more quickly.
Real estate is another industry that has benefited from digitisation with reality capture methods rooted in surveying. Hollis, a leading firm of independent real estate consultants in the UK, uses Leica Geosystems 3D laser scanners and software to digitise commercial and residential properties. Hollis’ reality capture experts now easily manage numerous 3D point clouds that support the creation of CAD and modelling earlier in their projects. With optimised reality capture workflows, Hollis can deliver final scans to clients faster and more cost-effectively.
Historically, heavy construction has been a digitally underserved industry but contractors are increasingly leveraging technology to integrate machines with the site, the field with the office and hardware with data. Al Nisr, a world leader in the construction of airfields and supporting infrastructure in the UAE, turned to Leica iCON 3D machine control solutions to create digital construction sites that connected all project stakeholders. Moving to stringless paving, the company automated stakeout procedures while tripling its capacity length in paving airstrips and cutting project times in half.
And in a final example, the HxGN Content Program, which updated over 2.5 million square kilometres of aerial data this year, supports automatic feature extraction with Artificial Intelligence (AI). Because it collects highly consistent data over large areas on a regular schedule, the HxGN Content Program is the ideal data set to train machine learning algorithms that provide advanced analytics and actionable location-based information.
The challenges of COVID-19 for our customers
Our customers span dozens of industries, from traditional factories to oil rigs, from construction sites to government agencies. Like all of us, none were spared the impacts of COVID-19. Many are essential businesses that continued to operate during national lockdowns, but access to job sites became more difficult. Supply chains were disrupted. New health and safety measures required urgent implementation. Travel stopped almost overnight. In our own business, face-to-face interaction halted. We virtually engaged with colleagues, customers and partners more than ever before to keep projects moving forward, while experiencing our own digitisation boost.
As a business, we were fortunate to be in a position to cope with the pandemic in many ways. As a developer of digital solutions that capture, measure and visualise the physical world, we were already supporting our customers’ digitisation processes. And as businesses were forced to reassess their operations, we had solutions to help them.
For example, suppliers in the construction industry needed to pivot quickly to remote working, and reality capture can greatly reduce the number of site visits and the time spent on site. Access to a job site’s digital twin created by a single person or small crew using laser scanning enables a project team to make most decisions virtually, lessening the impact of travel restrictions and social distancing.
We know that these COVID-19 challenges will not disappear as we enter 2021. Deloitte and other industry leaders have expressed concern that rising unemployment and government debt will halt some public sector and residential building projects. Looking at the next few years for the construction industry, companies must continue the fast pace of digital innovation set in 2020 to remain competitive. Smarter ways of working that make business processes more efficient will be key to adapting, surviving, and thriving.
Responding to the pandemic – customer care and business continuity
Putting data to work will help combat COVID-19, and we knew we could help by providing necessary resources not just to our customers, but to the world. Early in the pandemic, we made our HxGN Content Program aerial imagery library of the entire United States and Europe freely available to government agencies and non-profit organisations managing the COVID-19 outbreak.
We also responded to the pandemic by creating more digital resources and support for our customers working remotely. Just because some work may be non-essential at the job site doesn’t mean it’s not important. Business needs to keep moving.
Additional support from us – training, free home office software licences, and 24/7 support – meant that we could help our customers keep running nearly at full capacity. Being mindful that adapting our ways of working wasn’t planned or chosen, but a sudden and difficult transition, we expanded our support platform to include an online library with practical advice and a dedicated area of our website with all relevant content in one place. We created playlists of at-home training materials to build essential skills for surveyors across our Captivate Field software, our Infinity Office software and Total Stations, all with reliable support from our service team. We made it easy to use our products away from the office and we prepared our Global Support Team to assist with remote working challenges.
R&D ‘Business as usual’
The difficulties of 2020 did not change our commitment to solving customer challenges – which are the starting point in every development project we have – and we continued to develop innovative solutions. In January we announced HxDR, a new cloud-based, digital reality platform for uploading, visualising and sharing 3D models within the context of real-world 3D city meshes created from precise geospatial data.
In February, we introduced a product fitting of our 200-year anniversary. We launched the world’s most accurate total station: the Leica Nova TS60. And in November, we added to our total station range again with new automated total stations that include tracking for theft deterrence and easier fleet management.
In March, at North America’s largest construction show, ConExpo, we announced new initiatives for the heavy construction sector. These range from enhanced machine integration with some of the world’s leading equipment manufacturers, to new products for the sector including personal alert systems about vehicle proximity that make it safer for people working on-site. We updated several solutions popular in heavy construction, including the Leica iCON site – construction software solutions for road construction and civil engineering applications – and the Leica iCON dozer, grader and asphalt paving solutions. We launched semi-autonomous functionality for excavators, enabling operators and equipment to perform complex tasks and design. The system will be rolled out first on excavators from Kobelco, Case, Liebherr, Doosan and Hitachi.
We continued to invest and strengthen our product development with strategic acquisitions and partnerships to bring further intelligence into our business. The acquisition of COWI’s aerial mapping business helps us to accelerate our mission to provide customers with access to the largest on-demand library of high accuracy and quality controlled geospatial imagery. And we strengthened our suite of natural hazard monitoring and alarm solutions with the acquisition of Geopraevent AG, which will help our customers to detect dangerous events such as landslides, rockfalls, and avalanches.
Further development includes a global cooperation and development agreement with Pointfuse, which helps us streamline the use of reality capture in established digital construction, space management and visualisation workflows. It drives efficiency in converting point cloud data into intelligent as-built mesh models and BIM models, which provides value in every stage of the building design, construction, operations, maintenance, and lifecycle management.
And later in 2020, we brought TACTICAWARE into our business. Its LiDAR-based 3D surveillance software monitors and protects critical infrastructure and buildings, and it gives us the ability to add end-to-end 3D surveillance capabilities to our solutions. A related innovation is the new Leica BLK247 smart 3D surveillance system, an award-winning security device also launched in 2020 that makes the most of TACTICAWARE’s capabilities.
In December we acquired OxBlue a leader in construction visualization technology designed to capture the life of a job site, start to finish. This allowed us to strengthen our capabilities to serve the rapidly evolving architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) ecosystem. Additionally, OxBlue’s access to machine learning data sets and best-in-class interface nicely complement Hexagon’s AI and machine learning capabilities, machine automation solutions and autonomous workflow approach to sustainable construction.
Looking ahead to 2021
To look forward, it helps to first look back. Hexagon’s roots in surveying date back 200 years with the founding of Kern & Co. in 1819. A hundred years later in Heerbrugg, Switzerland, Heinrich Wild developed the T2, the world’s first portable opto-mechanical theodolite, building the foundation of modern surveying. Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, has carried on the legacy of Swiss innovation and dedication to quality with numerous innovations that have shaped modern surveying, from the world’s first aerial camera to the world’s first miniaturised imaging laser scanner.
Our current portfolio of connected solutions support professionals, increasing their productivity, improving workflows, and providing more valuable deliverables for their customers. In 2021, we will continue to lead the surveying industry with highly accurate instruments, sophisticated software, and trusted services.
Yet 2020’s legacy will be felt in 2021; many new phrases made an entry into business language this year, including “the new normal.” While we have adapted to COVID-19 thus far, its effects will impact our industry during 2021 and beyond. This ongoing digital transformation will help businesses navigate the changing environment, build efficiencies into their organisations, and continue to adapt.
The digitisation journey is accelerating and will drive the convergence of real and digital worlds into “the next normal”. We will continue to invest in new solutions for our customers to help them through these times and into the future. I am eager to keep imagining how to push the boundaries of geospatial technology, and I am excited to see how our customers continue to put data to work.