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Is Sweden Holding the Recipe for Digital Metrology in Smart Factories?

Sweden, with just a little over 10 million population, has been the birthplace of a long row of successful companies with a global reach. The country’s forward thinking culture, and digitally connected economy, has a lot to do with this according to the country’s official website.

As iconic as Swedish meatballs, Volvo remains Sweden’s largest company based on its annual turnover. Recently IKEA gave away the recipe for its famous Swedish meatballs to help people get through their time at home during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Some of Sweden’s largest industrial corporations have been exhibiting an appetite for digital metrology and have been adding the ingredients of a metrology strategy through acquisition.

Hexagon Measuring Robot 7DOF Tracking

Swedish company Hexagon AB (Sweden’s 37th largest company) first entered the industrial metrology market with its acquisition of Brown & Sharpe back in 2001. Now almost 20 years on, Hexagon has developed its Manufacturing Intelligence division into a global force in the industrial metrology sector having acquired numerous brands and metrology technologies over the period. In 2019 the Hexagon Industrial Enterprise Solutions division, which includes metrology and CAD/CAM/CAE, reported annual sales of 544 million EURO ($636 million).

Sweden’s 15th largest company, Sandvik, entered the metrology sector in July 2018 with the acquisition of the Metrologic Group – agnostic software developer for metrology, automation and robotics control, with reported revenues of 43.3 million EURO ($50.7 million), for the acquisition value of 360 million EURO ($421 million). At the time of acquisition Sandvik CEO and President stated “I am very pleased about this first material step towards an increased offering in digital manufacturing in Sandvik Machining Solutions. This enables a broadened customer offering covering more of the total manufacturing value chain.”

“By merging Sandvik Machining Solutions’ know-how about materials, customer applications and machining processes with Metrologic’s deep understanding of measurement technology, we would be able to further expand the offering of increased productivity. I am convinced that this step towards increased digital manufacturing will be key for continued success for Sandvik Machining Solutions”, stated the President of Sandvik Machining Solutions.

More recently, in February 2020, Sweden’s 13th largest company, Atlas Copco, announced its acquisition of ISRA Vision for 1.62 billion EURO ($1.9 billion). In 2019 Atlas Copco achieved revenues of approximately 10 billion EUR ($11.7 billion) .

ISRA Vehicle Body Robotic Inspection

ISRA Vision specializes in machine vision solutions with leading technologies for surface inspection and 3D vision for robot guidance, quality inspection and metrology. In the fiscal year 2018/19 ISRA had revenues of approximately 154 million EUR ($168 million).

In recent days Atlas Copco further announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Perceptron at an equity valuation of approximately million 58.9 million EURO ($68.9 million). Perceptron had 2019 revenues of 53.2 million EURO ($62.3 million).

Perceptron Inline Robotic Inspection

Henrik Elmin, Atlas Copco Business Area President Industrial Technique, said, “Flexible automation and in-line quality control on the production line are two strong trends where we want to support customers in their transition towards digital manufacturing. Through Perceptron’s position in automated metrology and robot guidance, together with the recent acquisition of ISRA Vision, we are creating a strong offering in machine vision solutions and extending the Smart Factory Automation business segment.”

ABB 3D Robotic Inspection Cell

The Swiss-Swedish industrial conglomerate ABB is the world’s largest industrial robot manufacturer and acquired the Spanish metrology company NUB3D in 2007. It recently launched its integrated robotic inspection solution.

With metrology, predicted to become centric to the smart factories of-the-future, digitally integrated into production processes, these large Swedish conglomerate companies have each demonstrated their commitment to integrate metrology into their respective business strategies through strategic acquisitions.

However Sweden is not alone in wanting a piece of the Digital Metrology economy

GOM Virtual Robotic Measuring Room

German giant Zeiss continues to grow both organically and through selected acquisitions and uniquely, among the large groups, offers computed tomography machines within its portfolio to pace the growth of additive manufacturing. (Hexagon added German agnostic computed tomography data analysis and visualization software developer, Volume Graphics, to its company portfolio earlier in 2020). The Zeiss Industrial Quality & Research division reported sales in its 2018/19 financial year of 1.74 billion EURO ($2.03 billion). In April 2019 Zeiss acquired automated 3D coordinate measuring technology company GOM adding to its metrology portfolio – in fiscal year 2017/18 it was reported that GOM generated approximately 150 million EURO ($175.5 million) in revenue.

In June 2020 Bloomberg reported that Japanese company Keyence Corporation, supplier of sensors, measuring systems, laser markers, microscopes, and machine vision systems, had become Japan’s second-largest company by market value with a valuation of over 11 trillion yen ($100 billion).

UK’s Renishaw and Japan’s Mitutoyo make-up the balance of the largest global metrology companies all vying for a share of the growing digital metrology market which Markets and Markets predict will grow to $16.2 billion by 2024.

Renishaw – Smart Factory Metrology Integration

Smaller, entrepreneurial companies, continue to innovate in the metrology sector and demonstrate through agility and product innovation that the ‘big-groups’ will not have it all their own way. With the trend to ‘metrology centricity’, and the strategic and critical importance of integrated digital metrology solutions, the question is “whether the big-group comfort factor will power their global success”.

While ‘movers’ (robot, CMM, linear motion etc) and ‘sensors’ (tactile, optical, machine-vision, x-ray etc) are important ingredients in the recipe of digital metrology for smart factories, software is the critical ingredient that binds solutions together. Onboard data processing, edge computing, adaptive control, integrated data analysis and cyber-physical integration of manufacturing are becoming key to unlocking bottlenecks and achieving true smart manufacturing. The additional of artificial intelligence (AI) spices the palate further as the prediction of ‘what’s coming next’ in the manufacturing process will bring a new dimension to digital metrology.

Manufacturing has many facets from subtractive and additive processes, forming, casting, moulding and assembly, each of which requires different metrology solutions, ensuring the digital menu offered by global total metrology solution providers needs to extensive and varied.

Academic institutions globally continue to advance the boundaries of science, licensing their inventions to start-ups, who pioneer these new solutions into the market. The metrology sector will continue to evolve and more acquisitions will surely follow.

The unanswered question remains “Who is holding the secret sauce

Bon Appetite!