People, parts, process put together make well-oiled machine at Hexagon

ALL WIRED UP: Joe Torres, left, a bridge assembly worker at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence Inc., and James Patnode, a machinist, work on the manufacturing floor at Hexagon’s North Kingstown facility.
PBN PHOTO/ELIZABETH GRAHAM
ALL WIRED UP: Joe Torres, left, a bridge assembly worker at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence Inc., and James Patnode, a machinist, work on the manufacturing floor at Hexagon’s North Kingstown facility.
PBN PHOTO/ELIZABETH GRAHAM

PBN 2023 Manufacturing Awards
EXCELLENCE AT A LARGE MANUFACTURER: Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence Inc.


AT HEXAGON MANUFACTURING INTELLIGENCE INC., success comes down to a focus on three things: people, parts and process.

“We have some of the best people I’ve ever worked with, our parts are cutting edge and we really take the approach of improving our process every day,” said Ted Coppa, Hexagon’s operations manager. “It’s always improving.”

The company has more than 1,000 employees worldwide, with 250 team members based at its North American headquarters in North Kingstown. This facility supports the company’s production, assembly, calibration and testing of coordinate measurement machines, as well as vision systems. The Quonset Point facility also serves as Hexagon’s worldwide manufacturing center for the fabrication of air bearings.

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Hexagon is the original equipment manufacturer for high-accuracy CMMs, which are used to inspect and measure the 3D surface features of a physical part through contact and noncontact probing techniques. The company’s name-brand solutions are widely used within the aerospace, defense, medical, automotive and space hardware industries, among others.

“Whether you’re making a paper clip or a space shuttle, we are involved in the quality control of the products that are produced [at Hexagon],” said Steven Ilmrud, Hexagon’s vice president of operations. “We have the advantage of being able to leverage [our technology] and bring it into our own manufacturing operation.”

Ilmrud, who began his association with Hexagon as a customer in the early 1990s, oversees the company’s North American operations, including the Rhode Island factory and one in California. In his decades with Hexagon, he has seen the company experience both organic and acquisition-based growth, including when it purchased Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Co. in Providence in 2001.

“We have a dedicated and hardworking team and it’s nice to see the recognition for all they’ve done,” Ilmrud said.

Coppa has worked at Hexagon for five years, joining after his service with the U.S. Army. At Hexagon, he oversees day-to-day operations and calibration. Ilmrud and Coppa represent two of the five generations currently at work with Hexagon in North Kingstown.

Navigating challenges associated with a multigenerational workforce, both said, is a prime example of how Hexagon ensures continued excellence as a company.

“Cross training our workforce allows us to deploy those [employees] in cycles throughout the year,” Ilmrud said. “Our breadth of our generational workforce has a lot of differences in experiences and outlooks. Ted does a great job of working throughout that spectrum. You train people to be able to go but treat them to stay.”

Coppa said Hexagon’s policy on cross-training works to bring together its relatively small workforce at Quonset. He said there is a gap in skill sets, with someone who learned mechanical skills in school 20 or 30 years ago and with those who are very focused with electronics and software.

But, Coppa said, when you combine those two skill sets, it becomes very powerful. “You have a [team] with a great set of skills,” he said.

Since the beginning of this year, Hexagon has improved efficiencies by 73% while cutting lead times by about 50%, thanks in part to that focus on cross-training.

Also contributing to these successes has been continuing some of the alternate protocols put in place to stay in continual operation during the COVID-19 pandemic, including increasing supply sources worldwide.

“We’re lucky to have a very close and focused team, so there was lots of communication and coordination and out-of-the-box thinking,” Ilmrud said. “Supply chains are still at risk. We have found better practices that provide us with more stability.”

Coppa added that the company anticipating operational challenges and quickly responding to them continues to be a key aspect of Hexagon’s success.

“In manufacturing, you’re always chasing problems and improvements,” he said. “Our people are pretty ingenuitive. We can get a head start on something we know that is likely to happen or probable. And we can always look back at things we are doing well.”

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