Interview with Jean-Albert Vilmer who will tell us about the Hexagon group, especially MSC Software, but also about the upcoming Hexagon Live event... This interview is available in its fullest version by listening to our Metrolaudio podcast, or reading below!
So here we are in the MSC Software premises... Who do I stand in front of me?
Hello, enchanted, I am Jean-Albert Vilmer and I have a double cap: I am country manager of MSC Software France and also director of Southern Europe including France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and North Africa. This is the EMEA designation for Americans.
What are you your duties?
I mainly lead the sales team. We interact with our customers and develop our business with them.
So it's a sales function, not a development function?
And what are you selling?
We sell the simulation software of MSC Software. We cover all disciplines: from acoustics to fluid mechanics, to the calculation of structures, materials. These are the software that we sell, either online or through the associated services. We have about 20 people working on the services team and we can subcontract studies requested by companies, either because they do not have the resources available or because it is a specific area on which they do not want to invest (training, hardware, software). If it is a one-time need, they will outsource the study to us.
What do you sell them, the study or the software? What do you promise them using your services?
We will promise them to solve and address their problems through simulation. This can be a quality, wear, performance or design issue. With digital simulation, we will be able to solve this problem through the virtual step. We will make a report that can make recommendations.
Recommendations for the real world?
exactly. And for the resolution of this problem.
MSC Software is now part of the Hexagon Group. What's the difference?
It changes a lot of things. Integration with the Hexagon Group is justified by a real vision. And the vision is that of the digital twins, since a digital twin, as you know, when you look at its historical definition, it is three elements: the physical object, the virtual object, in between, the data. MSC, one of the leaders in digital simulation, joins the Hexagon Group, which is the leader in metrology and therefore data. In this scheme, we will be able to work and offer digital twin-oriented solutions for our customers. The Hexagon group brings us all the data that consists of a view and a recovery of the real world.
So your raw material is the data?
How do you get it back?
Through the sensors sold by Hexagon...
Hexagon is a global group that operates on every continent. In this time of health crisis, how's it going?
It's going to depend on the departments. In all subsidiaries or entities that sell software, employees were able to work in telework and the impact was relatively small with, even in some countries or in certain areas of activity, slight growth. On the other hand, it is clear that in the middle of the Covid, especially when there was the hard containment preventing the delivery of machines, it had more impact.
In this global situation of Hexagon, does France have preferential treatment in terms of the health crisis and the management of this crisis?
No. I would say that overall France has suffered, as has happened in Europe, knowing that there has been a small double-hearted effect with a crisis in aeronautics. This crisis was mainly due to Boeing's problems, which predate the health crisis. Before the health crisis, we already had a first crisis in aeronautics and this made things even more difficult in this sector which, in addition to no pun intended, had a huge air hole during the crisis.
When we talk about simulation, we immediately imagine aeronautics. But in fact, it's not the only sector that uses digital simulation...
That's right. Historically, the two major sectors on which MSC was positioned were automotive and aeronautics. Two years ago, I started a strategic diversification to find growth drivers. Well, we took it. This has allowed us to have a very good year 2019 and a year 2020 with slight growth thanks to this diversification. It has been carried out in other sectors such as energy, electronics, so-called machinery and heavy machinery. This helped to bring growth while both the auto and aero sectors were a little more idling.
And beyond these giants, is digital simulation suitable for any SME that manufactures?
That's right. We work with SMEs, we work with medium-sized enterprises, with small businesses. We even work with startups. We have adapted pricing formulas with features that are very much in line with their means, and we sometimes have very nice startups. It's always nice to see industrial startups, because finally, the general public often hears about virtual startups, purely digital websites... But there are also startups that are establishing new concepts of vehicles, motorcycles, new concepts to store energy. Working (study or license) with these startups is quite rewarding...
Is the license to access digital simulation a real investment for a startup?
Look, I'm not Normandy, but it could be around 10,000 euros, or a little less on a one-time need. And then, of course, it can be much more important after, depending on the accounts and needs. But the first entry ticket for a startup can be less than 10,000 euros.
If I tell you about connected factories, industry of the future, big data, are you in your element?
Absolutely, especially with the digital twin I was talking about earlier and the projects that are starting to be implemented with Hexagon. We have a business project called One Hexagon that is about finding synergies. And that is what we are going to present, especially at our conference. It's something really strategic because in fact, the more you bring together the real world and the virtual world, the more quality you will have. Today, non-quality costs something. I have two numbers that are quite edifying. A study has shown that it costs car manufacturers 50 billion euros a year at European level. Another Afnor study showed that it cost 5% of the board for 66% of the companies surveyed.
The more you bring together the real world and the virtual world, the more quality you will have
Conversely, overquality costs must be high as well. You propose to aim for the middle ground...
That's what it's all about. And digital simulation and convergence between the real and virtual world through digital twins is the answer.
You were talking about physical/virtual convergence. You are talking about an event as well. Your Hexagon Live event will be virtual this time around, whereas until now it was real and global. You have a virtual, French session at the beginning of June...
So yes and no. In fact, I wanted to do something a little bit different. I wanted to do a so-called hybrid event. We work a lot with the automobile, we hear a lot about hybrids. I wanted to do a hybrid event, so it will be virtual on one side, but at the same time, we proposed to a maximum of speakers to meet in the studio in Massy, which will allow us to be together behind a desk. And so, it will be something much more alive than talking behind a webcam at home or at his desk.
In this type of event, participants learn a lot about keynotes, sessions, but also learn a lot about informal meetings between participants between programs. How's it going to go for this hybrid event?
That's right. It is also planned with a community system where we encourage people to register. Then they will be able to exchange, position appointments and really interact. It won't be as friendly as over a drink next to the buffet, but at least they can interact.
You could say that! This is an event that we wanted to really focus on concrete. When we talk about digital twin with customers, they are interested. They sometimes criticize publishers or different actors for being more in the vision than in the concrete solutions. We really wanted to focus this event on concrete solutions. We also wanted to set up a forum where customers can exchange ideas. Many of the interventions of this forum will come from our clients. We will not propose a mass where we explain that we are the most beautiful and the most intelligent. Everybody knows that! So we really wanted to involve clients on concrete cases focused on digital twins.
On the program, if we had to remember only two or three moments of this hybrid event, what would you advise us to do?
There are plenary sessions that are going to be quite interesting with a first topic on digital transformation: the state of the market and our vision. We are in contact with a lot of customers, so we are at the crossroads of worlds and I think our vision can interest customers... We will also talk about concrete projects, the Manuela and Nemesis projects, with smart manufacturing in action.
We also have a plenary on key milestones, from design to final production. And a final plenary on what is calledengineering convergence, which involves acquiring, analyzing and exploiting data to make intelligent decisions.
And who is it for? To specialists in the field who can improve, or to those who do not understand anything, who know nothing about it and who want to have a first layer to know what it is about?
So I'm not Norman yet, but frankly, both.
We don't talk the same way to both of us, do we?
No, but it is something that stakeholders will have in mind. There will be many parallel sessions. Participants will be able to make their deal. There will be high-level technical sessions, business sessions and company-wide return sessions. In short, there will be some very specialized things technically, and others that will be more oriented in business.
For 2022, what can you expect from a company point of view, your development paths, but also events? Will this event be duplicated in 2022?
To be quite honest with you, I do not know at this time. Like many companies and actors, we still sail a little on sight. Will we get out of the period we are in in three or four months? Will we still face yet another wave in six or eight months? So, we certainly hope to reconnect with a very nice physical event in 2022.
So on the company's development paths, what are you working on? Your research and development focuses on...
In terms of development paths, we have just acquired, a few days ago, a company called CADLM, specialized in artificial intelligence. This is clearly a major development axis since again, that says digital twin says data. And who says data, says we can analyze this data, be able to predict, be able to integrate it as best as possible. Artificial intelligence is therefore something extremely strategic. We will talk about that at the conference. And again, through concrete examples, we won't talk about artificial intelligence to talk about artificial intelligence, but for example, we'll talk about artificial intelligence to say this is how to detect defects with machine learning,that's how, with missing material data, define them with machine learning.
By inventing this missing data?
Sort of. That is really what I was saying earlier, which is the resolution of concrete problems. So that's a strong axis. The second strong axis is this One Hexagon project which consists of implementing more and more common projects in which we will, for example, be able to simulate additive manufacturing. Then, with Hexagon's metrology tools, we can scan the room, compare it to the CAD and close the loop in some way. We already have concrete joint projects today that we will discuss at the conference. The goal, of course, is to multiply them. And then, perhaps in the third axis of development, is cosimulation, since nature is multiphysical. Often the numerical simulation starts with monophysics, but more and more, by going towards this quality, we will need more and more precision. The cosimulation will allow to bring this precision by integrating for example a kinematic system with the CFD to see the impact of the wind on a car chassis ...
Nature is multiphysical.
One Hexagon, does that mean the end of the band's divisions?
In fact, the Hexagon Group is reorganized into divisions. There will always be divisions because you are not going to sell digital simulation software as you sell a 3D scanner. So there are big divisions. MSC is integrated and becomes a division called Design - Engineering. There are still large divisions so that we can maintain fairly specialized expertise in each area.
Is it still possible to innovate within the Hexagon Group, or is innovation through the external growth that has been regularly seen in recent times?
That's a very good question. It is true that innovation requires external growth. You will also notice that acquisitions are technological acquisitions with companies that are very specialized in one area. At the same time, we invest heavily in research and development: 12% of our net sales are devoted to research and development. Today, 3,400 employees work on research and development projects across the group.
Interview by Nicolas Gosse
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