A day in the life of an applications engineer

When you ask a Hexagon applications engineer to describe their role, you’ll never get the same answer twice. With an unrivalled reach and influence, Hexagon’s metrology capabilities touch every aspect of engineering and manufacturing, and that’s what makes the applications engineer’s job so varied and interesting.

An applications engineer is, ultimately, a problem solver. These are the people who make things happen, and when things occasionally go wrong, they are there to resolve the issue. They have the enquiring mind of a scientist, the communications skills of a marketer and the intuition of a private detective. This skillset reflects the unpredictable and wide-ranging nature of the job.

A key function of the role is to be the customer-facing representative of Hexagon while on site and also feedback the client’s comments to the engineering department at Hexagon. Their job is to understand the technical needs of the task at hand and advise accordingly, give aftersales support, training, servicing and even subcontract work.

“… from the mundane to the beautiful, the fantastic to the downright bizarre”

Applications engineers at Hexagon work on objects and structures from the mundane to the beautiful, the fantastic to the downright bizarre. A task may involve the measurement or quality assurance of any kind of component, the geometry of airplane wings, racing cars, through to orthopaedic implants and beyond.

At Hexagon we’ve two main types of applications engineer, those working with stationary equipment like the CMMs and those working with the portable equipment like the laser trackers, scanners and absolute arms. With portable metrology, application’s engineers are much likely to find themselves called into unusual locations to scan or measure an object. This kind of process is great for reverse engineering objects and running simulations on the digital version rather than the real life object.

Using the metrology hardware is just one aspect of the job, it’s in the software where the real magic happens. You can measure a point, a plain, a circle, but what do you do with the data? A great deal of the work of an applications engineer is about demonstrating and helping people to understand the capabilities of the software.

software demonstration

It’s with the software where the real magic happens

When a process has particularly high tolerances it can require accuracy down to the submicron level. That’s a strange world where unexpected things can happen.

Customers contact the apps team with unusual problems all the time. Afterall, if it were simple they’d fix it themselves. One customer made contact after having spent hundreds of thousands on metrology equipment, taken all the correct steps to make sure it was maintained and kept in working order, yet it was giving unusual results.

Most CMMs use air bearing technology to avoid vibration and prevent wear on the axis. They need an extremely clean operating environment to prevent ingress of dust or small particles. The customer was using high accuracy CMMs in a climate controlled, pressurised room.

The equipment had been working well except for an intermittent fault that caused unlikely readings with a strange regularity, every hour, on the hour. What was the problem? No one was sure. The customer called the apps team and so began a process of elimination. They recalibrated the machines and the probes, they checked the measurement routines, the software, nothing.

What was happening every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day? A shift change, or more precisely, a change in the number of people in the room. The air conditioning itself was calibrated according to the volume of air in the room and the number of people working inside. Every hour, two people would come in, and two would go out. That meant, for a short period of time, there were six people in the room instead of four, and in those few minutes the temperature difference was enough to affect the measurements.

“…the smallest, seemingly insignificant thing can be the source of an error”

When you’re working on the micronscale, the smallest, seemingly insignificant thing can be the source of an error. High accuracy CMMs have a working temperature range of just one or two degrees and the additional number of people in the room as enough to affect the metrology equipment.

A day in the life of an applications engineer is never monotonous and it requires a good deal of thinking outside the box. It frequently means travelling around the country to visit equipment in situ, especially with the portable metrology products, like laser trackers, scanners and arms. Apps engineers can find themselves just about anywhere, measuring almost anything. One day you might be in a factory or quality room, the next under a bridge scanning for deformations in the structural bearings.

The role of an applications engineer must be one of the most interesting jobs in the company. If you’re the sort of person who likes a puzzle, then an applications engineer might be the right role for you. Applications engineers are helpful people to have around (just don’t give them a Rubik’s cube for Christmas).

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