The Challenges of Launching a Major New Productby Matthias Saure on April 13, 2017 From Technology, Behind The Scenes
This March we launched the Leica Absolute Tracker AT403, the latest iteration of our entry-level line of laser trackers. This range of affordable, ultra-large volume, highly-portable devices has been very popular with users in the seven years since it was first launched with the AT401. Following in the footsteps of such success is a real challenge.
Beyond the AT402
This was the product range that opened the door to laser tracker measurement as an affordable solution for a huge range of customers. However, there were a handful of places where we wished we could done better with the AT402. Compromises are an inevitable part of the product development process, whether based on limitations of budget or technology. And of course the market is always evolving, sometimes to the point of entirely recontextualising the suitability of a product.
In 2014 we launched the Leica Absolute Tracker AT930 and AT960, the newest models of our flagship range of laser trackers. Their unprecedented success raised vital questions about what exactly the market needed next. Would people still want an entry-level laser tracker system anymore?
The Importance of Outside Feedback
Dozens of people played a direct role in bringing the Leica Absolute Tracker AT403 to market, from the initial discussions about whether the time was right for a new addition to this range through to finalising the technology and design of the product that would go to market.
We consulted a group of highly valued internal commercial colleagues with a long history of metrology experience. We also consulted our sales teams, who have both their own highly informed opinions to report, and the thoughts shared with them by their customers. Such customer feedback led directly to new features implemented in the AT403, such as the increased operating temperature range, the acceleration of measurement process times and notable ease of use improvements.
We already knew we needed to improve upon the WiFi connectivity of our system. The usability of this feature across our range of laser trackers has declined because of changes to Microsoft Windows over the past few years – suddenly users were forced to mess around with external access points and configuring IP address settings. Our solution with the AT403 was to build full access point functionality into the WiFi module within the system’s controller, a decision that has massively simplified the process of connecting to the tracker wirelessly.
The Value of Internal Creativity
Other improvements that became a part of the Leica Absolute Tracker AT403 package were more internally driven. The new continuous measurement function is based on improvements to the technology of the Absolute Distance Meter (ADM) at the heart of this range of laser trackers. Motivated by our efforts to improve the speed performance of the device, these improvements ended up driving the addition of a dynamic measurement function – a first for this entry-level range.
While unable to match the full dynamic measurement possibilities of an Absolute Interferometer (AIFM) as used in the AT960, it was found that a simplified version of this function would be possible with our newly redesigned ADM. And the simple sphere fit or circle fit reflector functions possible with this new ‘continuous measurement’ mode throw up some interesting possibilities – a single point measurement taken with a reflector using a circle fit continuous measurement function is up to twice as accurate as a standard reflector measurement.
Managing the development of a new product at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence is both a challenging and rewarding experience, built on the hard work and creativity of a large group of metrology professionals. The reputation we’ve built over the years means our customers expect a lot from us, and living up to those expectations is no simple task. But it’s absolutely worth it when we do.
Matthias Saure is a Product Manager for the Laser Tracker Product Line at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. With more than 16 years of experience in data analysis, systems engineering and product development, he is now one of the driving forces behind the success of Hexagon’s laser tracker technology.