Regional and digital
Adlershof-based IT company X-Visual is working with the HTW to create a concept for industrial mixed-reality applications
Digitisation, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are revolutionising how industrial facilities are planned, built, and operated. The Adlershof-based software developer X-Visual Technologies has been a sought-after partner for such technologies and now plans to ramp up its efforts to promote them regionally. As the first Berlin-based company in this industry, it plans on creating a concept for industrial mixed-reality applications in cooperation with HTW Berlin, the University of Applied Sciences for Engineering and Economics, as part of the ‘Innovation and structural transformation / WIR!’ funding scheme.
X-Visual’s technologies are already the first choice for many when planning a new refinery, building food processing plants, or servicing chemical reactors. Using its intuitive software, X-Visual draws up so-called flowsheets that help to design and document manufacturing plants. Much like circuit diagrams, they include all a facility’s components – valves, pipes, pumps – and can be integrated into the real-life facility using artificial intelligence (AI) methods. Using mixed-reality applications (MR) like Microsoft HoloLens, a hologram-based software, real-life spaces can be virtually augmented with digital images and information. Workers thus continuously receive intuitive and up-to-date information on processes and equipment. These technologies are particularly suitable for training and preparing complex maintenance tasks in hazardous areas.
X-Visual also uses these technologies to support companies in making planning and production cheaper, more resource-saving, and more energy-efficient. Its customers and project partners include DÜRR Systems, Bayer, and Merck, but other smaller construction firms for industrial plants have also been appreciating their products and services for years. The company now plans to help smaller and medium-sized companies (SMEs) from the greater Berlin-Brandenburg region benefit from them, too.
‘Having said that, the plant construction industry is very conservative,’ says Jenny Orantek, head of marketing and sales at X-Visual. ‘When it comes to digitisation and the use of MR and AI technologies, we still have some persuading to do. It makes us all the more happier that the Federal Ministry for Education and Research set up the WIR! programme to give us a boost.’ The programme aims at strengthening economically underdeveloped regions by forging broad innovation alliances that are built on each region’s native skillset.
X-Visual shares responsibility for the project titled ‘MR4B - Mixed Reality for Business’ with HTW Berlin, a long-standing partner for transferring VR and MR concepts from the gaming industry into industrial application. Jens-Uwe Repke, a professor at the Institute for Process Engineering of Berlin’s Technical University, and 3PC, a digital innovation agency, are also on board. Forty-four networks from all over Germany have been selected for the programme’s first phase from 1 September 2020 until May 2021, during which they will work on their concepts. Lastly, the programme will fund 25 so-called alliances with maximum of 15 million euros each. During this implementation phase, the alliances come together to identify relevant issues and jointly launch R&D projects.
‘We plan on gaining more regional users for our alliance in the following months to create an innovation ecosystem consisting of SMEs and larger companies to revive the historic Berlin-Brandenburg industrial region. Creating modern, digital jobs will strengthen rural areas,’ says Orantek.
Moreover, the project will involve disseminators like educational institutions and interest groups that will contribute to preparing people early on and carrying ideas into the companies.
There is still a lack of software for MR technologies to really make a breakthrough and to fundamentally alter existing workflows. This is something that will be addressed once long-term funding is in place. ‘When developing technologies, it is important to stay in touch with their users, in this case, the needs of SMEs,’ says Orantek. ‘We must empower and involve companies that have been less digital to open up to this world. Some have security concerns or difficulties overcoming entry barriers to using these technologies. It also tends to be a generational problem. As a technology company, we can’t afford coming across as aloof. We have to meet people half-way, listen to them, and highlight the benefits.’ These efforts will be helped along by a mobile showroom that gives people an opportunity to test and try things out early on. ‘Last but not least, it is important to put things in perspective and see the bigger picture,’ says Orantek. The technologies should also be adaptable to the region’s other important sectors like health care and tourism.
By Dr. Uta Deffke for Adlershof Journal