Arkite is the Startup of the week 42: HELPING OPERATORS EXCEL

Industry 4.0 & Logistics

This week’s interview is about a solution for industry 4.0. More specifically our startup of the week is developing an operator guidance system that uses sensors to monitor every single movement during assembly, providing live feedback at every step. An exciting and complex idea that Head of Sales, Jorg Hendrikx explains to us in more detail. We are looking forward to learn more about Arkite’s technology, products and benefits.

Hello Johan. Thank you for taking the time today. We start directly with our first question: How would you pitch Arkite? Could you share some information about the underlying technology?

Arkite as a company was launched in 2015 with the first product launched in May 2016, but actually the roots of Arkite dates back to 2004. From that time, Arkite was actually a consulting company helping manufacturing companies in process innovation and process optimisation aimed to improving production. But we noticed that there were a lot of challenges because, even in the time of automation, still a lot of operations are done manually. Human in Industry 4.0 is something which is still very relevant as companies yet cannot automate everything. Human have a lot of advantages over machines as they can be creative, they are very flexible and dynamic and they can detect issues in the overall process. But working with people, still have some challenges. Operators sometimes forget things; they may lose focus and are prone to make mistakes such as missing a part or assembling a product wrong. This results in a lot of quality leaks and a lot of efficiency leaks. So, our first aim was to improve the quality and efficiency at the operator level. On the other hand, there is also a lot of employee turnover. We observed that a lot of manufacturing companies are struggling with training new people caused due to higher turnovers and most of the times due to lack of experience and technical knowledge. To actually target these two challenges, we launched our product. The product is called Human Interface Mate (HIM). It’s an operator guidance technology and what it does is it creates a dynamic and digital interactive work environment over the existing work place. So, we put the sensor above the existing work station and with that we can validate the operations that the operator is executing, we can see if they grab or assembled something or did, they used the correct tool or the wrong tool. Arkite is actually a software company, so, the sensor is combined with smart algorithms that runs on the same HIM unit and uses the sensor input to analyse the overall process. There is also an integrated projector sensor which as used to interact with the operator. The projector is used to project texts, images and videos with a goal of having the correct instruction, on the correct moment, at the correct place. So, all we need to do is to teach all the standardised actions and sequence once into the system and then we validate if the operator is executing its task in comparison with the standardised sequence of steps.

That sounds really effective. How easy is it to integrate the Arkite system in the existing infrastructure? How is the adoption for the end users?

There are two parts to it. One part is essentially the activation or the training of the system. And the second part is then the integration with production environment. Looking at the first part i.e. the activation, is done at the backend with the software using our proprietary algorithms, so, you can show the action to the system and the system will create a visualisation and an automated sequences. Depending on the process and the amount the steps, the complexity can go from few hours for assembly to a few days. Then, the second part is the integration. We have our HIM unit which often needs to be integrated with the overall production environment to communicate with other smart tools and the overall Industry 4.0 network, so, the system is integrated with the existing MES/ERP system. We are a sliver partner of SAP and we have already built a lot of integration with its software environments. The underlying reason for this is to receive information about the product specifications such as the product code, the quantity, the priority, the BOM and so on which our system can use I order to give the operator the correct instruction. In addition, we can generate a lot of data which can then in turn be shared with the existing networks so that the customer has insights about their manual operations.
In terms of adoption, let me say for new operators, that is if a new employee arrives, there is no struggle at all. They are supported by the technology as it aids the company to train new employees faster and more efficiently. So, for the new employees, it is definitely a big added value with almost no adaption delay to the new situation. On the other hand, for the experience employees, and that for every other new technology or system, you need a change management. That’s actually not directly related to our technology, but its just that every new procedure that you are optimisation, you need a change management support. So, what we can do with our software is that we can adapt the instructions based on experienced level. So, new employees can get a lot of text, images and videos, whereas with experienced operators, they can get almost no visual instruction but only a feedback if they make any errors. So, they can approve this technology even faster.
What we noticed in practice that the more we integrate our technology, the better it is being used by the operator because then the operator themselves have a choice to activate those virtual instructions. But what we recommend is to automatically activate the system depending on an input from a PLC or a MES system, the system will always be running which gives a possibility to connect tools, so you can block tool when they are not allowed to use or they will only be activated if they are being used at the correct spot, so, even if the operator is little bit forced to use to it, the error rates reduce significantly and we obverse that the adoption rate still remains very high.

We already learned that you are developing your technology in the area of industry 4.0 – an area with a pretty wide range. Which markets do you address within it?

At the moment, our biggest market is still automotive, mainly Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier. Our technology cannot be currently be used on moving lines, so, we focus on companies with sub-assembly stations and picking stations. In addition to automotive, we are also very active in aerospace, semiconductor manufacturing and traditional manufacturing like compressor and pump manufacturing industry. So, in every industry where companies need a proactive quality system rather than a reactive quality system so that they can detect mistake during the assembly, our technology can be implemented to support them. Our main headquarter is un Genk, Belgium but we work with global partners with a main focus on Europe, UK and Asia, mainly China and India.

And what is the average investment effort that the companies need for implementing Arkite solution?

We actually have two versions, standard and enterprise where the investment efforts are mainly low to medium per station and also directly depend upon the overall project scope. The goal of the overall system is follow-up and support a specific station for preferably several weeks or month to gain the most value on the production and have higher ROI. The ROI is highly industry specific depending upon multiple factors like how often are you using it, what’s the amount of product that is being made and what are the quality and efficiency issues that the company face during the manufacturing process. On average we can say it’s about 2-3 years.

Can you share some real case reference of how companies benefitted from implementing Arkite solution?

We have more than 150 systems installed and actively running in the production. One example can be Benteler. Benteler operates worldwide in the fields of automotive technology, steel and tube production, engineering and distribution. Benteler was looking for a solution to support both assembly and picking of critical components for its multiple product variants. HIM is first of all supporting the picking process of the heat shield, the floor shield and the shackles. Next to assembling these parts the operator is supported with a virtual checklist of the arm, the link and the protective cover in its correct position (potential damage on further stations). The HIM unit has been integrated with the Siemens S7 line PLC to allow a line stop if critical issues would arise. All process steps are logged to support Benteler having full traceability. Other references include, Ford Europe, Volvo, Danfoss and Atlas Copco.

That already leads us to the last question: What is your company’s approach towards Industry 4.0 generally?

There is a very big challenge to support operators in the overall Industry 4.0 context. Even, with robots, AGB’s and automated systems, there will be still a lot of operators in the manufacturing industry globally even in the future. If you look to the Industry 4.0 network, you will also see a big trend in platform technology. Companies like Siemens and SAP are investing heavily in IoT and Industry 4.0 platform and Arkite can be seen as an add on those platforms. Because we are the interface with the operator, the system can provide the correct instructions at the correct moment, so we can project and instruct data from those platforms to the operator. On the other hand, the system is also an input to those platforms because the system has human analytics with which it can see what operators are doing. The system can observe what their output is, their efficiency, the quality, so, it’s also very valuable data for those platforms because until now, all those platforms only have the data from the machines, the production line and all those operators are black boxes. So, the measurement at such a localised level can provide more room for improvements in the overall quality of the process and Arkite technology can give a lot of insights about those actions. The benefits that the companies can have by using the Arkite system can be firstly, improved overall quality of the process, reducing scrap and rework. Secondly, as I mentioned, the system can improve the efficiency, specially with new operators and very complex assemblies. Thirdly, we can generate a lot of valuable data that can then generate insights about localised challenges and then the lastly, which I believe is the most important one is the investment on what we call as “Human Capital” or “Operator Empowerment”. The system can make it easier for people to work in factories, do more complex assemblies, get augmented guidance of the instructions and create a much more flexible workforce planning.

Johan, thank you very much for the interesting and detailed interview! We wish you continued success and would like to take this opportunity to refer to your Innoloft profile and your Innoloft request. Interested parties will find more exciting information there.

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Energy & Environment, Industry 4.0 & Logistics, IT & ICT, Mobility, Smart City & Buildings

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Olmatic is the Startup of the Week 28: Products and systems for Industry 4.0 and IoT

Energy Market & Trading, Energy Supply, Industry 4.0 & Logistics

Although the addition of “smart” has long been an important aspect in the discussion on energy management systems, concrete implementation approaches are rarely found.  Our Startup of the Week has the same opinion – especially since conventional systems are usually inflexible and platform-bound. One of the co-founders of Olmatic, Christian Olma, therefore introduces us to their solution: The Olmatic Power Tracking.

Hello Christian! Thank you for taking the time. We are looking forward to getting to know Olmatic better. Would you give us a small pitch for that?

Sure! We develop, manufacture and market devices and systems for energy management 4.0 and wireless networking through central control units in the industry 4.0 and IoT area. Our highly innovative Olmatic Power Tracking enables maximum self-sufficiency in the energy sector.

What exactly is the Olmatic Power Tracking about?

The so-called Olmatic Power Tracking (OPT) is an intelligent combination of hardware and software, combined in one product, which deals with the completely self-sufficient supply of electrical consumers via regenerative energy sources without the necessity of a conventional supply network. In order to use the power available from renewable energy sources (solar cells, wind turbines, hydroelectric power plants, etc.) in the most effective way, without losing excess energy in the form of power loss or the like, the OPT offers the appropriate technologies and systems to realize dynamic power distribution and prioritization of energy and consumer sources. This means that with an optimal design it is possible to almost completely dispense with the public supply network and to reduce the energy demand via the conventional supply network to < 1%. Even if the system is used without regenerative energy sources, i.e. directly via the conventional supply network, >30% energy savings can be achieved compared to conventional energy management systems.

The main focus of our energy management system is on the specific treatment of each input source and each consumer output independently of each other. This gives us the possibility to distribute energy to all consumers of a system with the highest efficiency. In combination with a direct integration into the supply line and open interfaces in the communication line, our energy management systems can easily be adapted to or integrated into existing systems. This makes it possible to distribute energy across the boundaries of a specific platform or system.

How does your product perform compared to currently established energy management systems?

In contrast to conventional energy management systems, it is characterized above all by the additional networking of the Smart Grid at the supply level, which enables stepless power regulation (0-100%) and power distribution. Through the specific consideration of all energy consumers and the platform independence of the systems, a highly efficient energy sharing between different energy systems can be operated with maximum efficiency. Conventional systems are platform-bound and can only communicate via the communication interfaces and suffer from higher losses and a lack of dynamics due to static switching on and off based on preconfigured power hysteresis. Especially in safety-relevant systems, the simple shutdown can lead to enormous security gaps or chaos scenarios, which the OPT procedure avoids via intelligent and dynamic power regulation and distribution on the basis of prioritizations. Through customized, individually adaptable designs of the modules, a maximum energy saving can be achieved at low investment costs for the manufacturer/developer, which promise low payback periods. The OPT process is linked to already existing and established energy management modules and central control units of the Olmatic product range and thus realizes the following two core products, which can be used in combination or independently of each other in all AC and DC power-based energy systems, conventional and regenerative generation methods.

You were just talking about customizing your products to suit your customer’s needs. The pricing will certainly be the same, right?

We follow the implementation of two different business models. On the one hand, we sell via direct sales in the B2B area through appropriate acquisition of our sales team and in the course of networking measures, and on the other hand, we have a large cooperation partner named Endrich Bauelemente Vertriebs GmbH, which acts as a middleman for us and actively sells our product range internationally. Since we always offer customer-specific products, the pricing model is variable and calculated according to complexity and effort. As an additional service in the field of Energy Management 4.0 we offer the complete energy consulting as an additional service.

What do you think about the market you are currently addressing? To what extent do you see growth potential, opportunities and risks there?

Placing a product such as Olmatic Power Tracking at the right time in a market that is currently more than ever in the focus of current attention undoubtedly brings with it a huge opportunity to establish the company as a pioneer in a market that will continue to grow steadily in the future. Since the market for electrical consumers will tend to rise in the coming years, while conventional energy resources will tend to decline, it is to be expected that the market in the segment of renewable energy supply will bring secure growth in the coming decades. Timely market entry and the protection of the product against competitors therefore represent a huge opportunity for us to already now sustainably position ourselves for the coming decades. Nevertheless, the market is highly competitive and is already populated by a large number of “big players” who will gladly and directly accept the competition and already have the financial background to become active here in the short term. The big chance is thus at the same time a big risk to lose the competition and thus the market shares already at the beginning, if the strategy and the goals are not pursued with fullest precision. We pursue the international target group.

You founded your company in 2016, a lot has happened since then. You have already explained some of the results to us. What are the next steps for the development of Olmatic?

An essential milestone of the strategy is the transfer of the already existing prototypes to market maturity. The goal should be to be able to place these on the market as quickly as possible. A proof-of-concept of the prototypes has already been successfully carried out, so that the next step according to the strategy is to carry out corresponding final development steps to series maturity. These essentially include a final optimisation of the findings from the prototype tests, adaptation of conformity to the applicable standards and norms, planning and implementation of necessary production processes and final approval of the products. In the course of the prototype phase a new energy management module was developed, which contains the OPT procedure. In the course of this two new products are to be developed at short notice, which can be directly transferred to already existing customer networks and distribution channels. The energy supply module is to be the first product of the new Universal 4.0 series and in its current version serves as an energy supply module for intelligent supply and energy management in accordance with OPT for consumers in the low-voltage range. The OPT’s software functionality can be directly marketed as a successor model to the existing OPT plus the additional OPT function and will serve as a central gateway and control unit for the digital networking of the system in the future.

Christian, thank you very much for this exciting and detailed interview. We wish you much success for the further development of Olmatic. Those who are interested in supporting Olmatic are welcome to take a look at your EnergieLOFT Request in which you are looking for investors for the Olmatic Power Tracking.