Richard Buessow in interview with Ambivation

Check out the new interview with Ambivation. Our co-founder Richard Buessow answers questions about the companies history, our solution and how clients like Vattenfall can benefit from it.

Precautionary measures instead of additional payments – Berlin-based startup Industrial Analytics protects turbomachinery from breakdowns

When turbomachinery breaks down, it has serious consequences for large companies: Entire machine trains suddenly come to a standstill. Production downtimes occur, which are associated with high costs. No wonder that the demand for digital monitoring systems is growing! – But only those with in-depth expertise can meet this demand. Berlin-based startup Industrial Analytics succeeded in doing just that in 2018. In the meantime, the team has secured funding, grown from seven to 14 employees, and had the pleasure of winning the “Deep Tech Award” in April 2019 and currently the “EVONIK Polymer Performance Predictor” Data Challenge. We spoke with founder Dr. Richard Büssow about the “TurboMonitor” and the cooperation with large corporations such as Vattenfall.

Richard, very few of our readers are familiar with turbomachinery, which is used in refineries, chemical plants or power stations, for example. How would you describe your analysis process for early fault detection?

We take a holistic approach. On the one hand, we evaluate acoustic information and vibration data. To do this, we use a very special solution for wave vibrations, with specific sensors and analyses. On the other hand, we also take a very close look at the process information and work with a thermodynamic model of the process. As far as we know, there is currently no other startup in Germany or internationally that deals with this subject matter in such depth.

In other words, your customers contact you when their plants are already at a standstill or they want to have their machine trains checked as a precaution?

Exactly. Recently, for example, we had an inquiry from a manufacturer who uses steam turbines in the production process. There was a defect there that had already resulted in production downtimes. In the course of our analysis, it turned out that there had been a problem with the machine for some time, but no one had noticed it. Our solution could have prevented the production stoppage.

Can you please explain this in more detail?

We can set up a monitoring solution that runs as a service in the cloud and thus keeps an eye on the machine or reports any deviations. In the course of this, we also install hardware that digitizes the signals from the existing sensors. If you want to detect even small changes at an early stage, you can’t get around this vibration data.

And how did it come about that you, as a startup, dedicated yourselves to such a special topic?

Six of us previously worked for a mechanical engineering company that manufactures turbomachinery, i.e. compressors, steam turbines and gas turbines. We also have the support of Prof. Tobias Friedrich from the Hasso Plattner Institute. I already looked into the market in detail during my time as an employee and noticed that the demand for such monitoring solutions was increasing. But this market was not served because very specialized knowledge is required to obtain the essential information. The IoT solutions from various startups didn’t go deep enough for this, and the large corporations weren’t agile enough to deal with it. – This was our opportunity!

You provide not only software but also the necessary hardware components. How did you guys manage to get the funding?

When you’re at the very beginning, it’s difficult to get funding. We initially received a small sum from the Hasso Plattner Institute and managed the rest together with friends and our families from our own funds. Fortunately, after the first large pilot projects, we were now able to close a financing round with Senovo Capital. The amount was mirrored by Investitionsbank Brandenburg.

As a layman, one imagines that turbomachines that run day in and day out are subject to faults from time to time. How did operators like Vattenfall deal with this before your solution was available?

It is already the case that turbomachinery operators undertake their own vibration diagnostics. But our solution goes even deeper. In addition, we can relieve the monitoring teams in companies like Vattenfall. We reduce the manual effort and achieve a level of detail that would otherwise not be possible due to the volume of data. 

How did you approach customers like Vattenfall? 

Our contacts are typically the people responsible for maintenance. In the beginning, we were able to draw on existing contacts from our time as employees. After all, it’s not just companies that do business with each other, but above all people with people. In the meantime, however, we also reach our customers through marketing measures. 

And what did your pilot project with Vattenfall look like?

We implemented a prototype of our solution for Vattenfall. We are monitoring a natural gas compressor at the Berlin Mitte combined heat and power plant. The pilot phase is now almost complete and we are already in talks to extend this service to other locations. 

That sounds great! What was crucial to the success of this project?

Everyone is talking about digitization at the moment. But it’s important that the solutions are really practical and that those who interact with the turbomachinery on a day-to-day basis see the added value. The advantage for us in this project was that we were dealing right away with the people who work with the machines. Otherwise, if you want to install a new system in companies via the digitization units, it can happen that you don’t get beyond a proof of concept. 

Young founders often tell us that the lengthy decision-making processes in established companies get them into trouble. Was it similar for you?

If you already have a whole series of projects under your belt, that’s sometimes not so bad, because it gives you more time to prepare. But at the very beginning, of course, it can be difficult. We had a situation where nine months passed between the verbal commitment of a decision-maker and the arrival of the written order confirmation in our mailbox. That’s a lot of time for a startup. 

What are the advantages of cooperating with established companies? 

Initiating a cooperation like this involves a certain amount of work for both sides. That’s why it makes little sense for corporations to constantly change cooperation partners. Startups that have proven that they can cope with the processes and the high demands can therefore usually look forward to follow-up orders. 

Established entrepreneurs are sometimes unsure whether they should cooperate with startups. “After all, you don’t know if they’ll even be around next year…” is a common assumption. 

Yes, we are definitely familiar with such conversations. In our case, it’s now less of a problem because we were able to secure funding. As a general rule, contact partners need to ask themselves whether they would rather work with an established partner or with someone who is innovative and fast – then they are in the best hands with startups. 

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