Connecting the dots of industrial digitalization
Telecom, shipping, healthcare, agriculture, automotive – what do these profoundly different industries have in common? Well, ask the 130 developers at Data Respons R&D Services. In fact, their secret of success is their ability to see similarities between domains that may at first glance seem incompatible -an ability that is crucial to industrial digitalization.
Same, but different – different, but the same.
That could very well be the shortest possible explanation for why Data Respons R&D Services is having such success in developing innovative technology and industrial digitalization.
“The same” referring to cross-domain technology knowledge in data communication, autonomy, monitoring and sensing, wireless, machine learning etc. – “Different” referring to in-depth and domain-specific knowledge within a range of industries, like oil & gas, space, defense, and shipping.
At Data Respons R&D Services they are experts in connecting the dots of industrial digitalization. According to CEO Ivar A. Melhuus Sehm this unique combo of technology and domain skills – or in his words “horizontal” and “vertical” knowledge – is the secret behind the company’s ability to attract customers as well as gifted engineers.
Like building blocks
You need to know the basic components of every digital solution. These building blocks are more or less the same, regardless of industry and application. However, it’s equally important to be aware of all the things that are different. Every industry has its own logic, and its own requirements, for instance space is different from sub-sea. And if you want to develop solutions for customers in these fields, you need to know the ground rules and requirements of these specific domains, just as intimately as your customers.
Ivar A. Melhuus Sehm is a 20-year veteran of Data Respons R&D Services, and thus an expert in combining horizontal and vertical skills for industrial digitalization.
So, why not ask him what industries and domains are next in line in the current and seemingly unstoppable digitalization of everything. And while we’re at it, we would also like to hear which new technologies are on the verge of a breakthrough.
The beginnings: telecom
But first things first, according to Sehm:
- To set the scene, we need to go back to the start of digitalization in the telecom industry. Here in Norway, we had several telcos but very little standardization. Slowly during the 90’s the process of standardization began, and now telecom is a highly automated and standardized industry with high predictability for both customers, service providers and suppliers.
Other industries looked to telecom for inspiration. For instance, the Norwegian oil & gas industry needed to rationalize its operations. Suppliers were asked to standardize their offerings to enable remote control and monitoring systems, and similar tools for increasing efficiency and bringing down cost. The oil & gas sector adapted telecom technology and applied it in their own setting. As an example, they took a well-known piece of telecom equipment – the fibre switch – and robustified it to operate under the harsh conditions of the oil & gas industry.
- Now we’re at a point, where there’s a 10-strong team sitting in an office building in Oslo controlling oil and gas production in the North Sea. In the past you needed to have 150 people on an oil rig. Now you have an automated and centralized infrastructure managed at one hub, from where you can access drilling systems, actuators, saltwater injections – you name it. All this is standard telecom technology, robustified and adapted to the requirements of this industry.
- For 20 years Data Respons R&D Services has been at the forefront of this process of industrial digitalization. We have succeeded, because we have deep vertical knowledge. We understand the physical domain, whether it’s oil & gas, space or the maritime industry. We know how to ruggedize and robustify technology to work under these conditions, and we know the standards that regulate hardware and software in these domains.
According to Ivar Sehm, that same process of digitalization can be seen in many other industries and domains. The basic building blocks of industrial digitalization are adapted and adjusted to fit specific
by a massive portfolio of decision support systems requirements.
For instance, defense: 15 years ago, it would have been unthinkable for armed forces to put sensitive data on external servers. Now, the digital infrastructure of defense requires cloud-based services, real-time information, and the crunching of huge amounts of data. In today’s command control infrastructure, an infantry soldier becomes a sensor in a network of information. On all levels, from 3-star general to common soldier, at sea, in the air and on land, you rely heavily on technology originally developed for telecom, now adapted and robustified for defense purposes.
Decision support at sea
It’s the same, but different, in the maritime sector, a domain in which Data Respons R&D Services has contributed to a large number of digitalization projects over the years.
Says Ivar Sehm:
- Just look at how the bridge of a ship has changed. You used to have 6 or 7 people up there looking at screens and checking stuff. Now you have maybe 2 operators guided, connected to satellites, to port systems and so on. And looking into the near future, we’re heading towards autonomous, unmanned vessels remote-controlled via land-based virtual bridges. You might think of the maritime sector as a slow-moving, foot-dragging industry. And maybe it is, compared to a startup. But it has resources and willingness to invest heavily, and we’ve worked in that sector for years.
The potential of smart farming
While Data Respons R&D Services is constantly increasing its knowledge in well-established domains like maritime, defense, and oil & gas, new domains are starting to embrace the trend also.
For instance, farming has huge potential. The pressure to innovate is on, because we need to increase efficiency to feed a growing population, while at the same time decreasing the environmental footprint of farming. The answer to that is autonomous tractors and smart feeding systems. Field sensors will be monitoring the soil for precision fertilizing, and mobile camera systems and robots are trained to remove weeds. The farmer of the future will be connected 24/7 to sensors, cameras, robots and decision support systems.
Smart homes and healthcare
While farming will be one area of digital innovation, smart homes will be another.
Although Ivar Sehm admits that we have talked about smart homes for decades without being able to agree on a common technology platform, we’re seeing more and more companies working on connecting various smart devices and services, from solar panels on the roof to lighting and heating, security and much more.
Healthcare is another area, and it’s closely tied to the smart home concept. Digitalization is not only affecting hospitals. In the future we’ll have a growing population of elderly people and thus an increasing proportion of people with chronical diseases. At the same time, they want to spend their old age in their familiar surroundings of their own home. This will lead to a rising demand for sensor solutions monitoring the well-being of citizens, connecting them not only to doctors and nurses, but also to their loved ones, and thus creating a network of care to secure maximum quality of life and independence for as long as possible.
Technology is evolving
While digitalization is affecting almost all aspects of modern life, the building blocks of technology are evolving as well. Just as the advent of 4G has been a prerequisite for the rise of the Internet of Things, new and emerging technologies will drive development even further.
- Hardware is still playing an important role, but software is king, says Ivar Sehm.
- Software has become the crucial element everywhere. Just look at the automotive industry. In the past it was all about steel and mechanics, now code is the main expense factor. It’s the same in our own business. In Data Respons R&D Services we have 80 per cent software developers at all levels.
According to Sehm, the ability to create value out of data is taking center stage right now. It’s all about data science and deep learning.
- You can buy standard modules that are self-learning and able to understand the way they’re being used and able to optimize their performance in that specific application or system they’re part of. Developments like these open possibilities for creating for instance monitoring and maintenance systems, that can predict failures before they occur.
The advancements in autonomy, computer vision, sensor systems, machine learning and wireless communication are converging into one thing: Robotics. Ivar Sehm even predicts that we’re approaching a breakthrough, giving machines the ability to behave like humans.
- You need powerful processors, deep learning, computer vision, combined with gripping functions and mobility. To put together all these components and to create something that adds value to our lives, that’s the challenge. I have to admit, I’m impressed by the robots created by Boston Dynamics, not only the mechanics but also their ability to rationalize and to work together. Autonomous and collaborative robots like these will be a part of our everyday life eventually, and they will improve the quality of our lives, no doubt.
Horizontal and vertical
Industrial digitalization is the key to better productivity and sustainability, and both dimensions is needed in every industry. Data Respons R&D Services will continue to contribute to the application of new technology in different industrial sectors by mixing horizontal and vertical skills and knowledge.
The basic knowledge regarding sensor technology, autonomy, data communication, wireless etc., applicable across different domains, will go hand in hand with in-depth knowledge of the unique requirements and conditions in specific industries. And the main offering will continue to be comprehensive development projects going all the way from idea to finished product.
- Doing projects for our customers, that’s where we’re making the most significant difference. In-house we have lab facilities, test chambers, prototype workshops, and everything else needed for doing projects from start to finish. When we prepare a project for a client, we usually start with a feasibility study to determine to best technology choices. We perform an analysis of the risk involved in choosing different technologies, together with a cost analysis as well. Also, we can define high-level system requirements and do a rough estimate of the time needed to execute the project. We prefer to take responsibility for the whole development project. In fact, that’s our main area of expertise. I like to think of it as Product Development As A Service. Taking care of the whole value chain, including mechanics, print board layout, software, and integration, that’s when we really add value to our customer’s business.