Presenting ingenious ideas to an expert audience — GrindingHub introducing innovative young companies in the Start-up Hub

 Two years into the pan­dem­ic, two years with­out trade fairs – Iris Münz, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of ultra­Tec Anla­gen­tech­nik Münz is clear­ly look­ing for­ward to the Grind­ingHub in Stuttgart (May 17 to 20, 2022): “We had just got our pro­to­type up and run­ning in Octo­ber 2019 when the coro­n­avirus came along,” she says. “Now we are real­ly look­ing for­ward to demon­strat­ing our ultra­son­ic debur­ring sys­tem to a broad­er audi­ence of experts.” The com­pa­ny from Laupheim in Baden-Würt­tem­berg is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the joint Start-up Hub, tak­ing advan­tage of an offer which Grind­ingHub orga­niz­er VDW (Ger­man Machine Tool Builders’ Asso­ci­a­tion) hopes makes it eas­i­er for young com­pa­nies to enter the market.

Start-up scene recov­er­ing after pan­dem­ic dip

As the VDW notes in its trade fair announce­ment, trade fairs have a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for start-ups – by help­ing them to meet new cus­tomers and build a strong, reli­able brand, for instance. The new Grind­ingHub trade show is com­ing at just the right time. There is a pos­i­tive mood in the scene right now, con­firms Mar­vin Kaes, Head of the RWTH Inno­va­tion Entre­pre­neur­ship Cen­ter. There are many inter­est­ed investors and evi­dent­ly also plen­ty of cap­i­tal in the mar­ket right now. The Ger­man Start­up Mon­i­tor (Deutsch­er Start­up Mon­i­tor — DSM) of Berlin-based “Start­up Ver­band” shows that the busi­ness cli­mate for young com­pa­nies has recov­ered sig­nif­i­cant­ly since the start of the pan­dem­ic and is back at pre-cri­sis lev­els. 2,013 start-ups were report­ed in Ger­many last year alone. How­ev­er, this should not obscure the fact that many com­pa­nies found­ed short­ly before the pan­dem­ic have had much to con­tend with. Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, around two thirds of all start-ups are self-financed and are launched inde­pen­dent­ly. In cas­es where there were no sales fig­ures from pre­vi­ous years to serve as a com­par­i­son, no finan­cial aid was forthcoming.

Ultra­son­ic debur­ring: effi­cient and resource-saving

This was the case for the com­pa­ny that Iris Münz found­ed togeth­er with her hus­band Dieter in 2019. Every­thing had got off to such a good start. The orig­i­nal idea for the ultra­son­ic debur­ring sys­tem came from a project suc­cess­ful­ly entered by Münz’s son Jonas and a friend in the “Jugend forscht” young sci­en­tists’ com­pe­ti­tion. The com­pa­ny ultra­Tec Anla­gen­tech­nik Münz GmbH was found­ed three days before Jonas won the top award, the “Prize of the Fed­er­al Pres­i­dent for Extra­or­di­nary Work”. Dieter Münz, pro­duc­tion tech­ni­cian and indus­tri­al engi­neer, had coached the two young researchers. His pri­or­i­ty then shift­ed to tak­ing the process through to mar­ket matu­ri­ty and pre­vent­ing it from “land­ing in the back of some draw­er”. The com­pa­ny sought to pro­tect its nov­el and high­ly inno­v­a­tive ultra­son­ic debur­ring process by apply­ing for two patents – which have since been granted.

Stim­u­lat­ed by the ultra­son­ic gen­er­a­tor, the sonotrode in the process water tank oscil­lates over 0.1 mm 20,000 times per sec­ond, explains Iris Münz. If the edges and holes of a com­po­nent to be deburred are guid­ed along the sonotrode tip at a defined angle, the burrs can be raised and care­ful­ly removed. Accord­ing to Münz, what is spe­cial about the process is that it can be used on almost any mate­r­i­al and even on sen­si­tive sur­faces. Com­plex geome­tries, micro­com­po­nents or sharp edges can also be processed auto­mat­i­cal­ly in the val­i­dat­a­ble process. It has no impact on the mechan­i­cal-tech­ni­cal prop­er­ties. The ultra­son­ic process also has very strong envi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials. Accord­ing to Iris Münz, it uses 5 per­cent less ener­gy than ther­mal debur­ring or high-pres­sure water jet debur­ring sys­tems. The process water can be drained with­out dif­fi­cul­ty, as the detached burrs are fil­tered out, with no addi­tion of chem­i­cals which then need to be spe­cial­ly dis­posed of.

Turn­ing cylin­dri­cal grind­ing upside down

Resource effi­cien­cy is also high on the list of pri­or­i­ties at G‑Elements GmbH based in Wal­lisellen, Switzer­land. The com­pa­ny was found­ed in 2016 by two mechan­i­cal engi­neers, Flo­ri­an Hän­ni and Thomas Sigrist, who lit­er­al­ly turned the con­cept of the cylin­dri­cal grind­ing machine on its head. Apply­ing the pure grind­ing approach, all periph­er­al equip­ment was removed from a cylin­dri­cal grind­ing machine and mount­ed on the X axis. The new axis con­cept allows the machine to make use of grav­i­ty dur­ing high-pre­ci­sion grind­ing at tol­er­ances down to ± 2 µm. Nev­er­the­less, it has a foot­print no more than the size of a Euro pal­let. The light­weight unit (440 kg) can be moved on three cast­ers. “We roll the machine to the work, not the oth­er way around,” says Glob­al Sales Direc­tor Hel­mut Gais­berg­er. Start-up and changeovers are designed to take as lit­tle time as pos­si­ble. Bare­ly an hour is need­ed from deliv­ery to the first chip, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny, and the oper­a­tion itself is “super-easy”. There is a video tuto­r­i­al which gives tips on use. For this rea­son alone, the machine is ide­al for train­ing work­shops, pro­to­typ­ing and zero series pro­duc­tion, or “sim­ply for all those who are fed up with fre­quent changeovers,” says Gaisberger.

The nov­el device requires a sim­ple 230 V house­hold sock­et as a pow­er source and con­sumes no more ener­gy than a cof­fee machine. The machine’s cost-effec­tive­ness is enhanced by its stan­dard equip­ment, which includes struc­ture-borne noise insu­la­tion, free soft­ware, pro­gram­ma­ble spin­dle speeds and two mea­sur­ing chan­nels for Tesa probes. An offline pro­gram­ming sta­tion is also includ­ed. The con­trol sys­tem was devel­oped in-house. In addi­tion, the machine is pre­pared for automa­tion and net­work­ing solutions.

From research to market

In Ger­many, almost half of all start-ups are engi­neer­ing-based. In addi­tion, a quar­ter of all start-ups (26 per­cent) come from the research/university sec­tor, accord­ing to DSM. This is also reflect­ed in the Grind­ingHub Start-Up Area. The Fraun­hofer soci­eties regard the Area as an “inte­gral part of their own uti­liza­tion efforts”, while the Office of Tech­nol­o­gy Assess­ment at the Ger­man Bun­destag (TAB) sees it above all as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pre­pare the ground­work for future suc­cess­es. Spin-offs are expect­ed to gen­er­ate rapid growth, to con­tribute to struc­tur­al change and to be a major source of new ideas for tech­nol­o­gy trans­fer and job creation.

The com­pa­ny oculavis, which emerged from the Fraun­hofer-Gesellschaft and RWTH Aachen Uni­ver­si­ty in 2016 and will also be tak­ing part in the Start-up Area, fits this pat­tern. Its mis­sion is to trans­form cus­tomer ser­vice, main­te­nance and repair process­es. At Grind­ingHub, the Aachen-based com­pa­ny will present its mod­u­lar aug­ment­ed real­i­ty plat­form oculavis Share, which aims to “trans­mit tech­ni­cal knowl­edge to any­where in the world,” as Mar­ket­ing Man­ag­er Daniel Mir­bach empha­sizes. oculavis has won no few­er than 18 awards to date, includ­ing the ‘Grün­der­preis NRW’ new busi­ness award. The com­pa­ny, which now has a staff of just under 70, is like­ly to have ben­e­fit­ed con­sid­er­ably from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our soft­ware plat­form redesigns ser­vice process­es at the inter­face between man and machine,” explains Mir­bach, “by accel­er­at­ing the avail­abil­i­ty of tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion and machine-rel­e­vant expert knowl­edge through the use of aug­ment­ed real­i­ty.” Par­tic­u­lar­ly in times of skilled work­er short­ages, but also fol­low­ing the onset of the pan­dem­ic, more and more Euro­pean com­pa­nies are refrain­ing from send­ing expen­sive ser­vice tech­ni­cians on long trips to cus­tomers in places like India or Aus­tralia. Dig­i­tal solu­tions are increas­ing­ly being sought which help deliv­er high ser­vice qual­i­ty while main­tain­ing max­i­mum machine avail­abil­i­ty. Three young com­pa­nies focus­ing on dig­i­tal ser­vices will be tak­ing part in the Start-Up Area of the Grind­ingHub. In addi­tion to oculavis, the Swiss com­pa­nies Rimon Tech­nolo­gies (a spin-off of ETH Zurich) and AtlasVR will also be there, pre­sent­ing soft­ware for pro­duc­tion and pro­duc­tion plan­ning. They also offer vir­tu­al real­i­ty and aug­ment­ed real­i­ty solutions.

Smart ser­vices bring­ing togeth­er star­tups and grinders

Var­i­ous smart ser­vices can be real­ized on the mod­u­lar aug­ment­ed real­i­ty plat­form oculavis Share, includ­ing remote accep­tance, com­mis­sion­ing, train­ing and trou­bleshoot­ing. The plat­form pro­vides vir­tu­al guid­ance and instruc­tion to employ­ees at their place of work via their smart­phones, tablets or even data glass­es. This guid­ance helps them decide whether a new sys­tem needs to be set up, the trac­tive force of a spin­dle checked or a defec­tive com­po­nent inside a machine replaced, for exam­ple. Dig­i­tal work­flows includ­ing step-by-step instruc­tions can be used for stan­dard­ized activ­i­ties such as main­te­nance, ser­vic­ing and repair tasks. Encryp­tion tech­nolo­gies and autho­riza­tion man­age­ment ensure the nec­es­sary data security.

Accord­ing to Daniel Mir­bach, it is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to pro­duce tech­ni­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion of all ser­vice cas­es in the form of screen­shots and video record­ings. The white label option also allows for indi­vid­ual cor­po­rate brand­ing. “Equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers can then offer their own remote ser­vice plat­form,” says Mir­bach, “which also rep­re­sents an attrac­tive busi­ness propo­si­tion with regard to new, ser­vice-relat­ed busi­ness mod­els.” Vis­i­tors to Grind­ingHub will find an exam­ple of this on the stand of Vollmer Werke from Bib­er­ach. The inter­na­tion­al machine and plant man­u­fac­tur­er will be pro­vid­ing insights into its new dig­i­tal ser­vices includ­ing Visu­al Sup­port, which was set up as a sub­scrip­tion mod­el based on the oculavis system.

The Start-up Hub of Grind­ingHub, an inter­na­tion­al meet­ing place for the grind­ing tech­nol­o­gy indus­try, offers the best launch pad for future tech­nolo­gies and data-dri­ven process­es or key tech­nolo­gies such as arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, Indus­try 4.0 and the Inter­net of Things (IoT). The com­mu­ni­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties offered by the trade fair are of great appeal to young com­pa­nies. As Daniel Mir­bach puts it: “We want to impress the grinders with our ideas.”

Spin-off Strat­e­gy

Three ques­tions for Mar­vin Kaes, Head of the RWTH Inno­va­tion Entre­pre­neur­ship Center

A spin-off from RWTH Aachen Uni­ver­si­ty will be tak­ing part in the joint Start-up Hub at the Grind­ingHub. That is sure­ly no coin­ci­dence. RWTH Aachen Uni­ver­si­ty is the top Ger­man uni­ver­si­ty for spin-offs. Why is that?

As a busi­ness incu­ba­tor, we are affil­i­at­ed with the uni­ver­si­ty but enjoy a great deal of cre­ative free­dom. In line with our vision to become Europe’s lead­ing tech incu­ba­tor, we have devel­oped a three-tier strat­e­gy. This begins with mobi­liza­tion, in which we intro­duce stu­dents to the option of start­ing their own busi­ness. We do this through lec­tures, start-up round­ta­bles and oth­er events. In the sec­ond phase, stu­dents can then approach us. What we want to get across is that no-one should have to work alone on their idea. That is why we offer coach­ing and work­shops to pro­vide the best pos­si­ble sup­port in the peri­od before and after the actu­al launch. The third phase involves join­ing a com­mu­ni­ty of around 500 star­tups which can pro­vide con­tacts to men­tors, exter­nal experts and investors.

What are the biggest hur­dles for aspir­ing startups?

First­ly, researchers tend to spend too much time on the pro­to­type, want­i­ng to per­fect it as much as pos­si­ble before involv­ing poten­tial cus­tomers. We try to con­vince them to adopt an 80/20 strat­e­gy that leaves them enough room to respond to cus­tomer needs. The sec­ond major chal­lenge lies in estab­lish­ing a good team and net­work. It is very impor­tant here to con­sid­er aspects such as the go-to-mar­ket strat­e­gy and recruit­ment at an ear­ly stage.

How much did the start­up move­ment suf­fer dur­ing the pandemic?

There was a minor dip in 2020, but at the moment we are reg­is­ter­ing strong inter­est. We are always con­duct­ing plen­ty of research, which can then lead to patents. The chal­lenge lies in moti­vat­ing researchers to take their research into the busi­ness world. Our job is to give them the sup­port they need. More than 100 start-ups a year are cur­rent­ly being launched from RWTH Aachen. I am con­fi­dent that we will see a fur­ther increase this year.

Author: Cor­nelia Gewiehs, free­lance jour­nal­ist, Roten­burg (Wümme)

Categories: Allgemein