Digital mirror

What will be warded off by digital mirror?

The best way to be in trend is to create it. Engineering consulting company Solver has gained 25 years experience in this sphere. At the beginning of its activity, while most of similar young domestic enterprises were concentrated on machines supply, Solver adopted smart manufacturing doctrine for such enterprises – a methodology of Three Projects. Nowadays smart manufacturing is an absolute trend all over the world, which is base for digitalization of manufacturing and other drivers of Industry 4.0. Rate of changes is so high, that just to take hold in the stream and markets by the way, mobilization of intellectual and creative potential is needed for manufacturing and engineering companies. Solver is self-confident enough to aim to retain its one step ahead position for the following years. Today our interlocutor is Radislav Birbaer chief designer of Solver.
3 march 2019

– What is the new strategy of Solver with a glance of new trends of digitalization? What are the concept and philosophy of company? They are also developing, aren`t they?


At the end of the last year, our company celebrated a 25 years anniversary, this is, of course, the reason to reflect on the past and the future. During the years the company has accumulated vast experience, either positive or no less important negative that one which gives you lessons. We certainly will use all lessons and practices we have ever got; it may help us to predict trends in the medium term and integrate into them.

Here we talk about Solver`s “classic” – our “Three Projects” which we have been using all these years, and I hope we will continue to use it as a linchpin for integrating innovations. When we first established this methodology, almost nobody can understand why do we need it. At that time most of engineering consulting companies had been building a successful business on machines and soft ware sales and on solving different local issues. From the very beginning we made up a chain of consistent steps in project modernization and realization processes. Firstly, we take a close view of customer`s needs – engineering plant- design a technology under their needs, calculate the performance indicators. Only in these figures we propose our variants of technical saturation with equipment. We analyze project handling risks in detail – right at the time of planning it is appropriately as we cannot lose anything while working with models. That is why we call this phase: “a stage of experimental projects”. Experiment is relevant when you are working on different possible options and discussing them. At the first stage we use only personnel resources of people working on designing of virtual technical models. We spend lots of time on experimental stage. Secondly, when the manufacturing is designed, we enter a new phase – establishment. This time we have to achieve coordinated work of everything were planned on previous phases, of course with the help of our customer.  And last but not least – industrial projects, it comes to support of mass production, based on what we have already done.

So when we started our “Three Projects”, the first reaction of our customers was from “So can be?” to “Why is it necessary?” In other words we had instilled this need ourselves, in our customers at first, and in the market to some extent. In my opinion, our “Three project” have become a useful thing for the market and for the state economic development in the whole. It leaded to project-based approach format, which then formed the basis for the public tenders for equipment procurement for State Corporations.  Thus, we can say that we implemented a social mission. I am sure you would agree that this is patriotism itself for manufacturers and entrepreneurs to influence positively on state economic.

– The amount of cases where you used “Three Projects” methodology totals hundreds or even thousands, doesn`t it?

It depends on what projects we are talking about. In the whole the proportions are such that from the hundred of experimental projects about five or six reached establishment phase at first. The reason is that, in most cases, due to experimental phase, it had become clear, that to realize customer`s project as he want, would be neither efficient nor effective. As a result we saved money and time for our client. And now imaging, if we followed the path of least resistance: for example, the customer has decided that twenty machines are necessary for his enterprise, in our turn we sell him this twenty machines. What is the result? - Customer spent huge sum and got an uncharged unit with idle equipment. To avoid such situations, Solver`s specialists in association with our customer prepare an optimal solution to the problem, simulate technical process, calculate the performance indicators and only after that we can draw a conclusion about viability of the project. Then we can proceed to the next stage.

That is why we have thousands of experimental projects and hundreds of implementation projects.

– To what extend did your methodology preempt digital twins` era? How does it correlate with them today?

We have been working with digital technologies from the very beginning. At the experimental stage foremost, where, as I have already said, ricks of wrong decisions are the highest, but the higher costs are due to necessity to analyze a huge amount of information. Our analyses were always based on computer modeling of manufacturing processes, not on subjective opinion of some experts relating to advantages of this or that technology. This is intellectual and a very labor intensive work on modeling based on mathematic models and their realization on computer platforms. So to say digital technologies have been, and continue to be the main instrument for analysis and decision-making.

– How did you collect input data? There were no Date-centers 25 years ago.

We collected input data in a traditional way. We were involved in production problems and turned them, with customers` engineers, into data, which could be downloaded into mathematic computer models. As practice shows, Big Data is not necessary in every case, sometimes it is enough to make detailed mathematic model and you will have all data at hand. Why had Big Data appeared? Available high-end computing recourses have made it possible. Companies may collect information without exact mathematical models and to determinate the static correlation between entering and leaving, in other words, what leaving data will we have, if entering data changes in real time.

– So, we should not build up Big Data cult, should we?

Of course not. But in some very difficult cases we cannot to build up an exact mathematical model without Big Data technologies as there is no other opportunity to be locked in subject matter the needed level. In our projects we modeled technical processes, structures, strength calculations, structure optimization etc. Also we used Pareto principle and other methodologies.

– Were Key Performance Indicators (KPI) core at these models?

Certainly yes! Firstly you are locked in modeling, then you calculate KPI and there you see if it might be appropriate to work with it on next stage. We also connected feature lists technologies and structures with their cost to find out to what extend the products will be demand in the market and if funds that are due to be invested will break. Calculating return on investment is an obligatory component of designing on experimental stage. If the results are positive and satisfying for customer, we will move to the next stage of the project – establishment, equipment and tools procurement. So again, we have been working with digital technologies at the decision making stage from the very beginning.

When we were moving to establishment projects, we also used digital technologies there. We described technical procedure standards that no one has done before. Before our methodology customers were contented with state standards GOST, we, on the contrary, have been doing co-called individual documentation. At first they were in analog format – actually they were huge books with detailed description of every step at the workshop: how to carry out a changeover, how to fit machining parts in correct way. The staff was trained in them. These books were pinned to machines. But later we had understood that this is not the best idea: employees have torn it down and lost, and if there is no standard – there will be no new technology. So we had converted data to digital format and had designed our Naviman computer appliance with Digital Monitoring System and Production Management functions. So, we can say that we have already been in trend six years ago.

– Rather, you were forming this trend, being several steps ahead! Nowadays, in connection with digitalization, you should have new ideas about development and application of digital technologies. By the way, how do you understand digitalization, today everyone understands it in his own way, for example like smart city, smart machine etc.

Here on the pages of this journal, I want to confirm Solver`s author rights on new term. A while ago we did the same with another term Intelligent manufacturing. This time it concerns digitalization sphere. This is neither “digital” nor “digital shadow”. In my opinion, the most exact formula for very capacious dimension Intelligent manufacturing in digital era is Digital Mirror. Nowadays, in fact, we have two worlds: physical and digital. The physical world is a reflection of real world. We should understand that the mirror could be clear or dull, false or magnifying, any way this is a mirror. That is why when you look in the mirror you can see all changes of the world around and in yourself. What is the peculiarity of modern digital world? It exists in the same time with our reality. Scientists call it hard real time. It is ensured by powerful computing resourses, network technologies, abilities to work with data on high speed and valuable gadgets supporting digital work in real time. It has an impact on everything and everybody. Personally, I used to check my e-mail once in two days, nowadays if I do so, I will be out of the market, in other words I will lose out to my competitors. That is why I always take a gadget with me. In this context, digitalization – it is when we understand, that we have to see yourselves in digital mirror and learn to run our business in real time with the help of digital services, manage optimal solutions in business and not only.

Recently, I have visited Autodesk platform in Birmingham, on its unique Advanced Manufacturing Facility, and I asked a question to one of experts about digital twins. He replied in such way: if you use “digital” in your business to describe the most important of your processes and it increases your profit, then everything you have increased due to “digital” is digital twins, all the rest is of the evil one. Therefore, digital twins – it is digital services, which allow to increase profit. Let’s take an example from CompMechLab practice – this is domestic model company of automotive industry; inter alia, they use digital service which describes automobile crash tests very detail.  Automobile designers build up a mathematic model of vehicle body with their equipment, and then they “hit” it against the wall and digital twin gives a result very close to that one which can be obtained in real conditions. Nowadays it must not be in another way, if there is not an extreme accuracy, then no partnership can be get with BMW or Volkswagen for example, and after all, such company will be vanished from the market. That is what digital twin is for. To sum up, using a digital twin to describe key business processes, which allow optimizing the product position in the market and to earn additional profit – this is the truth digital mirror not a false one.

– Nowadays intellectual property management is getting fundamental importance. It has high expense ratio in cost price of modern high-tech products. Competition on the market today happens not for real products or technologies, but for minds.

You are absolutely right. Now we say that we are on the stage of Industry 4.0, before that there were Industries 1, 2 and 3. During these stages industry has moved from coal to steam engine, from it – to combustion engine; has undergone a revolution of production organization, when the conveyor was invented. These were industrial revolutions which have created new powerful manufactures to develop economy, and they were resourses and space consuming. Nowadays we have a knowledge-based economy. To make this knowledge influences on economy, there is no need in space or any other material resourses. In order to make a new high-tech product, which is able to earn billions, a small office with several workplaces is enough. So we can say that knowledge influences on economic much more than manufacturing spaces, technical infrastructure of manufacturing, number of employees etc. the most visible example is IT- technologies, with their huge influence on economy and society. Office maintenance and programmers` salary are all expenses in this sphere. If knowledge is the base of you business, if it determinates your business, then it goes without saying, your business is in trend. The same with Autodesk, they are effectively developing intellectual component of product, and product`s opportunities for designing and construction, including generative (bionic) design, which provide them a huge competitive advantage.

– Emerging knowledge-based economy – is also a synergy of various knowledge and competences at the intersection of technologies and industries. It is expected that over the next 10 years, this knowledge would create knowledge.

To tell the truth, knowledge creating knowledge is a predicative analytic based on Big Data. Big Data, which can be processed in real time, allow to trace and collect information about connections which are able to prevent some situations, so it is possible to say what will happen in a month or a year based on the defined performance indicators. So to say, this knowledge about working with Big Data can generate new knowledge about objects and complex systems` behavior. Also they help to predict equipment failure on the basis of innocuous alarms like break down of a bearing or some unit, due to this we can prevent economic losses or even save humans lives. All this knowledge is worth a lot. And they are generated only in digital sector.

– Nowadays many of huge corporations, including Sberbank and Severstal act as business-angels searching for promising startups and supporting their business. Does Solver also follow this trend?

As we have already said our time is a time of knowledge-based economy, so while designing developing strategy for the next 25 years, give priority not only to digitalization but also to innovation. I mean new solutions earning money on the market. And earning tools – knowledge in particular. Of course, we have collected some amount of knowledge inside of our company. Our “Three Projects” are full of such knowledge.  Still, we would like other companies, which are also knowledge holders, join us over next 25 years. This knowledge may be focused not  on classical for us segment, but on close things, for example construction,  metal industry or clothing manufacture – I mean if we can cut out a metal, we can teach a robot to cut out a cloth.  That is why we are searching for companies which have necessary knowledge to broaden the range of industries for us. For example, if it is an engineering, we would like to work not only with huge corporations, our usual customers, but with private business as they have a bit other problems and priorities. Or let`s take a look at medicine. We know that today it is possible to grow polymer or metal structures with the help of additive technologies; it seems to me, that we can do the same to some biological structures for medical application as implants for example. It is possible to grow some structure and produce wound healing bandage due to it. We are inviting innovative companies with powerful intelligence and knowledge to cooperation. What is more, several of such companies have been already integrated in our company group successfully.  By the way, we are going to show our new competences, which were achieved with attraction of new companies, on international exhibition “Metalloobrabotka 2019”

– So, working with startups for Solver means attracting outside companies and integrating them into own system. Why don`t you use another way – to allocate internal units that can develop new areas?

Nobody can name the ideal recipe for this question. Potentially, we may argue about supporting startups inside or outside the company, or neither of these. We believe that it is unnecessary to separate parts of our company by separating startups. There are external startups, they should have a positive impact on company, and their knowledge can be used in our classical projects. Any way these are people, they talk to each other, our agenda is always open, so if someone of classical projects nursed the idea of new project for a long time, they can join any startup with the same idea. At first we thought about searching for interesting ideas among our members, and to build startups out of these innovators. But then we refused from it, because we can know for sure, what benefits we will get, at the same time there was a risk to lose our “classic”. That is why we are searching for projects working in our industry. We are integrating them as required, but they should expand markets on their own.

– Do you mean that Solver is an integrator, not accelerator?

No, why not? Sometimes we separate some projects that do not enter our “classical” frames, but if there is an actual need in them, we pass it over to our startups. For example, startups that promote digital services are highly demanded not only with our clients from machine industry. Solver gives an opportunity for them to succeed as business. Offering them a helping hand, we are opening new niches for ourselves out of familiar market. For example, there is a startup which has no connection with our classic. However we understand how it can conquer the market, what equipment, laboratory facility etc are necessary, so, we are able to help. And we also understand that this startup can be useful and interesting for our classical projects in nearest future. These can be, for example, fabrics for future uniform or a digital service able to control employees` health; all this issues can influence on effectiveness and productivity positively even in machine industry. We have a startup in construction industry, which is designing construction printer capable to print the whole building. Nowadays there are technologies allowing to print constructions without concrete. Thus, they print only some elements, for example, walls, now the issue is to print the whole building including slabs. Is there any connection with our business? Seems like no. However, we are engaged in industrial construction, of course it is not fully our area, as our main issue are engineering infrastructure, area planning etc. If tomorrow we will get a resource capable to propose a construction printer, which will be able to print a workshop, we would only benefit from this!

– During 25 years that Solver exists, not only technologies have changed, but also engineers and administrative staff`s generations. When you started the majority of them were ambassadors of Soviet old school, so-called “red directors”, who were brilliant, mostly unique specialists, knew their manufactures from A to Z, but in most cases they were too conservative to except innovations. Nowadays, young graduates have priority, they were taught in other methods, and young specialists who received trainings in Moscow school of management Skolkovo or were educated at foreign schools. They are people with new knowledge and absolutely new approaches to live, economic and society. They are often detached from reality, everything usually sounds right for them on paper. It is well known, that Solver is extensively engaging these people. How is mutual lapping going on?

Our “Three Project” is mainly oriented on our classical audience - State Corporations and huge mechanical engineering companies. In addition, digital services and innovations which are designed by recently jointed our group new companies have their niches on the market. They have an impact on our classical business – we saturate our projects with these innovations and decisions. Working with enterprises which are our clients, we are communicating with young specialists of new formation: top-managers, IT-staff and employees working on areas of productivity and quality that are people whom our services and decisions are oriented on. That is mostly young people. They cannot think without innovations. On the other hand, such broad view on market, involvement of new companies with new products, certainly, transforms our company, our top-management in first order. Basing on new working principles we have formed supervisory board, now topics for discussion are absolutely different then they used to be – most of them are about establishing on new industrial areas and designing digital decisions for them. So we are working not with just new specialists, but with target groups who are interested in digital services and innovations. These are our clients. Of course, we are not ready for some unbeaten tracks like human body, but all that is connected with our cherished machines – it is ours!

– You have told already that Solver is becoming working with personal business. However, we used to associate Solver with projects for huge corporations.

Well, people say like Solver is expensive company. That is because our big projects are certainly expensive. May be we have higher extra charges then our competitors, but this is due to fully establishment and arrangement of mass production that we provide. As there plenty of equipment in big projects their realization is expensive.

There are other terms for personal business, because they need less equipment and their challenges are not so enormous in comparison with huge corporations. If we get many projects for personal business, it will be good alternative to big projects. The extra charges will be less, as the intellectual work and time for establishing also are less in such projects. It can provide us with interesting and profitable business.

– Do you have projects connected with diversification of DIC companies?

Diversification is a very complicated problem, but we have to find solutions for it, because after the reduction of state defence order, enterprises will be in for it.  The powerful industry was developed to ensure state defence order, if it is not involved in production, it will die away. We have already got some conversional projects. What is more, we were asked to access the chances of particular DIC companies to enter civil market segments.

Unfortunately, sanctions are very tangible for us. They are connected not only with state defence orders; there are some restrictions in oil and power industries. So this time we are talking almost about exploration of domestic civil markets. These projects also need reconstruction and technical requirement and investment in technologies development. To sum up, diversification in our country is complicated by sanctions. Let us hope on Russian equipment manufacturers. 

– Today engineering is differs from that 25, 10 or 5 years ago. Could you give any predictions for the future of this specialty?

 Let`s take bionic design as an example. We achieve product`s strength and stiffness by masses excitation usually, however, Autodesk, suddenly proposed to entrust the designing to a machine, identifying constraints necessary for construction. And the machine basing on structures it has, including that nature has created, will propose lots of variations. That is engineering today – cooperation between an engineer and machine, digital services, which are able to process huge amount of data. Such engineering is going to be desirable. Of course classical engineering won`t disappear, but the most perspective is that one which is connected with digital services. So what is it Industry 4.0 invented by German? By and large, this is European answer to American challenge. America traditionally is very powerful in IT-technologies, and Europe, particularly German is powerful in mechanic. “Digital” and classical mechanic this is so to say Industry 4.0. Or another formulation: mechanic in digital mirror. Engineers who are able to combine it will be desirable.