HAMBURG, Germany—David Küstner and Daniel Erdelmeier wrote their theses at Lufthansa Technik. Now, their firm, Synergeticon, provides digital assistance to factory workers—and its small but growing staff counts among its customers Lufthansa Technik and its partner Airbus, Küstner said in a group interview with British and American tech writers visiting ZAL (Zentrum für Angewandte Luftfahrtforschung) TechCenter for applied aviation research here yesterday.
Lufthansa Technik, a 23-year-old unit of Deutsche Lufthansa that provides maintenance and overhaul services for aircraft, uses Synergeticon’s software to support factory workers in the process of engine part inspection.
With Airbus, Synergeticon is working on a pilot to support factory workers in quality assurance tasks for structure parts.
By nearly any measure, it’s a heady time for Küstner, 29, and two-year-old firm, which two weeks ago secured funding of 130,000 Euros from the City of Hamburg and next month will grow to a staff of eight.
It all amounts to a “big push” in the market—one that he and his posse is harnessing to go out for “a little bigger investment,” he said. “We have so much demand, and with the eight people we cannot actually do all these projects.”
Küstner, who is managing director of the Hamburg-based startup, is of course hiring mostly people with engineering backgrounds “because you have to understand the worker, to build good systems, and you need a lot of staff to go out and actually see how to build the right applications,” which you find out via feedback rounds with workers on the shop floor.
Synergeticon’s work amounts to providing a digital twin—by digitizing equipment manuals and updates to them, and by automatically gathering machine tool data and suggesting ways shop floor workers can save time and prevent errors.
One key problem Synergeticon’s software addresses is the fact that many shops suffer from disabling “media breaks,” Küstner said. Sometimes, one worker is measuring something while another is standing next to him writing something down. “Then this paper goes to the next station. And so you have a lot of information breaks in between.”
Synergeticon’s goal is to provide “a flawless information flow,” he added.
Human errors in the data-input process are “a big issue because the consequences of the errors can be really, really costly.”
The digital twin Synergeticon provides people who are performing maintenance or production applications is “like 3D, step-by-step guidance that is connected to all the tools they are using in the manufacturing side,” Küstner said. “So, for example, you have laser scanners when you perform measurement processes. Or you have different kinds of measurement systems and you’re connecting to this. And in the process, the worker gets provided by this 3D animated system, which is doing the whole documentation, automated in the process. It’s also connected to the customer’s infrastructure so it’s seamlessly integrated.”
In aerospace, paper is often still serving as the data basis of many maintenance, repair and operation systems, he said.
Software from Synergeticon is used to extract data from PDF manuals and other unstructured data forms and injects it into an interactive application.
The startup also provides some artificial intelligence “because this system has to understand what’s actually inside these documents, as well as connections between the documents,” Küstner said. “It has to read out of the pictures the information to provide a system where you have interactive, step-by-step guidance in the end” that is continuously improved via worker feedback the firm gathers.
Küstner, whose demeanor is anything but brash, is unsurprisingly sanguine about a future filled with Lilliputian concerns like Synergeticon working hand in hand with industry giants like Lufthansa.
“We always compare the big companies to a big tanker. It’s going through the water, but it’s not really flexible because of rigid organizations and standards. That leads to a huge overhead in developing new products. And the big companies cannot steer so fast in different directions. But startups can: We see ourselves as the fast boats, supporting the big tanker. We are more flexible and can do really fast development. And so this is a really good combination.”