Interview with Dr. Oliver Brunke on innovations in industrial X-Ray and CT inspection
Dr. Oliver Brunke started as application engineer at phoenix|x-ray in 2006 which soon afterwards became part of what is Waygate Technologies today. By now Dr. Brunke is Product and Application Development & Engineering Leader of the Industrial X-Ray business unit at Waygate Technologies. He has given this interview in September 2020.
Question: Congratulations! Waygate Technologies (WT) has been awarded with the Frost & Sullivan Best Practices & Global Market Leadership Award for Industrial Computed Tomography Solutions. After 2016 and 2019, this is already the third time in five years the company has received this award.
Dr. Brunke: Thank you! We feel honored to have received the award once again, especially given the fact that it is the first time we receive it after rebranding our company to Waygate Technologies. On a personal level, I am very happy that the work of all our staff is appreciated in such a way. The award serves to show our people that we are among the best providers of industrial CT worldwide – something that we can be proud of.
Question: What were the deciding factors in receiving the award? And what do you think makes WT a market leader – beyond mere market share and sales figures?
Dr. Brunke: Obviously, a number of factors come into play for such an award and market leadership in any industry. I believe for us, a decisive one is our portfolio: We cover a wide array of both industries as well as applications and solutions with our products and services. Others might be similar, but I strongly believe that our range of solutions for anything from circuit boards to complex components all the way to entire assemblies is unique in the industry.
Another factor that separates us from the competition are our innovations. We aim to always spearhead developments and innovations and either gain or retain our position as technology leader where we can. Given our broad portfolio, it is of course a challenge to make this happen across our entire range, so we are focusing on the growth sectors in particular.Take production related CT systems: To succeed in this area, we figured firstly that it was important to obtain high quality images faster than competitors. Secondly, we improved the throughput by introducing automation wherever possible. And finally, we strived to be innovative with regards to automating the analyses of the acquired images, like automated defect recognition (ADR), as well.
Question: Can you give us a concrete example?
Dr. Brunke: Yes, one example: We had been the uncontested technology leader in high speed CT inspection of automotive parts like cylinder heads or other drivetrain components for several years. Now that our competitors have pretty much caught up, we are introducing our new Phoenix Speed|scan HD system, which again puts us ahead of the curve with higher resolution images at the same high-speed throughput level. It also opens up new market segments: Battery inspection for instance requires much higher resolutions than many conventional automotive components.
To summarize: Our approach to market leadership is defined by the aim to have the broadest portfolio and the innovative power to create industry-first technologies.
Question: Why is market leadership so important?
Dr. Brunke: Apart from the obvious reasons of being more visible to prospective customers and having the opportunity to enter new market segments more easily, market leadership helps us ingetting a multi-faceted overview of our customers’ requirements as well as the challenges they are facing in their respective industries. Through our presence in so many companies and regionsworldwide, we can tailor research and development to actual customer needs and capitalize onsynergies. And the insight we gain from close cooperation with such a broad and diverse customer base in turn allows us to focus on new innovations that meet the needs of our customer markets.
Question: Now that you have mentioned customer industries a couple of times: Which are core industries you focus on and which specific requirements do they have?
Dr. Brunke: For industrial CT, aerospace comes to mind first and foremost: The industry has some of the highest quality and safety standards, often driven by regulation from authorities. At the same time the aviation sector faces high pressure to develop fuel- and emission-efficient airplanes. This causes the constant need to introduce new materials and production processes. Automotive is another core industry: Again, high cost pressure, but also the need to innovate as well as the use of new components and production processes, especially with regards to electrification and ever more complex electronics for connected mobility, particularly autonomous driving, are the main challenges here. Thirdly, the rise of portable smart devices, like smartphones, watches or tablets,has major impact on our business: the high complexity of parts as well as the safety and reliability of the batteries used in these devices are the main concerns we are addressing together with our customers in the consumer electronics industry. Next to these three industrial focus sectors, our systems are widely used in research and development, short R&D, in particular public research institutes and universities. An area where we see further growth potential is the medical devices industry, which is also characterized by strict regulatory standards.
Question: Frost & Sullivan focused on best practices and innovation examples in its decision-making process for the award. Can you give us some examples where WT excels with best practices?
Dr. Brunke: I would say the fact that we are a multiple winner of the award reflects that we of course try to excel in each and every segment of our work, be it in R&D, prototyping support, quality control, or safety. Take complex cast components or batteries in the automotive industry for example. Here, parts have traditionally been tested destructively: Production samples were taken apart and by using statistics, their quality was assessed through e.g. weekly sample inspections. Industrial CT can play a big part in improving this entire process including controlling the manufacturing process and product quality more closely and initiating corrective measures earlier, since we can test continuously and more precisely during manufacturing and do it all faster and more cost efficient than with traditional methods.
Another aspect in which we set ourselves apart from our competition is our global footprint. With our presence around the world, we are always in close proximity to our customers. Either directly with production facilities, Customer Solutions Centers, sales offices, or through our channel partner network. Given our heritage we have a strong presence in Europe, but also in the United States, which are of course frontrunners in aviation and defense as well as home to many of the largest consumer electronics and software companies. Lastly, we have also established (and are further developing) a strong footprint in China and APAC countries that serve as manufacturing destination for many international companies in addition to local strong players, especially in consumer electronics.
Question: What kind of new product introductions (NPIs) can customers expect next?
Dr. Brunke: We will be launching a couple of new products this year. Let me use two of them to illustrate how we define innovation: One is our Speed|scan HD: It combines a high level of automation for inline uses with high resolution and high throughput. This makes Speed|scan HD very interesting for the automotive industry and for consumer electronics, where again battery safety and durability play a major role in development and production, as well as other industries where reliability and safety are crucial, like aviation or medical devices. Next to defect recognition. The Speed|scan HD can also be used for metrology, i.e. measuring the dimensions of a part or product to make sure they match the design, which can be highly relevant for the functionality of the product. One area of interest here is the additive layer manufacturing, or industrial 3D-metal-printing, of geometrically highly complex components.
Another example is High Energy CT. It features much higher voltages than usual. While the industry standard is 450,000 volt, our HighEnergy CT system called Phoenix Power|scan HE scans with 9,000,000 volts. This enables users to scan parts which hitherto could not be scanned due to their sheer size and density: Components for rockets or airplanes which are 3D-printed for example. What makes this innovative is the combination of different capabilities and features. Our Phoenix Power|scan HE is a readymade CT solution capable of scanning big components with our own Scatter|correct technology which allows the system to complete the 3D scanning at the speed of 2D scanning.
Question: As manufacturing continues its path to become ever more efficient, where do you see the biggest potential to grow with your CT systems?
Dr. Brunke: An increasing number of industries turn to 3D-printing to make manufacturing more efficient, and this obviously harbors significant growth potential for us. CT is mainly utilized for two important tasks: Firstly, to conduct 100 percent inspections of critical components used mostly in aerospace, aviation and defense. Secondly, to improve processes and aid in designing better models for printing: 3D-printing may make certain designs possible in the first place but the assessment if a model does indeed hold up to the expectations put into it during the developmentand design phase heavily relies on what we at Waygate Technologies offer.
Question: Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic has presented your industry and, moreover, many of your customers’ industries with major challenges. Do you also even see any opportunities for your business due to COVID-19?
Dr. Brunke: There are of course some realities which we have to accept at the moment - one of them being that the commercial aviation sector is and will for some time be heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But we believe that especially as a market leader we need to have an idea of where opportunities for our business lie in the near- to mid-term future.
When we look at how different industries performed in the past months, we think that consumer electronics, batteries and public research and development are still largely unaffected by the pandemic. On the contrary: COVID propelled digitalization forward in many respects, and this in turn has led to a rise in demand for certain products, as for example the aforementioned smartdevices.
We also closely observe the medical industry where we are seeing demand for non-destructive testing, be it simply due to a rise in production volumes, due to new products being developed or due to some very interesting reverse engineering projects we carried out during the initial phase of the pandemic.
R&D, especially public research has also been largely unaffected and presents future opportunities for us – for instance, the research on hydrogen solutions for power generation. And lastly, some industries such as defense, space or parts of the automotive sector seem to be rather resilient to the effects of COVID so far.
Question: And on which areas within WT will you focus in the near future? Where do you see further inspection challenges to be solved?
Dr. Brunke: As I mentioned earlier, automation is a major topic for the entire industry. As we enable faster and thus a higher number of inspections due to technological advances, we of course also need to think about how the inspection results are analyzed. A human operator may be able to review results every hour or so. But once inspections are completedevery few seconds, we need assistance. This is where automatic defect recognition, or ADR, comes into play. ADR has always been part of our portfolio, but we have recently expanded our offer and are working to further improve in this area, for example by introducing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Interconnectivity in the industry is another major area we are already focusing on. There is even anNDT 4.0 initiative. What that means is that as CT gains the capability to identify defects or design issues almost in real-time, we are also put in a position to directly intervene in production processes – granted that production and detection are able to “talk” to each other. If we succeed in connecting these until now separate units, we can make production more effective and prevent rejects from being produced in the first place.
Question: One question on the company: The brand Waygate Technologies was created at the beginning of this year but you are still a part of Baker Hughes Digital Solutions. How do you collaborate inside your corporation?
Dr. Brunke: We are actually just now starting a new initiative to further improve cooperation between the different business units which make up Baker Hughes Digital Solutions as there are quite some synergies which we can explore together, especially with a view to the aforementioned focus on digitization and connectivity. One initial step for this is the creation of innovation and development centers such as our Energy Innovation Center in Oklahoma where our colleagues do a lot of work on algorithms for artificial intelligence which is used in ADR. Being part of such a huge corporation also means that we can assist many colleagues in their field of work, for example in 3D-printing which, as already outlined, uses CT to further improve product quality.
Question: And one final question: In your long history with the company, have some rather unusual projects stood out?
Dr. Brunke: It is of course always interesting when we are approached by unusual customers and for example members of the arts and sciences community. A personal highlight would be working with an internationally acclaimed pop art artist who creates 3D sculptures for which we scanned original models. Unfortunately, he wants to keep his process a secret, so I’m not allowed to share his name.
Another project, that was a while back and people who have been with us for a while will already be familiar with, was a cooperation with a museum to scan a rolled up scroll which was inscribed in lead. The museum feared that the inscriptions would be lost when the scroll was unrolled, so we deciphered it with the help of CT before they did.