Interview

1 min read

Sándor Kolumbán
The company is founded solely for the purpose of developing a single product, which is using AR to present industrial robots to customers. The name of the product is ARBIRA, which is an acronym for Augmented Reality-Based Interactive Robot Assistant.
Sándor KolumbánExliteron

Please can you give me an overview of Exliteron and how the business was founded?

Kolumbán... I have a background in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics so I’ve always been close to technology and research-related topics. I’ve been developing software solutions since the second year of university so by the time I’d finished my PhD, I had a good 15 years of experience as a software developer. Around 2017, it became clear to me that I needed to move on from developing solutions for companies and create my own.

Throughout my experience, I’ve noticed that augmented reality is up and coming and that it is very different from the technologies that are generally used in product design across the automation industry. It requires a different set of skills and a completely different workflow compared to what is customary. So, I figured out that playing on the capabilities of AR would be very useful and profitable. With this in mind, I submitted and won an EU grant proposal for a start-up company and that’s how Exliteron was born. The company is founded solely for the purpose of developing a single product, which is using AR to present industrial robots to customers. The name of the product is ARBIRA, which is an acronym for Augmented Reality-Based Interactive Robot Assistant. Our experienced team of three software engineers is now developing it and showcasing it to customers to build the reputation of the company.

Tell me more about ARBIRA.

Kolumbán... ARBIRA is an augmented reality-based presentation platform, and it has multiple services. Traditionally, if you want to sell an automation solution, you’ll need engineers to design it, usually in a computer-simulated environment and then showcase it to the client. At this point, you can generate PDFs, simulation videos and charts but none of these are tangible. At Exliteron, we move a step further by taking those digital simulations and bringing them to the factory it was projected for. There we use the live camera image of the floor environment at the location of the new machine and we fuse it with the augmented image of the product.

If you are building something completely new, then this does not bring much added value because everything is fitted to plan. However, if you are looking to automate an existing process, then it is important to see how this new automation will interact with the existing equipment. Using AR for this brings two main advantages. At the moment, in the preparation phase when you model the new process digitally, you have to also model everything else that happens in the factory. This step can be tiresome, especially if you have a complex process and you only need to add a small part. In this case, it is much easier to only model the part that you want to add and project it into the factory using AR. This helps cut down significantly on preparation costs and also reduces time.

Secondly, a solution like ARBIRA can help boost sales. We are currently working with a Romanian company that is producing small robotic cells that they are distributing all over Europe. Instead of having to transport a cell to each of their customers’ factories to showcase how the cells work next to their CNC machines, their field agents can just take tablets equipped with our ARBIRA software. It’s much easier to give seven tablets to seven agents than to transport expensive machines around Europe.

The idea is that usually a careful selection process narrows down who are real prospective clients, and machines are transported there. With our app, this selection process can be pushed to a later stage and many potential customers could see what they could get.

What is the main innovation you bring to the market?

Kolumbán... The field of AR is special in the sense that it allows smaller companies to access innovative solutions much easier. Nevertheless, using these technologies is very complicated because the development processes are cumbersome and you need some mathematical knowledge and expertise to deploy them. Many automation companies simply do not have the time and resources to implement them. An outside vendor is more suited to do this for them.

On top of that someone like me, with a background different to automation, can help companies see opportunities that were not visible before. Presenting our solution and showing how it can optimise the workflow, improve design efficiency and boost sales often surprises even the most successful and technical CEOs. Although we have already had some AR applications, like Pokémon Go, four-five years or more, the full scope of this technology is still unknown in many industries.

I wouldn’t say what we do is entirely innovative, but it definitely brings something that is not present in automation yet, but which could benefit it tremendously.

What is the greatest challenge that the company overcame?

Kolumbán... There are still many great challenges to be overcome, but the biggest one so far was getting into the automation supply chain. The reason is that the industry is not very public and people usually don’t hear about companies that are second in the supply chain. You may know of a big automotive manufacturer, but you’ve probably never heard of the company supplying smaller parts that go into the vehicles, despite it being a very profitable business. While automation is a huge economy, it is not very visible.

We tried to overcome it by going to exhibitions and getting more publicity. In 2019, we went to a big exhibition in Tokyo that helped to bring more visibility and contacts. We are now working with companies to get more data about the use of our product and how beneficial it is for them.

How do your products and services tie into the growing use of automation in manufacturing?

Kolumbán... Around 10 to 20 years ago, automation was driven by new projects and completely new processes were being set up. By now, the number of new such projects have stopped growing or plateaued, in the sense that we have enough big factories and not much building is going on. These processes are now being reconfigured and modified and it looks like automation is moving to smaller companies. For example, welding used to be a very popular profession 15 years ago, but now it is almost impossible to find a skilled professional welder. For a company, a way forward would be having some experienced welders and several robots that can replicate their work.

Because of this trend, as an automation integrator, you have to prepare more projects and be more efficient in doing so. This means that your design and sales efficiency need to go up. This is the opportunity we tapped into and we worked to find a solution for it. In the future, I can see AR being used to verify and correct automatic generated programs, not just complement the design work.

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