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High-tech heating equipment from a Ukrainian manufacturer – an interview with the winner of the BOWI competition

The original interview in Ukrainian is available on the APPAU website.

It’s been almost six months since we talked to Ukrinterm, the winner of the BOWI project. The project is now in its final phase, so it is interesting to learn about its results.

For almost three decades, the company has been manufacturing thermal equipment, including boilers of various capacities. The company has gained vast experience, built an extensive network of partners and representative offices, and offers both time-tested and innovative solutions to its customers. The company’s credo is to bring high-tech heating equipment and services as close as possible to consumers in all regions of Ukraine. For customers, this means saving 7.2 billion cubic meters of gas annually.

We again talked to Serhiy Yuzvak, Technical Director of JV Ukrinterm, about his impressions of the competition and its results for the company.

Did you manage to achieve your goals?

Yes, we did. These were both the public goals required by the project and our own, company-oriented goals. We understood the necessary digital technology and saw the real benefits of it for ourselves. This is what the grant required. In addition, we gained experience in European grant projects – their organization, implementation process, and getting results.

We expect both the growth of our competencies and the achievement of purely business aspects – greater recognition abroad as a high-tech company. We supply products, we are known there. But this project expands our portfolio and makes us better known.

How has the technology grown over this period, is it ready for industrial use?

At the beginning of the project, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to get and why. We wanted to integrate our equipment (boilers) into the digital world, and we have achieved this. Our digital twin already reproduces the behavior of a real boiler with the accuracy we need. We can remotely monitor the plant, and diagnose its condition using graphs and event logs because everything is recorded and stored. We were helped to develop mathematical models (by the Department of Energy Process Automation at Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute), and now we can see whether the real operating mode matches the calculated one. And if it does not, it is possible to quickly understand the reasons, eliminate them and bring the system back into proper condition. There is always money behind this – either the cost of maintenance or the economic benefit to the client. Or even both.

Of course, when you start to implement the project, both new features and new problems are discovered. Every step of development, experimentation, and idea generation is hard work, the creation of something new. It’s not a problem to write a program code – it’s a question of what it should do and why. And bending a pipe at the right angle is a routine job. But finding that angle is where the novelty lies. Then you combine individual ideas and see that together they can produce something more. A certain excitement appears.

Now we are collecting statistical data, making changes to the hardware, and finalizing the software component. Soon, our partners will be able to start testing and then using it for their own needs.

Can you tell us in more detail what exactly your solution does? Or what does it look like?

For our line of condensing boilers, we have developed a digital twin that reproduces the important behavior of each piece of equipment. The boiler’s task is to ensure the required water temperature in the heating system. But what kind of temperature is needed is determined by many factors. These include the heating scheme, the properties of the premises, engineering solutions, and even weather conditions. Therefore, to ensure economical operation, namely to ensure condensation operation, when additional “hidden” heat is released from the combustion products during their condensation, these factors should be taken into account.

In essence, a digital twin is software constantly connected to its real twin, exchanging data with it, structuring and analyzing it. There are many different software and hardware technologies inside that have to work together. There are databases, communication technologies, protocols and interfaces, simulation, visualization, and scenario-building tools. This is a digital umbrella that allows you to gather all the tools in one place. For example, a local controller installed on a boiler periodically sends information to the server about all parameters. This data is stored so that it can be analyzed if necessary. At the same time, the sensor readings and the states of the mechanisms are compared with the values calculated on the models. If there is a significant deviation, this is a sign that the cause needs to be found. Of course, the need to attract the engineer’s attention is also determined by the digital twin itself. There is no need to constantly monitor the indicators, but if you do, you have all the data to quickly assess the situation. We can analyze various scenarios in a virtual facility, find the right modes, and install them on the equipment. In the future, we plan to add geometric models and provide access to them to design organizations. Then, when developing a complex solution that will use our equipment, it will be possible to quickly obtain the results of thermal engineering calculations and construction drawings. Check various options for parameters and configurations to ensure that the heating system is of the highest quality possible.

Developing such a solution is a long and interesting process. In the future, the twins will work even better, as the information collected now will be the basis for training artificial intelligence.

What is needed to bring the solution to market?

We are currently at TRL7. Yes, we now understand the levels of technology readiness (note: TRL – Technology readiness levels – a methodology for determining the readiness of a product for the market). We have demonstrated the performance of our solution in conditions as close to real-life as possible. The digital twin works in our workshop and helps to heat the production area. The market needs to be ready to accept solutions, and we need to promote them. Both digital twins in general, as a class, and our solution. There is still work to be done in technical and marketing terms. I think that our customers will soon move from the stage of “wow, was it possible?” to “this is convenient and necessary, include it in a standard delivery”. We have high hopes for the educational activities of the Centre 4.0 KPI DIH, APPAU, and public associations – the more people and companies are aware of new technologies, the easier it will be to implement these technologies in our enterprises.

What markets are you looking at?

First of all, we focus on the Ukrainian market, but we are not limited to it. By the way, this is another advantage of the competition – we work closely with representatives of technology and business circles in European countries. They are well versed in the level of technology implemented in their countries, and their favorable perception is a signal that the solution will be of interest to the European Union.

Is there interested in the innovative solution from partner companies?

Of course, there is. We have been building our partner network for many years, and we have representative offices and service companies in many regions of the country. They are interested in getting a new tool that will help them perform their tasks better. Focusing on them was one of the reasons for the development of this project. You must admit that it is much more convenient to see real installation schedules on your smartphone and assess the situation than to spend 30 minutes extracting information from a client over the phone. Or for the installation itself to remind you of maintenance in time. It’s cheaper than eliminating the causes of breakdowns or overpaying for fuel.

Do you have any plans to develop other production components, since the implementation of one component of production will most likely require changes in other components?

We are gradually preparing for this. It is not yet known what changes will be made and in what order, but they will be made. We believe that only in combination with organizational changes can we get the maximum benefit from digital technologies. It makes no sense to receive a temperature chart on your smartphone and then redraw it into a paper log and put it in a folder with a string. By starting now, we buy ourselves time for gentle, consistent development. We accumulate both data and an understanding of how it will affect our processes. Designers will see how the boilers behave over time, and which modes are effective for them in each case. And the service department will hopefully use the same data to quickly resolve maintenance issues.

Will the use of this solution affect the company’s overall profit, or will it only improve the quality of production?

I would say it will improve the quality of services for our customers. Over time, the company will be able to turn this into profit. It will also make it easier for us in production – understanding how our equipment is operated is the way to improve it to meet the needs of customers.

Are you considering further involvement of European grant funds to improve production, or vice versa – having gone through this project, do you have no such desire? 

This is a good way to get additional opportunities for our development. Yes, we plan to continue to develop this area, and this requires specialists, equipment, and software. Grants help us attract these resources. Moreover, we have already gone all the way from application to final reporting. There is a result, and it is positive. We have a team that has been proven in a common cause. And we have plans for the next step.

Your suggestions for SMEs that are hesitant to participate in similar competitions to raise funds for innovation.

First, you need to understand why you need to do this. You need to have an internal willingness to work for results for a very long time. You should have a vision of your product in many years if you like. And there must be a plan for how the product will be created and developed. Secondly, you need to be in context. The grantor needs to be offered something they understand and in words they understand. For us, it was easier – the competition specified the requirements for the list of technologies, but even here, consultants from the Centre 4.0 KPI DIH advised us on how to express the idea correctly. It is critically important to have internal resources, especially human resources. You will have less chance of bringing the project to a successful conclusion if you have one smart person in the company who pulls everything, and you throw competition on top of that. There should be people who devote a lot of time to the competition. The financial conditions also need to be carefully studied – you may not get all the money at once, and you will need to close this issue until you show a reasonable result.

If you can provide all of this, don’t hesitate to apply for competitions. It’s a great opportunity to test your idea and learn how to explain it in a way that makes it interesting to customers. And, ultimately, to implement smart technologies and make money from them.

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