On Wednesday, June 29 2022, the High-Performance Center InSignA was officially opened at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT in Ilmenau. Due to Corona, the official opening could only take place one year after the actual project start. In the High-Performance Center, five Thuringian Fraunhofer institutes have already been working together with seven groups of the TU Ilmenau and the Institut für Mikroelektronik- und Mechatronik-Systeme gemeinnützige GmbH (IMMS) since March 2021. Together with companies, the High-Performance Center aims to bring solution approaches in the field of sensor technology and signal analysis into application. The High-Performance Center was initiated with funding from the Free State of Thuringia and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The funds have already been used to initiate the first five pilot projects. These projects are being worked on by seven groups of the TU Ilmenau in close cooperation with the Fraunhofer partners and the Ilmenau-based IMMS GmbH.
Ceremonial opening of the High-Performance Center InSignA - Intelligent Signal Analysis and Assistance Systems
The High-Performance Center aims to establish itself as a research and development partner for manufacturing companies as well as for energy suppliers and robotics companies. Through the close cooperation of the research institutions in the performance center with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region, the companies are to receive direct support with regard to their product developments and innovations. The High-Performance Center InSignA - Intelligent Signal Analysis and Assistance Systems is the second Thuringian initiative of this kind - in Jena there is already the Center of Excellence Photonics.
The invitation to the opening event was accepted by more than 50 representatives of regional politics and business, as well as partners of the High-Performance Center InSignA and representatives of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the TU Ilmenau. Among the guests were the Thuringian State Secretary for Research, Innovation and Economic Development, Dr. Katja Böhler, the Director of Research of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Prof. Dr. Raoul Klingner, the Mayor of the City of Ilmenau, Dr. Daniel Schultheiß, and the President of the TU Ilmenau, Prof. Dr. Kai-Uwe Sattler. Among the invited guests were also representatives of companies and industry associations based in the region.
Greetings for the opening and the first anniversary at the same time
In her speech, State Secretary Böhler congratulated the spokesperson of the High-Performance Center InSignA, Professor Joachim Bös, on the opening and the simultaneous first birthday of the High-Performance Center. In view of Thuringia's pronounced competencies in the field of sensor technology and signal processing - especially in the area of southern Thuringia - the State Secretary also sees enormous and as yet untapped potential for additional innovations and company start-ups in this area in the future:
More than 600 companies are already active in the field of measurement and sensor technologies throughout Thuringia, including around 100 companies in the region around Ilmenau alone
said Böhler. The new High-Performance Center could provide these companies with fresh "innovative input" and thus further strengthen the industry's competitiveness. With the "InSignA Innovation Hub" located at the performance center and its idea competitions, new business ideas should also be developed quickly from the research results and brought to market maturity.
As a representative of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Professor Klingner praised the constructive and flexible cooperation with the Thuringian Ministry of Economy, Science and Digital Society TMWWDG in the run-up to the establishment of the new High-Performance Center InSignA. He also thanked the President of TU Ilmenau, Professor Sattler, for his creative commitment and willingness to engage in dialog during the initiation of the application and approval of the performance center.
The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has now successfully established 21 High-Performance Center in Germany. With these facilities, results from basic research and application-oriented research are to be quickly applied in the direction of regional companies.
The High-Performance Center InSignA aims to support Thuringian companies through research and development to independently advance new sensor technology solutions and thus increase economic success,"
says Klingner. He goes on to explain how important it is to inspire young people to train or study in Ilmenau and to prevent the brain drain by offering attractive jobs.
The High-Performance Center fits in wonderfully with the profile lines of the TU Ilmenau and the Thuringian Fraunhofer facilities in the field of sensor technologies and analytical processes. Through its continuing education and training offerings and support for spin-offs, the High-Performance Center InSignA can help to actively promote specialist careers in Thuringia.
Professor Bös, who is not only the spokesperson for InSignA but also the institute director of Fraunhofer IDMT and a university professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at TU Ilmenau, thanked the Free State of Thuringia and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft for the joint start-up funding totaling 4.4 million euros until the end of 2023.
Professor Bös, who is not only the spokesperson for the High-Performance Center InSignA but also the institute director of Fraunhofer IDMT and a university professor at the Deparmtent of Mechanical Engineering at TU Ilmenau, thanked the Free State of Thuringia and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft for the joint start-up funding totaling 4.4 million euros until the end of 2023.
When it was announced that four new performance centers were to be established in Germany, Fraunhofer IDMT, together with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Free State of Thuringia, did everything in its power to ensure that a second Thuringian High-Performance Center would be established at the Ilmenau site. The genesis of our High-Performance Center InSignA was then also peppered with some political and legal challenges. I am therefore all the more pleased that we have overcome all the challenges, have found a working mode and have now been working for quite a while in the network with a total of 13 research partners. The foundations for a regional innovation ecosystem have been laid. We are already holding many talks with local companies and also municipal institutions. We are meeting with many open ears and there are already lots of good ideas for joint projects. Now we have to make our partners attractive offers that strike a chord with them and that really benefit them.
says Joachim Bös, spokesman for the High-Performance Center.
Application-oriented research for industry
With funding from the Free State of Thuringia and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, it was possible to initiate the first pilot projects. These projects are being worked on by seven groups of the TU Ilmenau in cooperation with five Thuringian Fraunhofer institutes and the Ilmenau-based IMMS GmbH.
After the initial funding by the state and Fraunhofer, it is the task of the performance center to develop solid financing from industry funds and publicly funded research projects in the medium term.
At the High-Performance Center, solutions are being developed for data acquisition, data handling and data evaluation for various applications in automation as well as manufacturing and testing technology. Aspects such as technical data protection and data security play just as important a role here as modern radio and sensor technology. Many of these solutions, which can be used both in industrial environments and for smart city applications, make use of artificial intelligence and machine learning methods.
The players of the new High-Performance Center InSignA
To develop and test various solution approaches and technologies, the High-Performance Center InSignA draws on the expertise and infrastructure of the following research partners:
- Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT in Ilmenau
- Institute for Applied Systems Technology AST in Ilmenau of the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB
- Department of Electronic Measurement and Signal Processing EMS in Ilmenau of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS
- Attract Group SigMaSense (Signal Processing for Material Data Acquisition with Intelligent Sensor Technology) in Ilmenau of the Fraunhofer Institute for Non-Destructive Testing IZFP
- Battery Innovation and Technology Center BITC in Arnstadt of the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS
- TU Ilmenau:
- IMMS Institute for Microelectronic and Mechatronic Systems gemeinnützige GmbH
Interactive technology show at the opening
At the opening, the guests were able to get a first impression of the competences of the scientific actors in the High-Performance Center within the framework of a small technology show.
Among other things, a demonstrator for human recognition using multimodal sensor technology was on display, with which a safe transfer of an object from the human to the robot or vice versa takes place. To ensure reliable differentiation between object and hand, data from a 3D camera, a color camera and a thermal imaging camera are evaluated together. In industrial manufacturing and the skilled trades, for example, this enables mobile assistance robots to take tools from humans or hand them to them, so that assembly processes no longer have to be interrupted. Another important area of application is support in care facilities and hospitals. Employees in the goods issue area hand the requested sterile aids to the mobile assistance robot. The robot transports them to the correct room and hands them over to the nursing staff in an appropriate manner.
The topic of another demonstrator was how machines, systems and processes can be monitored quickly and easily in the future with regard to their proper condition using sensors. Here, three different-sounding electric motors were detected and classified with AI-based audio signal analysis using a smartphone. In the future, every maintenance engineer will therefore be able to use his work cell phone, for example, to check whether there are any irregularities in the sound of the manufacturing processes or on the machine. Thanks to the analysis, the quality and reliability of products can be increased and scrap reduced. An important and also controversial point in the sensory collection and analysis of data is data protection. Concerns often have to be dispelled that industrial data will migrate to the competition or be misused. For this purpose, the High-Performance Center InSignA offers technical solutions for data protection and data security. This creates completely new possibilities for efficient cooperation between several companies.
A third demonstrator presented during the opening ceremony showed a modern radio technology solution for industry and smart city applications. The so-called LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) involves sensor nodes networked over a very wide area and powered by low-cost batteries. Thanks to their low energy requirements, the sensors can work together autonomously for many years, even over distances of several kilometers. As part of a pilot project of the performance center, an LPWAN test environment was set up in Ilmenau, covering the entire city area using LPWAN. Thanks to LPWAN technology, sensors and sensor networks with low-energy electronics can work together in encrypted form over long ranges and even in hard-to-reach areas. This makes it possible, for example, to monitor large ventilation systems in airports, production lines in large halls, the water levels of streams and rivers for flood defense, or even hard-to-access forest areas with regard to forest fires or pest infestations using sensors.
Professor Bös, host of the opening event, was pleased with the lively interest of the guests in the technologies on display:
There were good conversations and lively technical discussions at all the demonstrators. For me, many ideas emerged from the discussions, which certainly provide starting points for new project ideas and collaborations. I look forward to inviting one or the other company to continue the discussions after our opening event.
Support for Thuringian companies: quick solutions and easy entry into research projects are in demand
Things got even more interesting in the panel discussion on the topic of "Opportunities and Obstacles for Innovation in Thuringia," which brought the opening event to a close. Moderator Viktor Deleski from the Fraunhofer Academy discussed with his guests how the universities and applied research institutions based in the region can give Thuringia's SMEs even better support and what problems and concerns are currently driving companies.
State Secretary Böhler, as the political representative of the Free State of Thuringia, and the Fraunhofer Director of Research, Professor Klingner, as well as Professor Bös, as the spokesperson for the High-Performance Center for the research institutions, were on the podium for the discussion. Representing the regional economy, the panel included Dr. Ralf Pieterwas, Chief Executive of the Southern Thuringia Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and Olaf Mollenhauer, representative of the German Association for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (BVMW e. V.) and Managing Director of Kompass GmbH in Ilmenau.
The central topic on the part of the company representatives was the great concern about the energy supply to secure the production processes as well as the current supply chain problems and price increases. Due to the bottlenecks in required components, the companies cannot initiate long-term research and development processes, but have to focus on which components are available at all.
Thuringia's small and medium-sized companies need research results that have already been transferred into development results and product-related solutions
Mollenhauer and Pieterwas agreed. And this was then also the formulated wish in the direction of the actors of the new High-Performance Center InSignA. Interfaces between science and industry must be properly designed and innovation processes must be aligned in such a way that they quickly generate benefits for companies.
All participants in the discussion round agreed that the High-Performance Center InSignA must become an agile network that responds quickly and straightforwardly to the needs of SMEs - especially when companies do not have the resources to conduct their own research. For companies, low-threshold entry is crucial. For example, companies should be able to use equipment and infrastructure from universities and research institutions. It is important to overcome the distance between research and SMEs in Thuringia.
The positive experience gained from successful joint projects also helps here, says Bös. The pilot projects of the High-Performance Center are such an opportunity and show that cooperation with Fraunhofer and universities can work after all. Here, it is crucial that the research institutions take a serious interest in the concerns of the companies.
We need to talk to each other and understand what companies are concerned about and what they need from us.
says Joachim Bös, spokesman for the High-Performance Center.
The Free State of Thuringia also wants to provide more support for a low-threshold introduction to cooperation between SMEs and research. Böhler announced a new funding program for this purpose, which can also promote the cooperation of SMEs with the performance centers over a period of nine months in an uncomplicated manner and without entry hurdles.
One issue that concerns both companies and research institutions is the shortage of skilled workers and demographic change in Thuringia. The regional economy suffers greatly from this. For this reason, Mollenhauer addresses the High-Performance Center's desire to attract young people to the region and to keep them here, to support them in their training and, in addition, to recruit already trained specialists for the region. According to Mollenhauer, Thuringia's research and educational institutions must network much more closely and work together with companies to make Thuringia attractive again as a business location in order to counter this problem.
Information on the current projects of the High-Performance Center InSignA as well as contact persons can be found on the website: https://www.leistungszentrum-insigna.de/