As part of his involvement in advanced research at BLOCK, Michael Owzareck has led development work since 2009 on the company's own simulation software known as taid, which supports calculations for transformers and reactors. In an expert interview with BLOCK, he explains why intensive work on the company's comprehensive calculation software can pay dividends.
Mr. Owzareck, what for you are the biggest challenges in terms of developing products as part of advanced research work at BLOCK?
BLOCK stands for a high level of vertical integration and a wide choice of products, both standard and custom-made. This in itself requires a high level of vertical integration. Particularly in the case of complex customer-specific applications, we rarely have a lot of time to come up with complex data for a quotation or production samples. We need to act really fast, but with a lot of accuracy too, for a wide range of different products that are sometimes used in very demanding applications. To do all this, we need a reliable software solution like our own taid, which we have developed continuously since its release in 2009.
Are there are not enough external software solutions for this kind of thing?
We generate 80 % of our sales with individual customer solutions. We quickly recognized that none of the software typically available on the market could meet our high demands. But with taid, we have the fastest and also the most accurate calculation tool on the market for inductive coiled products. This means we can develop and produce exactly the kind of product our customers need. In future too, we will continue to work toward maintaining this competitive advantage.
What makes taid special?
Our customers want three main things from their products: value for money, compactness, and high performance. taid delivers on all three points, while keeping calculation times really short thanks to a sophisticated algorithm. Products are optimized in the program itself, which helps reduce the number of development rounds required. Analytical calculations taking electrical, magnetic, and thermodynamic factors into account can be performed for a product in less than 10 seconds. Calculations can factor in dozens of reactors within a minute with a view to finding the best solution for the customer's system. Each of these calculations is based on real materials data. For passive magnetic components, we use weakly magnetic core materials. The manufacturer data for these materials is often inadequate or not available for our frequency ranges. So, we have developed our own soft magnetic measuring technology as well, which we also use to determine this kind of information for taid. This makes our simulations especially accurate, but also really fast. As a result, the customer is free to choose the design of their product.
How do you use taid in your work with customers?
Generally speaking, the customer approaches us with a certain idea for their product, which includes presenting us with specific product information. This may, for example, involve a specific installation arrangement inside compact machinery or use in challenging environments such as offshore wind farms. Often, the customer already knows exactly what their system should look like and, for example, how much heat the individual products are allowed to emit. In the framework of these broad conditions, we can develop a high-performance, value-for-money, and compact product, which promises a long service life and meets the all the customer's expectations.
Do customers often need more than one product?
The parameters concerned follow on from certain system-related calculations provided by the customer. First of all, the customer would like a finished product that meets their requirements. We have the expertise to accurately simulate the whole system and offer recommendations as required. Because it's rare that products are only ever used under normal operating conditions throughout their service life. As a partner providing advice and support, we remain in close contact with the customer throughout the development process to ensure the system is optimized as effectively as possible. This means taking measurements on site sometimes and testing how things work – within the system as a whole – with the help of prototypes. The system-related advice provided by BLOCK is highly valued by our customers as we can identify significant potential for optimization.
What additional developments can we expect from taid in the future? Can you give us some insight into these?
Our aim is to extend digital collaboration via an agile co-creation with our customers. We are working on a digital twin for taid, which we will use to replace the real prototype. It will be possible to integrate the digital image of the product as a component in the customer's simulation of the system, for simple testing of certain behavior in the event of, say, an unexpected system failure or overcurrent scenario. This will also enable us to work out the expected service life of the product within the system with even greater accuracy. This model-based approach to development will further reduce the number of iteration phases and therefore speed up the development process. In terms of the future, we will be pushing on with optimized calculations for coiled products and working to develop system enhancements for taid that are fit for Industry 4.0 applications.