Who would have thought it could be so noisy in Lapland? The roll stands clatter and crash, the exhaust fan roars away and heavy steel strip bundles travel on automated trolleys to their destinations against a constant backdrop of noisy warning signals.
Wearing ear protectors and special protective clothing, DEKRA inspection engineer Tiina Vakkala and NDT inspector Juha Raitanen set to work in the cold rolling mill owned by stainless steel company Outokumpu Stainless Oy in Tornio, Finland.
The chemical pipe lines and storage tanks in the cold rolling mill have to be inspected every three months. Using a map on her smartphone, Tiina makes her way to her first destination. Here, she casts her eyes over a labyrinth of pipes, pumps and valves until she finds what she’s looking for: a small QR code sticker.
While Juha unpacks his ultrasonic device for measuring the wall thickness of the hydrofluoric acid pipe, Tiina scans the code with her smartphone. A window for the measurement point appears on the display. Here, she can not only view details of past inspections but also save the most recently measured value. With their job done, it’s already time to head to the next measurement point.
“When I’m carrying out inspections in Outokumpu, I don’t need pens or paper any more – and customers receive their results instantly and digitally,” says Tiina Vakkala.
This is all possible thanks to an app called VALTO360 (see infographic). “Before VALTO360, inspections were completely analog. We used standard spreadsheet applications, and customers had to wait at least a week for their results.”
The app, which can run on any smartphone or tablet, allows measurement results to be captured instantly in digital form. But what makes VALTO360 really special is its 360° panoramic images. Like with Google Street View, plants can be photographed using special cameras and subsequently mapped.
This allows inspectors to navigate virtually through plants using their smartphones as well as see measurement points and information that they can compare against their real surroundings. This makes work much easier, especially in big plants such as Outokumpu’s 14 hectare cold rolling mill with its 850 or so measurement points.
“When performing inspections, we’re usually left to our own devices – we never used to have a map. This meant that it was almost impossible to deploy a new inspector,” says Vakkala.
Tailored to the needs of different customers
The 36-year-old Finn has long had the vision of a digital assistant. “But what I had in mind simply didn’t exist on the market”. So Tiina took the initiative herself and developed VALTO360 working in collaboration with the agency Systems Garden.
The platform doesn’t only make life easier for inspectors, it also offers a range of benefits for customers. Not only do they receive their results much more quickly, but they can also customize the app to suit their specific needs.
“We are also constantly enhancing and refining VALTO so that it meets the demands of customers even more effectively,” she says. In Lapland alone, the app has attracted much interest. Three customers are already using VALTO360, while a fourth is in the process of implementing it.
Augmented reality: taking the HoloLens into the stainless steel company
VALTO360 has also caught the attention of employees at the headquarters in Stuttgart. Compared to the cold rolling mill in Finland, the spacious office of Andreas Grasse and Sebastian Rolf is a haven of peace.
Grasse and Rolf are part of the “Digital Innovation Lab” and their mission is to promote and advance the use of IT innovations at DEKRA.
“Back in March 2018, we attended an international workshop in Finland to develop new ideas for the app,” says Grasse. At this workshop, he had the chance to use one of his favorite “toys”: the HoloLens, a mixed-reality headset controlled by gestures, speech and head movements.
In the future, VALTO360 could potentially be installed on the HoloLens, allowing inspection engineers to see all the relevant information (e.g. measurement points) directly in their fields of vision and control the headset using a range of gestures.
“It is also possible to allow the HoloLens to be accessed by a second colleague, who can then see on an office computer screen exactly what the inspection engineer in the plant can see. They can then discuss any problems together or give tips,” explains Grasse.
Customer interest is huge
Andreas and Sebastian are confident that VALTO360 will attract a lot of interest from customers outside Finland, too. In Sweden, for example, Jörgen Backersgård, Director of Business Innovation at DEKRA, and his team are working on a project to link VALTO360 with SAFEHUB (field service management software), a platform that helps inspection engineers with various tasks such as planning their work, performing it efficiently and communicating with customers and the back office.
“Interconnecting VALTO360 and SAFEHUB will enable us to significantly enhance the benefits of both systems,” says Backersgård. The app is scheduled to be launched in the Nordics first due to DEKRA’s strong market position and customer base there.
“Initial contact with customers has been very positive. I believe that we will have more than 500 customers within just a few years,” he says confidently. Tiina Vakkala can sometimes hardly believe the amount of interest her app has attracted. “I’m thrilled that VALTO360 has been received so positively,” she says. “It’s fun constantly refining and enhancing the app and offering customers new solutions. I’m excited to see what will happen next.”
*Images by Jean-Claude Winkler