Making great strides into how buildings are designed

Innovation awards finalist Hal Software's product allows users to digitally design, test and programme manufacturing systems

Great strides have been made in recent yours in how buildings are designed. Computer aided design (CAD) and building information management (BIM) systems have made the process quicker, more precise, less costly, and reduced errors dramatically. A new product from Dublin-based Hal Software aims to do the same for the design of what happens inside manufacturing facilities.

According to company founder and CEO Michael Darcy, these are the procedural aspects of the operation, and include the equipment to be used for the process, the ingredients, the conditions in which the process is to be carried out, the people involved in the process, and so on.

“Up until now there has been no design tool for this aspect of a plant,” he says. “This is the first of its kind.”

The company was set up in 2012 by Darcy and his co-founder Cormac Garvey with the aim of developing a better process for the design, testing and programming of manufacturing systems.

“That was our guiding principle”, he says. “It helped us focus on all the things that you do and don’t do when designing the systems. Cormac was the originator of the idea. He had spent 20 years in the automation industry. He spent a lot of time designing systems using a manual process. Our product allows users to digitally design how they want their systems to work.”

Benefits

This brings considerable benefits. “At present the design process is manual with process engineers, manufacturing systems engineers, quality teams, maintenance guys and so on all involved. They all have a say in how the process should look. If you are handing around paperwork to all these different teams for their inputs it is very time consuming and makes the design process incredibly difficult.”

The picture he paints is one of a veritable Tower of Babel where everyone has a different set of priorities and achieving consensus is extremely challenging.

“Our technology alleviates all of these issues,” he says. “It creates a digital model of the process and allows for everyone to collaborate at the same time.”

One of the key benefits of the technology is that it facilitates scenario planning. When anyone suggests a change its impact can be seen across the virtual representation of the system. This allows for the optimisation of systems while dramatically reducing the time it takes to design them.

Having developed the product, it was then a question of introducing it to the market.

Prototype

"We spent quite a bit of time looking at the most appropriate way of getting it out there," Darcy recalls. "We built a prototype and showed it at the Automation Forum at Hannover Messe in Germany in 2015. This is the largest industrial trade fair in the world with 250,000 engineers attending. We got a lot of valuable feedback there, and continued work on the product and made it available to the market in February 2016."

Market reaction has been very positive. “Business is good,” says Darcy. “We thought initially that we would have to get into the head offices of the big pharmaceutical companies and so on to sell the product but we have found that our sales are coming from the areas with the innovation budgets. Sales are beginning to happen for us in industries like pharma, chemicals, food and beverages, and oil and gas.

“It’s a web-based system so is very easily scalable, and ramping up sales is not a problem for us. We are confident that this type of software will become standard for the design of manufacturing process within the next 10 years or so in much the same way as CAD has for architectural design.”

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