Industrial mathematics specialist TOPAS develops the digital technologies of the future for medium-sized enterprises
Intelligent systems are becoming increasingly important to companies, and this applies just as much to large corporations as it does to SMEs. But at the same time, many systems are so complex that lots of companies are unable to use such innovative technology. TOPAS wants to do something about this. A spin-off of the Center for Industrial Mathematics at the University of Bremen, the Steinbeis Enterprise develops the digital technologies of the future, with the aim of supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in the fields of autonomous systems, digital twins, energy management, and simulation.
Since 2021, an international and interdisciplinary team of experts at TOPAS, which includes specialists in mathematics, software development, and engineering science, has been developing optimized, assisted, highly automated, and autonomous systems. Their focus lies in leveraging existing and emerging insights into mathematics and computer science with the aim of offering application benefits to business and society in general. This is also for the sake of – and with the support of – some of the most important technologies of our time: self-driving vehicles, autonomous machines, digital twins, and energy-efficient equipment.
Digital twins mirror reality in a virtual environment
Reality can be mirrored by technology and translated into a digital format. This has long been a viable option in theory, and TOPAS is now providing confirmation of this notion in practical terms in the form of efficient algorithms and software applications that make it possible to produce digital twins. To do this, they draw on actual measurements to create digital twins from simulation models. This is also of benefit to SMEs, who can use digital twins to simulate and test new products and services virtually before development. This approach also makes it possible to analyze and optimize entire production processes.
Automated systems that help optimize processes
To kick-start the automation of complex technical processes, TOPAS uses intelligent software. The building block that makes its consulting services reliable for customers, particularly when it comes to structuring the huge volumes of information this involves, is data analytics. Data analytics allow SMEs to understand and optimize business processes, operational areas, plant and machinery, but also relationships with groups of customers, warehousing, and logistical facilities.
Autonomous systems for enhanced safety and efficiency
To enable SMEs to make transportation and logistics processes more efficient, safer, and smarter, the experts at TOPAS are currently working on and conducting research into intelligent robots, self-driving cars, maritime vessels, and aircraft. Its methods are based on a practical approach: TOPAS owns an autonomously driven VW Passat GTE, which its team is allowed to use to drive around the entire downtown area of Bremen thanks to a special driving permit. By the end of the year, TOPAS will add two autonomous shuttle buses to the fleet, for use in Bremen and the surrounding area of Lower Saxony. The vehicles are being used to trial new travel concepts that will enable SMEs with expansive premises to make efficient, resource-saving, and environmentally friendly use of their vehicle fleets and skilled workers.
Autonomous systems are also already in use in everyday applications. With the support of project partner Alpha Robotics, TOPAS is currently working on intelligent robots for use in firefighting and large-scale green space cultivation. For example, intelligent planning algorithms are capable of reducing the time and energy required for such systems to carry out their work by up to 90%.
Models and simulations help optimize technical systems
The team at TOPAS merges modeling, simulations, and the identification of static and dynamic systems to conduct its projects. The intelligent software and services this results in offer SMEs greater transparency, efficiency, and cost savings.
One example that illustrates the kind of efficiency improvements that are now possible in agriculture – and thus how tech can support the green energy transition – is a project called SmartFarm. TOPAS is currently building a network of roughly 100 farms in the area around Bremen and logging energy consumption and production data. This is being used to produce a digital twin that can help optimize the operations of individual farms involved in the project. SMEs also stand to benefit from the use of smart energy management, especially in energy-intensive industries and when using multiple energy sources. This is because smart energy management helps reduce energy costs.
Keeping an eye on the future
In early 2023, TOPAS embarked on a knowledge-sharing project called Model Region of Industrial Mathematics, or #MOIN for short. This initiative involves collaboration with a number of scientific partners and business enterprises in the Bremen region, and the aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of applied mathematics. This is based on the vision of the project, which is to enable everyone to derive value from the universal knowledge of industrial mathematics.
A network for innovating and sharing know-how with others
TOPAS Industrial Mathematics was a 2021 spin-off from the Center for Industrial Mathematics at the University of Bremen. It currently employees 25 people in research and development across a company network comprising a non-profit research association (TOPAS Industriemathematik Innovation gGmbH) and a transfer company (TOPAS Industriemathematik Transfer GmbH). Both companies belong to the Steinbeis Network and are based at Digital Hub Industry (DHI) in Bremen. DHI enables the two firms to exchange know-how with partners such as the Transfer Center for AI (Bremen.AI) and the SME 4.0 Competence Center in Bremen. They also collaborate in many fields of research with scientists at the University of Bremen.