Steinbeis experts from Würzburg and Koenig & Bauer Coding revolutionize service and maintenance

Artificial intelligence (AI), enhanced digital imaging, and new ways of interacting between systems continue to merge. This is paving the way for innovative product extensions, which could be especially useful in areas such as training, monitoring, and maintenance. For example, systems that can run checks on themselves reduce the need for service technicians to work on site, not only improving machine availability but also making it possible to operate systems much more economically. As part of a partnership with Koenig & Bauer Coding, the Steinbeis Research Center for Design and Systems in Würzburg has developed Kyana, a digital extension to a continuous inkjet printer system produced by Koenig & Bauer called alphaJET. Such printers make it possible to draw on data to add highly accurate codes to products at high speeds directly on the production line. The partnership between the two project teams earned them the 2019 Transfer Award from the Steinbeis Foundation.

Kyana is an AI-based software solution that communicates through voice commands and uses augmented reality (AR) to depict the complex internal mechanisms of printing systems using clear, interactive images. In the future, Kyana will work like a smart assistant capable of taking on a variety of tasks from training, to controlling devices, explaining maintenance processes or servicing procedures, and spotting material wear and consumption levels early. In parallel to this, over time the system learns how to analyze all kinds of external influences and draw on this information to ensure it maintains high printing quality and maximum availability.

Using AR, Kyana assumes its own persona. This expanded visual presence makes it easier to understand hardware and how it works. By using digital overlays, the system allows users to look at precise details inside the printing system. Combined with speech output, this simplifies maintenance work and repairs. The extended AI functionality also makes it possible to equip systems with a virtual hand, which can save a lot of legwork by using a digital twin when a device requires remote maintenance. Ideally, this should make it possible to address faults more quickly and avoid long and expensive journeys for service personnel. This solution offers huge potential, also by analyzing acquired data and thus providing valuable resources for future applications, and this has earned the innovation the Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award. The strong mutual trust between the two parties involved in the partnership is laying the ideal foundation for this potential.


An interview with Prof. Dr. Erich Schöls, Sebastian Gläser, and Sandra Wagner

Hello Professor Schöls. Artificial intelligence is one of those technology topics that really polarize at the moment. People who are against it say it’s Pandora’s box, but you see things differently. Do you think the dangers are manageable?

The way I see it at this point in time, artificial intelligence (AI) is still often overestimated. There’s no questioning that the technological advancements are amazing. But I think we’re still a long way from the dystopian predictions you see in lots of areas of the media. Right now, I can’t think of a single development in the field of AI that would be capable of competing with the intellect of the human brain. But on a fundamental level, I have to say that used in the right way, it offers huge potential and I’m sure it will play an important role in the future. The real danger comes if it’s misused by criminals, but we already have that problem with digital technology, even without AI. But of course there will be developments in the military area that are fundamentally problematic – although even in that area, the threat is mainly posed by people and not artificial intelligence.

The term “digital twin” shows that you have already brought people together to work closely with technology for your transfer project. Mr. Gläser: How did you use this underlying idea and combine it with AR for your award-winning project?

Kyana stands up in front of the user and acts as a kind of smart assistant or discussion partner. It’s a “talking printer” that establishes a rapport with its immediate environment, and this allows it to build a “bridge of empathy” and start new relationships between humans and the machine. The AI uses augmented reality (AR) to adopt a 3D persona. AR heightens visual perceptions of the device and adds elements that allow you to dig deeper inside the hardware and understand how it functions. Operators can use the AR app to look at individual components and their functions, or understand service procedures, or access detailed information on the device’s status or handling instructions.

Allowing people to use voice commands makes it possible to carry out remote maintenance with the support of AR by using the digital twin, and it’s already equipped with basic functions of self-evaluation, by which I mean predictive maintenance. One innovative aspect of the AR app is that it’s coupled closely with a remote maintenance system. Support staff can access the device’s digital twin with an AR headset. The system has a special hardware extension that allows service technicians to send synchronized hand movements and gestures to a graphical interface through an app on a tablet. The hand movements displayed by the AR graphics are so precise, you get the impression the service technician is actually standing in front of you. This really simplifies communication between service operatives and the customer, and it takes less time to solve problems and improve the availability of devices. It also saves a lot of traveling time. The digital twin provides an interactive foundation for a whole toolset of applications that optimize and extend the possibilities for people to collaborate with machines.

Hello Ms. Wagner. You took Koenig & Bauer Coding on this journey with Steinbeis into the world of virtual reality. In your role as Vice President of Sales & Marketing, do you question investments like this in terms of competitive advantage? What competitive advantage do you see in Kyana?

The biggest competitive advantage has to be the indisputable customer benefit. The support given by Kyana makes it possible to significantly enhance production reliability and hand over things like continual re-ordering of operating materials to Kyana. Customers don’t have to think about yet another device in their production; they can concentrate fully on their own products.

Kyana also offers ways to monitor the functioning of our devices prophylactically and if necessary take corrective action or suggest alternative measures at the right time – it’s good knowing our customers can enjoy so much more up-time or additional certainty in their production processes with this new technology.

It’s still early days for artificial intelligence, so predicting what happens next is a bit like gazing into a crystal ball. Professor Schöls: Despite that, could you do this for us?

Artificial intelligence makes digital transformation even more important and powerful. It will bring about a positive change in lots of areas of our working lives, but also everyday parts of our public and private lives. We’re already getting a first impression of the companionable enhancements and additions AI can make to the work of doctors. I see the biggest opportunities for the future in systemic collaboration between humans and computers. That said, artificial intelligence can only add value if its sphere of activity is based on guidelines and goals laid down by humans. If that’s taken into account, we will be given new professions in the future and there will be qualitative improvements in existing professions.



Prof. Erich Schöls (author)
Steinbeis Research Center for Design and Systems (Würzburg)

Sebastian Gläser (author)
Steinbeis Research Center for Design and Systems (Würzburg)

Sandra Wagner
Vice President Sales & Marketing
Koenig & Bauer Coding GmbH (Veitshöchheim)