Master builder – with three clicks

3D design is expensive and should be left to professionals. A software company from Magdeburg has turned this idea on its head, and has the companies BMW, Audi and VW, no less, with its "taraVRbuilder" solution. Those who work with the tarakos gmbH program can create virtual halls and logistics centres with the minimum specialist knowledge in a matter of minutes.

Elli is a small but friendly dog who likes to welcome every visitor. She welcomes every new guest with a friendly wag of her tail and accompanies them to Herbert Beesten's office. It is an office with views over the Elbe and a large sized flat-screen TV. "We need it for our presentations. Our 3D process visualisation software is by far the most convincing when we show it in action."

Elli belongs to a member of staff. She chimes with the philosophy of Magdeburg company tarakos GmbH. The colleagues who work here want to feel at home – which is an important factor in the competition to secure the brightest employees in the region. Beesten highlights that the benefits offered by the company also include flexitime and excellent earning and development opportunities. The managing director of tarakos GmbH is relaxed that his employees often leave for pastures new in big, established companies. "We see ourselves as being a business in which employees can learn a lot and bring in ideas in a short time. We have a core group of employees who have been with us for over ten years."

Since it was established in the year 2000, tarakos GmbH has focused on the visualisation and presentation of sophisticated manufacturing processes. With the taraVRbuilder, a software program for designing virtual spaces, it is possible for production and storage halls, installation surfaces and logistics centres to be created on the computer. "A library consisting of 500 objects is available to the users," explains Beesten. It starts with static objects such as walls, columns, platforms and protective fences. These can then be joined by animated objects such as robots, conveyor belts, hubs and sophisticated machinery. The planner is able position women, men, forklift trucks and HGVs. In this way an entire virtual factory can be designed and put into operation.

The taraVRbuilder has three major advantages over classic 3D design systems: the software is considerably cheaper, it is easy to use after one day of training, and it doesn't require a powerful PC. It runs on most standard PCs. "This means that the normal user isn't a 3D designer or programming expert – but a logistics specialist, material flow or production planner," explains Beesten. This makes the software especially interesting for small and medium sized companies.

Once the initial version of the production system has been created then attributes can be assigned to all of the elements. The expert describes this as parameterisation. "How quickly do the incoming packages have to be forwarded? When does the machine need new supplies?  In which direction should the component be moved? The program takes these variables into account." The planned system is initialised with a click of the mouse and simulates all of the processes. In this way the weak spots, idle times and status can all be visualised immediately.

When everything is right, it's time for lift-off. The user is able to float over their new factory hall, fly through the walkways in the high bay warehouse and land next to the woman at the packaging station. Beesten explains that visualisations of this kind are a key sales argument for tarakos customers, such as planning offices and conveyor technology manufacturers: "Because their contractors want to see exactly what they mean and be sure that it matches exactly right with the requirements. Details such as the option of being able to give the conveyed material the customer's logo or integrating 3D templates from specialist machines in the program further enhance the authenticity of the virtual designs."

The taraVRbuilder has successfully established itself in the market as an interface between complex 3D designs and ideas. A new product needs to be integrated in the existing system? The material flow isn't running optimally in the background of the production? The walkways between the machines are too long? Novices with 3D design can quickly find solutions to such problems with the software. "We predominantly sell the taraVTbuilder in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but we also have a foothold in other European countries and are working with sales partners in the USA, China and Turkey," explains Beesten. Approximately 1000 customers have purchased a software license so far, with one in two using the taraVRbuilder on a constant basis, buying the annual update and support packages.

Customers include most of the European conveyor technology manufacturers, but major groups such as Audi, BMW, VW and Daimler AG in the automotive sector, logistics firms such as Deutsche Bahn, UPS and the Ottogroup, in addition to Nestle, Degussa, Ikea, REWE and Lidl are all on the company's list of clients. And even the burger bread buns which are made in a major food company for leading burger chains run along conveyor belts which were initially virtually designed in the taraVRbuilder. The software from Magdeburg has also made a name for itself in the world of vocational training, where it is used in the training programmes at many technical colleges.

It is on this basis that the company, with a team of fourteen employees, attains an annual turnover of approximately one million Euros. Profit margins vary, however, which is why Beesten is determined to take the next strategic steps forwards. "It is important to know that our product doesn't sell due to its name alone. Tarakos GmbH is too small for that. This means that our marketing is very labour intensive and expensive, and we have to put a lot of work into our sales." Together with a financial partner, the company is now in the market for an investor who is able to sell the Magdeburg company's products via its own strong sales network.

When it comes to the location at the Wissenschaftshafen (sciences port), however, nobody intends to change anything. The proximity to the Otto-von-Guericke University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operations and Automation (IFF) are strong arguments, says Beetsen. He also benefits from the Computational Visualistics students who frequently work in the company for several years and who have proven to be a reliable source of inspiration.

Together with the IFF, a library was recently programmed with RFID objects; the technology with which objects are automatically identified and localised with the help of radio waves on a non-contact basis. RFID is familiar to many in the shape of the radio identification labels on our clothes, for instance, with the help of which the central management system in a warehouse can ascertain the shelf on which each product is currently located.

Magdeburg has become Herbert Beesten second home. He originally comes from Münsterland in the North-Rhine Westphalia region of Germany, but moved to the capital of Saxony-Anhalt in the early 2000s. And at 61 years old, he is beginning to think about retiring, and passing the company on to a younger pair of hands. Were this to happen, however, with Beetsen's many years of experience in sales, his valuable contacts in the automotive sector, and his passion for 3D visualisation, one of the main driving forces behind tarakos GmbH would surely be lost. And it certainly wouldn't just be Elli, the company's friendly welcoming committee, who would miss him.

Author: Kathrin Wöhler on behalf of IMG Investment and Marketing Corporation Saxony-Anhalt

Herbert Beesten
Managing Director Sales
tarakos GmbH
Werner-Heisenberg-Str. 1
39106 Magdeburg
Telefon: +49 391 597 495 - 0
Fax: +49 391 597 495 - 33