Real solutions from the digital world: HoloSuite

There’s just one word to describe a visit to the Microsoft HoloSuite – awe-inspiring. Located at Schiphol Airport’s industrial estate in Amsterdam, the space features 360-degree projections, which allow visitors to explore whole new worlds. Here, Bilfinger is working with Wortell and Microsoft on digitally transforming industry.

The HoloSuite forms part of a customer experience center and showcases application prototypes developed by Microsoft in cooperation with customers and partners. One example is a system that scans avocados on a conveyor belt to assess their ripeness and appearance, allowing for fast, accurate sorting. Visitors can also experience a system comprising smart cameras and artificial intelligence that was developed by the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat (Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management) and BAM Infra to improve traffic safety. And that’s just a taste of the many and varied possibilities. Microsoft’s Redmond campus outside Seattle is home to the only other comparable but smaller customer experience center.

A large room with video screens for walls, the HoloSuite uses projections to create a realistic environment around visitors. Yet the facility’s main purpose is not to entertain: “This room is where we work with customers on new applications to optimize their operational processes,” says Patrick van Loon. As the Industry Executive for Microsoft Western Europe, he serves customers from the manufacturing industry. “Our team acts as a bridge between Microsoft and our customers’ day-to-day activities. Instead of waiting for assistance requests, we take a proactive approach, seeking dialog with companies and delving into the problems that give them headaches. Only then do we get together with industry experts to determine which IT solution is best suited to resolving the issue.”

Visionary company

During development, Microsoft also sets store in partners’ expertise. One such partner is Dutch IT company Wortell. Danny Burlage is the founder, CEO and owner. “We are a partner to Microsoft, but also to Bilfinger Industrial Services. Together, we create innovative solutions to simplify or improve workflows. Bilfinger displays a very visionary approach. Here’s a partner who takes a close look at the market, potential solutions and new technologies. By responding with solutions specifically tailored to customer requirements, the company gains a valuable competitive advantage, keeping it a vital step ahead of other businesses in the industry. At present, we are working with Bilfinger on a new scaffolding concept. We faithfully recreate a factory environment in the HoloSuite and use the HoloLens to project visual instructions for erecting the perfect scaffolding. Incorporating the HoloLens lets us combine reality with a projected vision. The projection shows the areas where the supports need to be positioned. What’s more, we also explain why the scaffolding needs to be positioned where it is and why it must be constructed in a particular way.”


Diverse applications

The Bilfinger project is just one of many on a list that keeps growing. According to van Loon: “The varied nature of projects is testimony to the HoloSuite’s wide range of possibilities. Another recent assignment was for a major steel producer’s rolling mill. In this instance, we overlaid the steel company’s video footage with an image identifying sensor locations, highlighting where information is collected and consequently what control data can be derived from it in the control room. This makes it possible to intervene without delay whenever any anomalies – even tiny ones – are detected in the steel production.”

Challenging environment

Some companies still view new technologies with a certain skepticism. It’s something van Loon has also noticed: “And it’s often with good reason.” He explains that, “Implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning in a real factory setting poses a challenge. Take, for instance, a current project where product defects were to be pinpointed using image recognition. But the 4K images – a resolution four times sharper than full HD – overloaded the data network. These kinds of practical problems aren’t currently given the attention they deserve. Much like the question of whether really everything belongs in the cloud. While there are, of course, numerous previously unimaginable advantages to cloud computing, sometimes local storage is the better option – as has been proven time and again.”

Implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning in a real factory setting poses a challenge.

Patrick van Loon, Industry Executive Microsoft Western Europe

Intelligent Edge

Burlage adds, “Microsoft has recently made a big push to transfer computing power to local equipment. This is what we call Intelligent Edge. It goes without saying that extensive data memory capacity and computing power are transferred to the cloud. But there are also devices that require computing power directly on site. In certain situations, you don’t want to depend on the cloud. After all, connecting to cloud services can be an issue, as is the case with poor cell reception. Just think of self-driving cars: The decision to brake must be made in a split second. There’s no time to send a request to the cloud.” As van Loon points out, “The situation is much the same in a production environment. Instant action must be taken if something isn’t working properly. So local computing power is essential; after all, no business-critical process should be dependent on an Internet connection.”

Even if the vast digital possibilities don’t always map perfectly onto practical realities, the HoloSuite projects generate a lot of excitement. “Aside from the examples already described, we believe there is also great potential for further training,” van Loon says. “Simulations can be employed to conduct safety training. With uses ranging from safety measures and training to process and efficiency optimization, the HoloSuite opens up a wealth of opportunities.”

Published in issue 02.2020

Further articles from issue 02.2020

We cordially invite our customers to visit the HoloSuite.


Then please contact Jeff Mansveld.