Visiconsult X-Ray Systems & Solutions
VisiConsult, a leading manufacturer of industrial X-ray systems, is on a digital transformation journey. In the past 25 years, the company has evolved from authoring software to designing and manufacturing customized machines. Now, it’s diversifying from physical products to services—using digital twin technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud collaboration to offer its customers X-ray images and image interpretation by subscription. VisiConsult's automated evaluation processes replace physical and analog quality-control inspections, resulting in more efficient and cost-effective product validation.
Lennart and Hajo Schulenburg examine a machine part undergoing a quality-control inspection with one of VisiConsult's X-ray systems.
Long before the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic, VisiConsult founder Hajo Schulenburg and his son Lennart recognized that digital technologies were the key to future-proofing their company and better serving customers. Their family-owned business builds X-ray and computer tomography solutions for quality-control inspections, with customized X-ray cabins to match each customer's needs. "Our customers need our systems to perform non-destructive inspection of their parts to ensure there are no defects or faults inside," says Lennart Schulenburg, managing director of VisiConsult.
VisiConsult X-ray systems and solutions range from large industrial systems for inspecting parts for the aerospace, oil and gas, automotive, and defense industries to mobile systems for conducting spot inspections in the field.
A worker adjusts an X-ray unit inside a cabin. VisiConsult's customized X-ray cabins weigh several tons and use lead to block radiation. Image courtesy of Chris Mueller.
VisiConsult's inspection process uses computer tomography (CT) imaging to produce a digital twin of a part, which can be examined and evaluated from anywhere in the world via the cloud. Engineers working for VisiConsult and its customers spot and correct faults on the digital twin, then convey the corrective action to the customers to deploy.
In the past, the imaging process required physical analog film and software to inspect parts at a micro-scale. Today's process uses a range of digital detectors that perform automated image evaluation with image processing on top of the X-ray images, delivering results much faster than analog film. VisiConsult is further developing the process with an AI platform that automatically detects defects even more reliably than conventional X-ray image processing methods. The AI learns from evaluated image data to continuously improve its effectiveness.
An engineer reviews a 3D model of an X-ray unit. Image courtesy of Chris Mueller.
VisiConsult began its digital transformation to improve efficiency, lower costs, and operate more sustainably–leading the company to invest in Autodesk's Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software Fusion 360 Manage. PLM helps companies track a product over its lifecycle, allowing them to identify and reduce waste and extend product life.
"Product lifecycle management supported us in bringing our old paper-based ISO 9001 processes into the digital world," Lennart says. "We have employees all around the globe, and we need to make sure these people can work seamlessly together. So we are using digital twins to monitor our systems throughout their product lifecycle."
Fusion 360 Manage enables control of new product information in an automated machine-building process, using 3D models developed with Inventor. It connects VisiConsult with the customer before its solution has been built, ensuring the company gets the X-ray cabin specifications it wants. "We can program the complete simulated model in advance; we can run the virtual inspection process on the part before it's even produced," says Hajo Schulenburg. "We can simulate a change, refine it, and keep improving the design."
Ultimately, PLM reduces the time to market for new solutions. "This is where PLM is such a critical tool to have," Lennart says. "It makes processes clearer and more transparent, and speeds everything up."
An X-ray unit scans a part. With a new subscription business model, VisiConsult customers will be able to access X-ray images and analysis on demand.
VisiConsult is now beginning the next chapter of its digital transformation: offering images and image interpretation as a service. Customers will be able to access an X-ray system on a subscription basis without big upfront capital expenditures. Using CT software and AI, VisiConsult can build an exact digital twin of the physical part being inspected, and run different simulations. The customer gets images and analysis on demand, transforming the substantial fixed costs of equipping and running a qualified inspection department into variable costs that can be easily predicted.
This model also sets up a paradigm shift for the manufacturing industry: Rather than simply being an end-of-line quality-control inspection, non-destructive testing can be integrated with the manufacturing process as an industrial sensor—generating a plethora of data that can be used to optimize production or product design.
"The pay-per-image or even pay-per-evaluation strategy is a great example of digital transformation because it goes far beyond business processes into the business model, and asks what we are and what we do."
—Lennart Schulenburg, Managing Director, VisiConsult X-ray Systems & Solutions
Lennart Schulenburg reviews images and analysis from an X-ray inspection. VisiConsult's automated image evaluation processes deliver results much faster than analog film. Image courtesy of Chris Mueller.
VisiConsult is the first company in its sector—and a leader in Germany’s machine-building industry—to change its core offering from physical product to service, meeting its customers' needs with a subscription model. The company continues to invest heavily in AI, cloud computing, 3D printing, robotics, and sustainable growth to keep its technological edge in a competitive industry.
To better serve its global market, VisiConsult is building solutions centers worldwide to discuss equipment and image subscription services with customers in their own time zone. The approach is agile, more responsive to customers, and much cheaper than building new factories to manufacture inspection machines abroad.
"Traditional business processes will not cut it in the future," Lennart says. "Our industry is under attack. Other countries can also build high-quality machines and operate from a lower cost base. We need to wake up and move fast to maintain our competitive and technological lead."