It is a bit like in Alice in Wonderland. The entrance to the “ista Technikum” – a white and grey door with a plexiglass pane on the ground floor – is so unimposing that you would never imagine what is behind it. Yet once inside, a whole new world opens up to the visitor.
Openness in the technology centre
The first thing you notice is the spacious conference room. Through the large window façades of the atrium, you have a view of the west district of Essen that also takes in the industrial charm of the surrounding red-brick buildings. Openness is very important in general in ista’s new technology centre. The interior design is based on an open-space concept; the majority of the 75 laboratory workplaces are in bright open-plan offices that are on the ground floor and surrounded by high window fronts. For the employees this means: just a half-turn away from their screen and they’re looking into the verdant square inner courtyard that the Technikum surrounds.
Growing into a technology company
From there it is just a few steps to the cafeteria, which provides coloured seating areas and a coffee bar running into the room and offering a large selection of different coffees. The large screen on the wall proudly states: “We already have 16 million connected devices in use today. And another 400,000 are added every month.” That sounds like a fast pace.
“You’re dead right!” says Achim Dicke, Head of the Products department and boss of the Technikum. Every year ista invests more than 100 million euros in cutting-edge devices and the digital infrastructure to go with them. Digitalisation sets the pace. ista sees this as a great opportunity to evolve from a metering service provider to a digital technology company and therefore continue growing. Not only in terms of sales but also as regards employee numbers. In the next ten years, 500 to 1,000 new jobs are planned worldwide.
Plenty of space for creativity
The necessary research and development resources have been pooled at one place here in the Technikum since the beginning of May 2017. “For us it is important to create an ideal working environment for our employees – one that leaves plenty of space for creativity in spontaneous discussions,” Achim Dicke explains. For in future this will be even more important. “The multi-family building of the future will be energy-efficient, digital and cost-efficient. The Technikum acts like laboratory where we work on making this vision reality for our customers in the housing industry.” To achieve this, they are focusing fully on innovative products and also thinking from the very beginning about new technological approaches such as the “Internet of Things” where devices are connected directly to the Internet.
Science guarantees quality
And now how will this all be put into practice? You get the answer when you follow Achim Dicke along the other corridors of the technology centre. At each and every stop, it is all about innovation, cost effectiveness and quality. Every product idea – whether it’s a new version of a heat cost allocator, a heat meter or a smoke alarm device – has to pass many tests and inspections before it goes into series production.
Complex development processes
Innovation can, for example, mean integrating a new powerful chip or new sensors as a module into an already existing device model. Using special software, an employee simulates the physical conditions first of all on the screen and develops the mathematical formulae for how a smoke alarm device can optimally detect smoke particles in its surroundings. At the next workplace, a 3D model of the new heat meter flies through the air like in a computer game and turns about its own axis.
Science – nothing left to chance
But the ideas also have to be grounded and above all work perfectly in practice. Therefore, great emphasis is already placed on quality during the device development stage. The prototypes are put through their paces in different laboratories. Heat meters, for example, have to pass a climatic test in a machine which does not just look like an oven. Temperature shock chambers are ready and waiting to test heat cost allocators. The company’s own “Security Lab” takes care of continuously enhancing data security. Nothing is left to chance in the Technikum on the way from the first idea, the concept, module development and integration of the electronics and mechanics through quality management and ultimately to industrialisation including pilot-run testing.
Space for research
It is all the more astonishing that at the end of the 2,100 square metres you find yourself standing in an empty room. Here and there hoists hang from the high ceilings of the pilot-run testing area, but otherwise you’re just looking at a lot of empty space. “We wanted to have a flexible empty space that we can use for new production start-ups once the development of a new product is complete, before the production facilities are then smoothly transferred to the ista suppliers,” says Achim Dicke. How this area will fill up in the coming weeks and months depends on the new ideas of the employees and their projects.
When you stand outside again in the west district of Essen at the end of the visit, you have long since forgotten the entrance door with the plexiglass pane. For you leave by a very large open door.
“The multi-family building of the future will be energy-efficient, digital and cost- efficient. The Technikum acts like laboratory where we work on making this vision reality for our customers in the housing industry.”