Always reach out and offer a hand
umlaut manager Lucas Kempe is still hoping to optimise his own digital twin. Virtual simulations are enabling his customers to save millions.
Lucas Kempe adjusts his colourful star-design leggings, takes a couple of large strides and moves aside a little from the field of the Berlin Marathon: a photo shoot surrounded by thousands of runners! He has around four seconds available for the perfect picture for our article. A broad smile and a thumbs up with his sponsor's running shirt clearly visible – this isn't the first time he's done this. On this particular day, Lucas goes on to finish the Berlin Marathon with a time of 2:55:33. Just a practice run, he tells us – as a "pacer", he is setting the pace for a friend who is also a sportsman. Lucas has a much bigger goal in mind: before retiring from competitive sport, he hopes to become world champion in Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). He and his team have already achieved second place twice.
A couple of days before the Berlin Marathon, umlaut's Team Leader for Digital Twins spends his lunch break recording a video interview by the River Isar. The sun is shining over Munich – a great location for business appointments that also allows Lucas to take some exercise. The watch on his wrist gives away the fact that he is collecting data with every step. In his current role, Lucas and his team of more than 20 colleagues develop digital twins, in particular digital copies of manufacturing plants. The basis for this is a game engine. As a user, you move through virtual worlds in order to test plant and equipment before they are erected – or to train employees on machines whilst they are running and to monitor the machinery. Today, users can also explore these 3D replicas with virtual or augmented reality headsets. "We feed these virtual depictions with real design and construction data and company data, every screw can be surveyed and replicated, and the virtual operating panel uses live data from production," says Lucas.
Will digital twins soon be cleverer than their siblings?
The simulations help companies to save millions of euros. As virtual collaboration platforms, umlaut's digital twins assist with the generation of ideas and with planning and implementation, right through to testing and the commissioning of entire production lines for customers in the aviation sector and other industries. "We can generate added value right from the start –simulations allow us to uncover errors in virtual planning, before they can happen in reality. Digital copies are especially helpful in the training and education of new employees," says Lucas. The idea: in future, digital twins will be cleverer than their real-life siblings. This is a multi-stage process: onto the digital replica we add a simulation of the functionality of the various elements, then live data is integrated from production for analysis and, in the future – at least this is the hope – the machinery should be able to act autonomously, so that errors along the entire process can be detected and remedied.
Lucas is currently having problems with a heel spur, "from standing around in my smart business shoes at the ILA in Berlin and the FIA in London," he says. The idea that his body could optimise itself is something that Lucas still sees as a vision. He has already tried experimenting with a glycogen patch to optimise his blood sugar level. "Trackers like these, the patch or my watch have only recently found their way into my life. For many years, I simply listened to my own body," he says. Because of his job, he now has to be more efficient in the way he trains and in regard to his sleep and his nutrition, and the health data he obtains helps with this. Nowadays, four to eight hours of training per week alongside his job have to suffice. He also manages to combine sport with having a bit of fun: on the way to work on his bike, Lucas goes past Lake Feringa – sometimes he jumps into the water for a half-an-hour swim. At the weekend, he may decide on the spur of the moment to head off into the mountains for some marathon distance altitude training.
Runner-up in the world championships through a chance happening
A lot of things in Lucas's life happen by chance. A couple of years ago at a birthday party, he met one of the company founders and was offered a job straight away, with no further questions asked. Prior to this, he had spent 15 months working in the mines in Australia, picking fruit, working as a chef and running poker tournaments – as part of the Work and Travel scheme. "I never intended to go to university – back in Berlin, I embarked on a degree in Aerospace Technology, a subject that some people rather unkindly call the degree course for failed pilots," he tells us. He has always been a keen sportsman – first of all as a runner and then, after his military service, as a fitness and running coach. After hearing an advert on the radio, he applied for a place in a 10 km obstacle course race which the broadcaster was offering in a prize draw. Lucas won a place in the race and went on to win first prize with such an impressive lead that the radio team also got the best team score. Later, he was noticed by Brooks and adidas who offered him sponsorship, and he started to travel the world. "It all happened amazingly fast," says Lucas, looking back.
Just under a year after his first race, he was off to America for the World's Toughest Mudder competition – a 24-hour obstacle course race in the Nevada desert. The contestants have to run through sand and mud – and also through electric shock tapes and water obstacles and over a 13-metre high cliff. At the end, Lucas and his team were surprised to find they had become runners-up to the world champions. Two years later, his team initially gained third place, but then the winning team was excluded on account of doping and they moved up a place to become runners up once again!
In 2019, he joined two women and three men from Tokyo, London, Bucharest, Los Angeles and Paris to take part in "TSP – the Speed Project", a race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, with free choice of the route taken. They ran from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a route that they had chosen themselves. " The tactic we used was interval running: 90 seconds of running and then 180 seconds riding an e-bike to the next starting point. In two teams of three, we swapped over every 90 minutes so we could get some sleep," he says. On the route: asphalt, scree, desert. In the end, his team achieved second place across the 550 kilometre course. "The winning team found a shorter route, saving 70 km. You can't make up for that by running faster," says Lucas, explaining why they hadn’t made it into first place.
"It's all about working together"
The lessons learned from team sport also help Lucas in his current job at umlaut. When dealing with his customers, he always advocates for team solutions and tries to improve collaboration. In many corporate groups, they are still today working in silos. "A team builds a work station on the production line – it's not until afterwards that the Health & Safety team comes along and inspects the results. In the worst case, the station is unsuitable due to the lack of feedback and has to be reworked," says Lucas. If everyone works together digitally from the start on a realistically visualised three-dimensional replica, mistakes such as these can be avoided – and cost savings can therefore be achieved.
In an obstacle race, it's always important to reach out a hand to offer help, as Lucas tells us. If you have overcome an obstacle, then you turn around and help the person behind you. For Lucas, who was born and bred in Berlin, the focus has always been on having fun, hence the brightly-coloured star-design leggings. This year, for the first time, he put together a team from umlaut to take part in the "Spartan Race in Munich", a six-kilometre race in the Olympic Stadium through a course that included going through fire, moving hand over hand on hanging equipment, throwing spears and tower running. A complete success, as can clearly be seen from the team photo. "It doesn't matter who gets through the course first – the key thing is that you all manage it together," says Lucas.
Next year, he wants to finally gain the title of world champion, together with his running partner. This year, his partner unfortunately contracted Covid shortly before the event. "And if it doesn't work out, I'm sure I'll find another challenge somewhere in the world – until then, I want to carry on optimising my performance!"