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Interview  with Manuel Domínguez, our group chief digital officer, about the Virtual Lab and other digitalization projects. 

Manuel, can you tell us briefly what the Virtual Lab is for those who are not familiar with it?

Virtual Lab is a revolutionary web platform in the aerospace sector that allows complex tests to be carried out remotely without the need to acquire any instrumentation. With this application, anyone, regardless of where they live, has virtual access to the most advanced testing laboratories and can participate in testing just as if they were physically present in those facilities. It is such an innovative concept that in 2019 it was awarded the first prize for innovation in Germany, and engineering companies from all over the world have participated in it, from Berkeley in the USA to Bombay in India. Thanks to ALTER TECHNOLOGY, any designer can now turn their dreams into reality, since the entire manufacturing process and all reliability tests can be controlled remotely.

Why is simulation so important, and is this enough or do we have to go further?

In space, astronauts and satellites are subjected to very extreme conditions, many of which are difficult to reproduce on the ground – high radiation environments, sudden changes in temperature, vibration, etc. – and reliability requirements are very high. In the end, if something fails in a space probe on Jupiter, it is impossible to replace the part and the whole mission may end in disaster. That's why in space, good design is just the first step. This type of engineering requires complex evaluation and simulation processes in order to anticipate the identification of any failure mode that could damage the spacecraft, as well as the assessment of this degradation once each component has been subjected to the applicable complex laboratory tests. And all this is a great barrier to entry for innovative designs, given that any lack of this knowledge and equipment means that space projects cannot benefit from this type of innovative product. ALTER TECHNOLOGY has developed Virtual Lab to cover this gap, and to allow anyone to embark on space projects, without the need to invest in their own laboratories.

In the current situation in which it is not possible to travel or receive clients, does it serve to differentiate us from our competitors?

Currently, Virtual Lab is the only laboratory in Europe that is capable of offering this type of testing and in the new post-COVID-19 environment, demand will increase greatly in other industrial sectors: EMC, safety, functional, climatic tests, etc. The possibility of participating with just your own mobile phone in tests such as vibration, without having to travel to these laboratories, is experiencing very high demand, and we are being forced to expand the current capacities of the application to respond to such high demand.

What new tests are going to be incorporated into the Virtual Lab? Are you considering trying to reach the point where the whole process can be monitored?

More than 600 different tests are already covered by the platform, and more are being incorporated every day. Our objective is to convert the entire process of supply, assembly, manufacture, verification and testing of any subsystem into a Virtual Smart Factory, so that our clients can focus on their core business and monitor the entire industrialisation process of their solution through Virtual Lab.

How does the Virtual Lab contribute to sustainability?

Sustainability has always been a fundamental principle in the management of ALTER TECHNOLOGY's operations, but with the arrival of Virtual Lab, we have taken another step forward, since the digitalisation of all processes has allowed us to reduce the carbon footprint by avoiding a large number of trips, and reducing paper use and remanufacturing processes caused by unexpected results. It also contributes to improving work-life balance because it allows people to perform monitoring tasks remotely and ensures efficient waste management.

What will the next steps be? Are there any new digitalisation projects in progress?

The most wonderful thing about Digital Transformation projects is that suddenly internal processes become sub-products that are of commercial interest to third parties. Just by way of example, we can mention the ALTER Academy, result of our clients’ requests to access our technicians’ training system that was presented in the International School of Experts on Radiation SERESSA, and which this year will be extended to new areas of knowledge. Or there is the Machine Learning module that has been implemented in the Virtual Lab, which was previously only available for tests in progress, and which we foresee will soon be available to third parties

Well, have good luck with the new projects cause they look very promising and thank you for the interview!