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Manufacture Technology and Equipment, Small Molecules

#2 Looking to a New Reality

What inspired you to create HakoBio?

In a previous life, my business partner (Matthieu Egloff) and I spent a decade working in the biopharma industry where our responsibilities involved product management for bioreactors. We realized there were no simple tools available to help us model production processes. Before implementing these bioreactors, our customers always had the same questions: “What will be the footprint of this technology be? How will it fit my processes? How will it fit in into my cleanroom?”

Our only tool to simulate the integration of bioreactors that cost hundreds of thousands of euros was a PowerPoint presentation. It’s the virtual equivalent of a pen and paper! As an alternative, we resorted to complex engineering tools that weren’t accessible to everyone, as they required training and specialized skills. In the consumer market, on the other hand, if you buy a bathroom, a kitchen, or a house, you can easily download an app that allows you to create a conceptual design of how your space will look in just a few simple clicks.

We saw this as a clear gap and we wanted to come up with something very simple and intuitive that allows you to design your bioproduction space in just a few clicks. At the same time, the industry was shifting towards single use and local production, and there were also multiple initiatives around industry 4.0 and digital transformation. Although people are talking more and more about digitalization, the Internet of Things, connected devices and big data – when you actually look at the market, people don’t really understand what these things mean for their business, or how to best leverage them.

The industry now has multiple tools available that are generating data, but the data is not being exploited. In too many cases, data is captured, put into a nice-looking table, and that is the end of its journey. So we also wanted to empower users to design, operate and exploit the “digital twin” of their factory floor or their production process and really get the most from their data. And so HakoBio was born…

The company:

OUAT! is a digital experiences company, with a focus on creative digital platforms, including 3D modeling and virtual/augmented reality. Their aim is to partner with life science companies to aid digital transformation.

The innovation:

HakoBio is a simple web application that allows users to create and simulate production processes, and then immerse themselves in their creations using virtual and mixed reality. Users have access to an array of technologies modeled in 3D. Through the integration of third-party technologies, the platform can also be used for different applications, impacting the entire production chain, ranging from process planning, to cost and flow simulations, training, monitoring and maintenance.

How does the platform work?

We use two technologies that we really love – virtual and mixed reality (VR and MR). VR is a digital immersive experience that allows you to enter a design or room that is being simulated by a computer, and we have combined VR with motion-capture technology to enable users to interact with a computer-simulated version of their existing facility, or to create and interact with a brand new one they hope to build. MR is a bit different – it allows you to create a holographic version of an item that you can then superimpose on to a real space through the use of a specific device (i.e., Microsoft Hololens). This is especially useful for applications like maintenance of equipment – it allows you to look at your device using AR and see data, run simulations, show your employees how to maintain the equipment, and so on. Using VR and MR allows us to create a whole new experience for our users so that they can plan new spaces and equipment, and also get the most out of their existing set up. 

Ultimately, we aim to create a link between humans, data and equipment in the lab. We want to partner with the industry to bring about digital transformation, and we’re working alongside organizations to understand their needs and challenges, and adapt our technology to meet them. We want to impact every step of the production chain from process planning to operations, training, monitoring and maintenance.

The heart of the platform allows users to create conceptual designs of their facility or their process. Equipment suppliers can use it to help their customer create an end-to-end solution, and to visualize a finished project. We also have add-ons, many of which we’re still developing, to help improve operations, training and maintenance. For example, we are developing an application that will simulate airflow in 3D using air inlet and outlet data. Many of these add-ons have been already developed by our partners; we don’t want to spend too much time developing from scratch if we can integrate existing applications! For example, we have worked with a company that has developed sensors to put on cleanrooms that capture data such as temperature, pressure and humidity – we want to integrate this kind of innovative tool with our technology so that you can create a digital copy of that information within the app and better understand and exploit it.

In terms of training, you can assign questions and multimedia to different pieces of equipment within a virtual or augmented room, which allows you to train users in a very interactive way. You can test not only their understanding of SOPs, but also their practical know-how. Using motion capture, users can perform simple actions, like turning on the bioreactor, and you can assess their performance.

What client examples can you give?

Our work with Pall Biotech is a nice case study for us, because it shows our capability to deploy the platform on a global scale; they have over 500 users in Asia, US and Europe. We are now working with Pall to add additional applications to fully enable this digital transformation.

Sanofi have also been using our technology for the conceptual design of a new facility, and they are looking at how else we can help them with their digital transformation. We’re also working with the UK’s Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, an independent center of excellence to advance the growth of the UK cell and gene therapy industry. VR tools like HakoBio are used to help decide on equipment positioning and mapping of utility supplies to ensure their availability for equipment operation within a large-scale GMP manufacturing center, helping to address manufacturing challenges.

What has the response been like?

It’s been great – with VR and MR, you always have the “wow” effect when people see it for the first time. When you’re proposing something so different, people see you as an innovator and I think it really inspires people to think of all the possible applications of this kind of technology. We already have many users, and with every new one comes new ideas on how we could use our platform differently.

Of course, with anything new there are always challenges. Scientists love to see proof and data before they take a leap with a new technology. We just needed to convince them. And we did. With a solid track record, advocates and an increasing number of users, we have definitely validated the need of the industry to adopt digital transformation strategies!

Why do you think this particular innovation has captured the imagination of our readers?

Our use of VR and MR definitely changed the game and generated a lot of interest, liberating people’s imagination by offering a new approach to simplify their daily work. But it’s more than that: our tool gives power back to the users. We believe in the power of computers and big data, but we also believe that the digital revolution must be human-led to succeed. We want to create the missing links between data, machines and humans – and we’re always looking for ways to improve. If there are readers of The Medicine Maker out there who develop solutions for industry that affect the areas we’re working on, we’d love to hear from them.

Nicolas Vertommen is Co-Founder and CEO of HakoBio at OUAT!, Belgium.

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About the Author
Nicholas Vertommen

Nicolas Vertommen is Co-Founder and CEO of Hakobio at OUAT!, Belgium.

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