Wolfgang Stelzle Reflects on New AREA Member RE’FLEKT
In just seven years, RE’FLEKT has grown to be a major provider of AR solutions to blue-chip companies like ABB, Audi, BASF, BMW, Bosch, Hyundai, Porsche, Siemens and Thyssen Krupp. Founder and CEO Wolfgang Stelzle now leads a team of more than 60 employees in Munich and San Francisco. We sat down with him recently to learn more about his company and its rapid rise.
AREA: RE’FLEKT’s growth seems quite robust; to what do you attribute your success?
WOLFGANG STELZLE: There are four major factors. First, we’ve been in the industry for a while; both my co-founder, Kerim Ispir, and I have been working in the AR space since 2010 and we founded the company a little later in 2012. This is a lot of time in the tech/AR space to gain in-depth experience. Second, our REFLEKT ONE and REFLEKT Remote products closly follow our differentiated and innovative approach as a company with a customer base in the industrial sector. Third, we have good relationships with our partners and investors, including Bosch, BASF Ventures, Microsoft, Prosegur and Siemens. This is essential as we receive strong support for our products, which helps grow the company. Last but not least, we’ve built a strategic partner ecosystem of technology providers, resellers, and service partners. All of these factors have contributed to our growth, and we hope, will help build a successful future.
AREA: Has RE’FLEKT made a deliberate effort to make it easier for companies to ease their way into AR adoption; for example, by using their existing CAD drawings to build solutions?
STELZLE: Yes. Our solution is not just using the CAD information by manually copying and pasting it into a “what you see is what you get” editor for Augmented Reality. Instead, we designed a tool that really leverages your existing IT infrastructure so that your technical information or CAD systems can be used for creating any sort of AR content based on what you already have. Our product approach is to enhance those systems and give technical authors the ability to publish to Augmented Reality in addition to the manuals, PDFs, and websites where they currently produce. Since it all happens in one place, technical authors don’t have to change their existing authoring structure, which makes it much easier to establish AR in technical authoring.
AREA: Why has RE’FLEKT been particularly successful in the automotive market?
STELZLE: One key factor is that our HQ is located in Munich, Germany, close to some of Europe’s largest OEMs. Second, Bosch’s involvement with us as a partner and investor has opened many doors in the automotive industry. Also, a core feature of our product is object recognition, which is particularly helpful when you’re dealing with cars and other vehicles. And finally, the automotive industry is continuously driving progress and innovation. They’re always looking for new ways to reduce costs and develop new products – two areas in which AR has huge potential.
AREA: Could you share with us any examples of ROI from companies using RE’FLEKT?
STELZLE: This is still one of the most difficult questions to answer reliably and accurately, particularly for RE’FLEKT, as we are a platform vendor and do not always have direct access to customer data after deployment. However, I can tell you that, based on a study of about 100 users, Bosch has solid data showing savings of 15% in training costs by using RE’FLEKT solutions. I would also point out that ROI is very use case-dependent, so that number could be completely different for another customer and use case.
AREA: What do you see as the biggest obstacles to AR adoption today?
STELZLE: There are many. One research project has identified more than 40 hurdles to AR adoption. Here are three that I think are the most significant. First is the need. A machine manufacturer needs a screw if a machine breaks, but he doesn’t necessarily need AR to address that; the pain isn’t big enough yet in many areas. That will change as manufacturers face the knowledge gap in the future. Second, in various areas, the technology is still not yet mature enough. Many of the AR glasses are still balky, battery life is short, or they are simply not yet enterprise-ready. We also take a close look at tracking possibilities, where there is also still room for improvement, particularly in outdoor environments. Finally, it’s still costly for companies to get started with Augmented Reality and create the first content. That last hurdle is one RE’FLEKT is working hard to overcome. But even so, sometimes the data within a corporation is not very well structured. Many customers have told us that before they can implement AR, they have to reorganize their data. I believe all of these things will change in the near future.
AREA: RE’FLEKT has recently opened offices in the United States. Can you tell us what your near-term strategic priorities are?
STELZLE: A top priority is to expand our partner ecosystem in many areas – technical information systems, CAD systems, and service providers. Second is investing in expanding our sales and marketing efforts to make it easier for our customers to get started with AR – with proper content, case studies, ROI studies, and so on. Then of course, we’re working hard to take advantage of all the new developments, such as the Microsoft HoloLens 2 and other new hardware products. Longer term, it’s all about fulfilling our vision of making the maintenance and operation of complex machinery as easy as using a simple home appliance. We don’t just look at Augmented Reality, but instead we always think of actual problems as well as the systems around that can help solve that problem. For example, if a machine breaks, AR isn’t the only thing that needs to be considered. It’s the communication of the machine with the Internet of Things. It’s the smart selection of a solution for the user. It’s the feedback to the system to learn from the environment. We will continue our product development to make that vision a reality.
AREA: What do you hope to gain by being a member of the AREA?
STELZLE: First and foremost, it is important for all of us to shape the market with an independent, objective organization like the AREA that provides content that we can all make use of. We also want to leverage the network and its activities for joint sales and marketing. Equally important is knowledge exchange with the other partners in the AREA network and get to know different perspectives on the market. It’s all about learning – learning from the work of the AREA, learning from research institutions, and learning from customers. Our people are already participating in the committee work, including security, marketing, and research.