A journey into innovation at the Infralab in Haifa

Published on Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Three hundred square metres of laboratories in which to develop and test technology solutions for the Enel Group’s Infrastructure and Networks Division. Six months ago Enel opened the new Haifa Infralab, which was presented officially on 6 March 2019. It becomes the second centre for collaboration with the most promising Israeli startups, following the Tel Aviv Hub which was inaugurated in 2016, and the tenth in Enel’s global network of hubs and labs dedicated to open and sustainable innovation.

The Network Digital Twin

“Infralab is part of our network of laboratories and, together with our labs in Milan, Italy and Sao Paulo, Brazil, a particular focus of its work is on Network Digital Twin,” explains Robert Denda, Head of Network & Technology Innovation at Enel Global Infrastructure and Networks.  Network Digital Twin is a new solution that uses multiple technologies, from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to drone scanning, to create a virtual copy of networks and plants that is completely identical in every respect to the real life structures, and thus facilitates the data driven management of the networks.  “This is very important to us,” emphasised Ernesto Ciorra, Enel Chief Innovability Officer, “because we can train personnel using copies of the networks, we can carry out simulations, increase efficiency and move faster in all the activities linked to grid management.”

Startup scouting

Established through the joint venture between Enel and Shikun & Binui, a leading Israeli construction company, with the support of the Israel Innovation Authority, Infralab has already activated collaborations with 4 startups, which are set to be joined by a further 10. “The 14 startups involved,” explains Yogev Katzir, CEO of Enel Infralab, “will work closely with Enel technicians and engineers to explore all the possible aspects of Network Digital Twin, focussing in particular on technology linked to data acquisition, Artificial Intelligence, the innovative use of drones and new solutions to regulate and increase network resilience.”

“We are very well-integrated into the Israeli innovation ecosystem, we scout for relevant startups here that we can put in contact with Enel,” confirms Eran Levy, General Manager of the Enel Innovation Hub in Tel Aviv and Board Member of the Haifa Infralab.  “The Tel Aviv Hub is focussed on growing startups that already have working technology, clients and are ready for the market.  The Haifa Infralab, on the other hand, will deal with startups that are still at the beginning of the process and will assist in their development. In both cases, we help these companies implement their technologies and their business”.

Between murals and cutting-edge technology

Infralab is organised into four large spaces, where sophisticated instruments, cutting-edge equipment and prototypes take their place alongside the black and white graffiti left over from years gone by when the building housed one of the most famous nightclubs in the city.  The project to reclaim the outside area has retained the striking murals on the original building, adapting the designs to fit the theme of technological innovation.

The first area, Open Space, is for the startups hosted at Infralab.  Among those working here is Pixtier, the company developing the main nucleus of Network Digital Twin.  “We are creating a 3D map of Enel’s entire infrastructure and assets, thereby providing the company with the tools to analyse and maintain the networks and assist in ensuring the efficiency, security and resilience of the infrastructures, generating savings and offering users improved services,” explains the CEO Dror Ouzana.  At a nearby workstation the startup Field Bit is working on the interface that will enable the man-machine interaction in Network Digital Twin: these are augmented reality solutions for the smart-glass technology that field operators will use to receive remote assistance from technicians and engineers and to access data and information contained in the virtual system. 

The second space is the Maker Area.  “Here the startups can physically develop their solutions,” says Simone Cuni, Chief Technology Officer of Infralab, “creating prototypes in aluminium, carbon and steel using numerically controlled 3D printers and other pioneering technologies.”  The prototypes on show include a drone destined to change the way that linear infrastructures, such as roads, oil pipelines and railway lines, are created.  “The route where the infrastructure will be created is first traced by placing stakes in the ground,” explains Liav Muler, cofounder of Civdrone, “a job done today by hand, very slowly, inefficiently and expensively.  Our drone will do it automatically and quickly, following the outline traced in the project designs.”  Meanwhile, the startup NoManDig is developing a system to use GPR (Ground Penetration Radar) to find out what lies underground and, thereby, avoid “damaging water pipes, electricity or communication cables or other infrastructures during digging work,” its CEO, Eliyahu Attias explains.

The third area, Electric Lab, is provided with equipment for electronic welding and a low voltage network for carrying out simulations.  Here the startup PDP Tech is testing a new, real-time monitoring and analysis system for preventative maintenance of the networks using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.  “By monitoring the partial discharges, we are able to work out the real condition of high voltage equipment and the grid, predicting potential problems, such as malfunctions and blackouts,” explains Dany Michaelis, PDP Tech CEO.  This solution will have important effects on the development of that aspect of Network Digital Twin linked to the Internet of things (IoT), which is a key focus of the work of the Milan Hub&Lab. 

In order to facilitate the continuous exchange with the startups based in the labs in Italy and Brazil, a fourth space, Window, has been created. This meeting room has two giant screens to provide the Haifa Infralab with a virtual window onto everything happening in the other innovation ecosystems of the Enel network.

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