Diabatix supports other companies, mostly big multinationals, in the design of cooling components for their machines, vehicles etc. According to CEO and co-founder Lieven Vervecken, thermal engineering or the cooling of things is a secondary problem for many poblems: "No one designs an electrical car to cool it. You design an electrical car to drive it, and you need to cool it as a side-effect. Those companies that put it high on the priority list can really make a difference on the market." Watch the interview!
Good morning Lieven, can you explain what Diabatix does and what your role is in the company?
At Diabatix we support other companies, mostly big multinationals, in the design of cooling components for their machines, vehicles etc. I founded the company two years ago and am its CEO.
What makes Diabatix unique compared with other thermal design companies?
Basically, our technology is unique. We have developed a design tool which is capable of making thermal designs fully autonomously. It’s AI-driven, it runs on supercomputers and it enables us to generate thermal designs which are 20 to 30 percent more effective than what a human engineer would design. That’s really unique, worldwide.
So the design is not created by a human, but the software itself generates the design proposal?
Exactly. The whole design process is fully autonomous. We have a few engineers who translate the input from our customers into our software. We press start and in the end we send the result back to the customer.
You already mentioned that you work mainly for large multinationals. I guess they have already tried things themselves before they come to you?
Most of them have a large internal design team focusing on thermal design such as the cooling of a battery or of an electric motor. We essentially support those teams so as to enable them to generate designs faster and more efficiently.
You are also active in the automotive industry. Can you explain a bit more?
Yes. In fact, when we started with the company, we were giving the advice to “stay away from the automotive industry, or you will suffer a lot”. In short, we failed miserably in following that advice. Last year, about half of our revenue came from the automotive sector. The big reason is that they found us more then we found them. We were contacted by a few big automotive companies and from that point on the ball started rolling. As soon as you’re working for one company, it’s easier to get access to a second one, then a third and so on. It’s a big market, but the world of thermal engineers within that market is rather small in the sense that they all know each other.
So where other companies were saying “The automotive industry is a really difficult market”, for you it was the opposite?
Well, it was easy to get started with something small. But even with the companies that contacted us, it still took more than a year to really get a working relationship off the ground. It is difficult from many points of view. Timelines are huge. Of all the sectors we are in, it’s by far the slowest from the first contact to actually doing something together. Also data security can be very difficult. On data security, we see that OEMs are easier to work with then Tier-1s.
So you have both OEMs and Tier-1s as customers?
Yes, because not all OEMs do thermal designs themselves. That’s also one of the challenges that we face: from our point of view it’s impossible to see whether an OEM is does the thermal design for all or only for some components. If you’re aiming for the OEM and it turns out that it’s the Tier-1 who’s doing the work you basically have to start all over again for the same customer.
What are the technological trends that you see in your projects?
Most of the things that we’re doing in the automotive industry are related to electrical vehicles. The trends in EV are known: they all want to drive faster, accelerate faster and drive longer. Thermal engineering plays a crucial role in all of those trends.
I guess many people do not know that there are such big thermal challenges in an EV.
Yes, even for most of our customers thermal engineering or the cooling of things is a secondary problem. No one designs an electrical car to cool it. You design an electrical car to drive it, and you need to cool it as a side-effect. Those companies that put it high on the priority list can really make a difference on the market. For instance, if you do a Google search for a well-known Californian EV company, you’ll see that they are in the lead from cooling point of view. You see it in the competitive advantages that they have from driving range up to fast charging capability. Cooling is particularly critical with fast charging.
Does that mean you would have to start with integrating the thermal design in the concept phase and not wait until the design is finished?
Absolutely. If you consider thermal design only at the end, you’ll be very limited in what you can achieve. At a certain moment we were asked to help with the design of a battery cold plate for a big German OEM who basically forgot about integrating a cold plate in their battery pack. At the very end they came to the conclusion “Ah, damn it, we have to add one”, and it became very tricky then. The more constraints you have, the less optimal your result will be.
Do you see projects for electrification slowing down because of the coronavirus?
At this moment, we haven’t lost many customers, but business has slowed down significantly. Our customers are typically in R&D. They say that management is now focusing on restarting production and the whole supply chain, so R&D is only at the very end of the restart.
You started your company and entered the automotive sector successfully. What are your tips for people who have a bright idea and want to do something with it??
Well, work hard and be patient. Success doesn’t come overnight. I also don’t consider us to be highly successful yet. We have a nice customer base but we’re far from being the next Facebook. You have to work hard and have patience. An average sales cycle for us takes more than nine months. The automotive sector is certainly pulling the average up. One of the main challenges is collecting references, especially when you’re working for R&D. Secrecy is very important. If we would publish “we are collaborating with X”, the whole world would essentially know that they have a thermal issue or thermal challenges.
Out of 30 multinationals on our customer list, you would definitely recognize 25 names immediately. It’s a bit unfortunate that we cannot mention their names.
So Diabatix is like a problem fixer: everybody wants to work with you, but nobody wants their competitors to know that they’re working with you.
That’s interesting! Thanks a lot Lieven for your time, and we stay in touch!
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