Industry Pioneers: Bernd Becker

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It’s not that often that you find two brothers working together in the high tech industry (David and Bruce Hall at Velodyne come to mind), but Bernd Becker credits his brother Reinhard with a large part of his success in becoming a laser scanning industry pioneer. So I think this really is a story about the two of them, Bernd the software engineer/business manager and Reinhard with a degree in medicine turned laser scanner physicist.

While Bernd was working with the prestigious Fraunhofer Applied Research Group for Automation (1982- 1996) he and his brother co-founded AESOP GmbH in 1990 for the purpose of commercializing the factory simulation and optimization software (SIMPLE++) that Bernd had developed as part of his Ph.D. research.

For the next six years Reinhard would lead AESOP while Bernd would continue working for Fraunhofer where he would start a new factory logistics team that he grew from zero to 40 full time engineers and 120 students in 5 years. He notes, "The group worked on consulting projects applying my software knowledge of simulation to optimize all kinds of factory flow for automotive, airplane, train systems, metal fabrication, semiconductor fabrication and other industries."

Meanwhile Reinhard would quickly grow AESOP into the market leader in just three years and the brothers would sell the company to Tecnomatix in 1996. (I worked for a software start-up at that timethe PC was revolutionary.) At that point Bernd left Fraunhofer to join Tecnomatix where for the next four years their main customer group would be the automotive industry. This would prove to be the bridge to the next major venture for Bernd and Reinhard.

In 2001, the Becker brothers started iQvolution. The car makers they had been working for had seen the benefits of 3DCAD in designing their new products and they wanted that same ability for modeling their plants. Bernd recalls, "I told them that it could be done, surely with a laser instrument, but I did not have A CLUE how we do it." Now that is the true pioneer spirit!

Initially Audi wanted to fund a large project, but Bernd wanted to find a solution first. He did some market research and soon found himself meeting with Cyra, Riegl and Z&F. They rented some units, but quickly learned that the existing laser scanning technology in 2001 was not fast enough, did not have a sensible field of view and it was far too clumsy (heavy, no battery, no onboard PC).

Having just come from a successful software business venture Bernd remembers, "The software was just terrible." But as any successful entrepreneur will tell you, "We did some test projects with what we had, we got AUDI into the game and we kept them interested with a promising outlook for the future." He got them to dream. This reminds me of the one thing that all successful businesses have in commoncustomers.

In the early days iQvolution AG was a small team of five to seven people. They started by offering scanning services, which as Bernd remembers, "Went horribly slowly, were tedious and thus expensive." One of the first breakthroughs for the company was on the software side. "In just a short time we developed our own software that was capable of handling quite large projects," Bernd noted.

The major issue facing the company was the rented hardware. It was either super slow or badly calibrated and unstable. The purchase prices were very high and a typical rental fee was several thousand per day. This major bottleneck was jeopardizing the future of the company.

In 2002 the brothers decided to take on the development of their own laser scanner. Bernd remembers, "We started with some crazy prototypes using existing sensor units. But we quickly learned they were far too inaccurate, noisy, short range and slow. At the same time we were totally convinced that we could change the world."

With some help from a physics lab we started to develop what at that time was a fast, accurate phase shift sensor. All of the mechanics, electronics and firmware were developed in-house. "We had a great R&D Team that we trusted 100% to get it doneover time. Yes there were many hard days and disappointments, but we were totally sure it will work," Bernd recalls.

They also had an extremely engaged team that was providing 3D-scanning and modeling services. "We did some amazing jobs like scanning and modeling the whole BMW-Leipzig plant in 2004," Bernd proudly remembers.

In 2003 Bernd took one of the early scanner designs to InterGEO. The reaction was very positive. The unit was the smallest, lightweight scanner ever shown. This was the same unit that they were using to scan plants for the automotive industry. In effect, they were their own customersa business model that others (Quantapoint) in the industry were also using.

IQvolution AG was pioneering the use of laser scanning for the automotive industry. "We were doing projects worldwide for AUDI, VW, BMW, Mercedes, NISSAN and some in the chemical industry. In just four years the services business grew to revenue in the multimillion ," Bernd noted, "but the goal was always to become a product company, as we were with AESOP."

Therefore, in 2004 the brothers shifted gears and began selling their hardware and software. In a short time they had sold 15 systems generating approximately 1.5 million . Now the company had the funds to expand both sides of their business. They quickly grew to 60+ employees with modeling subsidiaries in Bulgaria and Slovakia.

"Still it became clear that a small private owner teamReinhard and mewill not be able to survive for long as we lacked the required money for larger sales and marketing success," Bernd recalls. In 2005 they decided to sell their company to FARO where Bernd continues to work as the Chief Technology Officer and Reinhard is the VP of Engineering developing all the laser scanners and software.

Bernd credits the forward thinking automotive customers, his brother and FAROs management, including Simon Raab, Jay Freeland, and Siggi Buss for believing in the technology and investing a tremendous amount into its development. When Bernd is not working he enjoys spending time with his family, skiing and music.

Bernd believes that the surveying community understands the benefits of laser scanning, but he wonders how quickly other markets like architecture and law enforcement will adopt it. For these markets he believes the technology must be easy to use, especially the software and most importantly, low cost.

Looking to the future Bernd believes that it is really all about 3D. Laser scanning is just one of the technologies he is working on. Bernd has been too busy to think about switching careers. When asked for his "words of wisdom" he replied, "Look to constantly solve problems. See the customer as the source of all problems/tasks to be tackled. Ask questions that nobody asks or can answer. Do the best job in the world in what you major in. Stay passionate, agile and learn every day!"

It has certainly worked for this industry pioneer and his brother.

Gene Roe is the Managing Editor and Co-Founder of LiDAR Magazine.

A 390Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE