The Future of Information Retrieval for Engineers - from Inspiration to Innovation

We've all been through it. That moment when we’re faced with a technical problem; a part of the washing machine is broken or your bicycle brakes have stopped working and need replacing. What’s the first thing we do? We ask our favourite search engine for solutions. One group of people who face technical problems on a daily basis are engineers, but their problems are often far more complex than those mentioned above. You might be surprised to hear that engineers also predominantly use standard search engines to find solutions. However, the search is usually not very productive, even though it is especially important for engineers to find optimal and innovative solutions. Why is that?

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.

Due to the high labour costs in Germany, many local industrial companies are under pressure to be more innovative than international competitors. Above all to remain competitive. A fundamental component of innovation is discovering new and relevant technologies and applying them in production or products. In this way, the quality and value of the products can be increased or the production costs lowered. An essential task of engineers is therefore to identify and evaluate new technologies in order to solve problems or to improve production processes.

How do engineers obtain information?

Traditionally, engineers inform themselves about new technical developments at trade fairs, conferences, or specialist events. This is very expensive for companies due to often long travel distances and costs for lodge and transport. On top of that, only solutions from suppliers who are physically on site can be found. Trade journals are also a way to obtain information on specialist topics. But not all articles are relevant here and many engineers don’t have the time to flick trough several trade journals to find one piece of relevant information. In recent years, digital channels, such as search engines and web portals have been gaining in popularity. The Corona crisis has accelerated this once again. The advantage: Information is available independent of time and location. But quick and easy access to information does not always prove to be efficient.

The paradox of retrieving digital information

One might think that the more information is available on the Internet, the easier it is to find suitable answers and information. It turns out, it’s the other way around. Every day, about 54 billion gigabytes of new information land on the internet - and the trend is growing exponentially. Especially when searching for specialized information, like engineers do, you’ll get masses of irrelevant search results. One reason is that search engines simply don’t understand the complexity of technical topics. According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute, engineers in Germany spend 16% of their working time searching for suitable information. This results in enormous costs for companies.

The solution: The Digital Engineer

To solve this problem, ROKIN is developing the "Digital Engineer". This is a personalised information channel adapted to the engineer's problem. Using artificial intelligence in the form of natural language processing algorithms, the tool analyses and understands large amounts of data and makes the relevant information available to the engineer. The Digital Engineer thus combines two key characteristics: the ability of a machine to search through millions of data-sets in a short amount of time and the understanding of an engineer to evaluate and select technical content.

From inspiration to innovation

The Digital Engineer comprises two products which support engineers in a way that is tailored to their specific situation: the TrendMonitor and the ProblemSolver.

The ProblemSolver is a search engine that is still in its test phase. If the engineer has a technical problem, they can simply input it via a browser and receive suitable information at the push of a button. Unlike conventional search engines, the ProblemSolver will also contain special filter functions that will make the search faster and easier.

The TrendMonitor, on the other hand, will help engineers to stay up to date with their fields of interest and specialist topics. Engineers first define their individual topics on which they want to be informed. ROKIN then matches the topics with specialist articles from the most important sources and filters out the essential ones. With a one-off effort, the engineer receives suitable articles every week by e-mail. This saves engineers from visiting several websites and tediously searching for suitable information. They receive inspiration for their technical projects and can use the time saved to drive their own innovations forward.

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Thomas Kinkeldei