Long before smart homes, there were smart factories, which were the test arenas of the solutions we use today in our houses and cars. The significant changes in our lives most often start at the whiteboard of research and development engineers.

The new trends of open manufacturing meet an obvious business need for “agility” – innovation must be a natural part of the business. With this logic, large multinationals are already creating collaborative platforms such as the “Open Manufacturing Platform” between BMW Group and Microsoft and the rival project “Open Industry 4.0 Alliance” by Kuka, SAP, and others. The goal is to share technological solutions for production processes by opening code and blueprints, to enable optimized integration and maximized productivity.

Dimitar TomovMeanwhile, one Bulgarian startup got ahead of everyone, as it first opened to the world the design of its industrial metal detector. Metal detection is a universal need in every manufacturing, mainly for filtering final products and protecting machines from accidents. That is an industrial problem thoroughly researched by Dimitar Tomov, the founder of DesignFirst. He is one of the first engineers we meet in Bulgaria with an apparent aim of creating new technological products for industrial users. Before deciding to create his products, he spent some time researching and developing new technologies for leading companies, including Siemens Hearing Aids (now part of the Sivantos Group). His experience in major manufacturers has been distilled to a crucial discovery: Industry 4.0 not only automates processes but also creates new production management needs.

The young tech company already has a working prototype that can be integrated into production called MDv3 (metal detector version 3). It is being promoted as the world’s first open-design industrial metal detector – any factory in China and Africa can use the shared blueprints and instructions to manufacture a fully functional metal detector for every type of production. This implies a new generation business model and competition with more focus on continuous product improvements and a clear incentive for long-term partnerships.

DesignFirst Open metal detector board

The Bulgarian startup will also focus on one of the critical processes – cybersecurity of connected industries. Any device with a digital interface is potentially subject to malicious attacks. Any analog device can be neglected by employees in a factory, such as a faulty configuration. Metal detectors are a combination of both analog and digital electronics, as well as algorithms for signal processing. Technological innovation in MDv3 is the ability to add a new layer of software-independent security that can guarantee the state of the machine. This creates a new level of trust that is expected to be in particularly high demand for industrial purposes. And later, it will find a domestic application in the IoT world.

The entire team of the technology company consists of automation engineers, based in Bulgaria. An essential prerequisite for choosing a location is access to industrial customers from a wide range of industries. Despite the known problems of the small and remote market, the high concentration of new industrial sectors in Eastern Europe seems to make it attractive to test new, bold product development and business models. All this, combined with enthusiastic engineering talent, gives a stable position to countries like Bulgaria in the modern industrial era.