Graph in the Auto Industry: The 5-Minute Interview with Elena Kohlwey

“Neo4j was really helpful with our problem. What used to take weeks and weeks and a group of highly experienced engineers now only takes minutes and some clicks,” said Elena Kohlwey, Digital Engineering Specialist with RLE.

Today’s 5-minute interview is with Graphie Award winner Elena Kohlwey, a Specialist in Digital Engineering with RLE International in Germany, who will discuss how RLE International uses Neo4j in engineering for the automotive industry.

Why did you get started with Neo4j?

We looked for a solution for a very specific problem that I want to explain to you. For that, I want to take you a bit through the automotive industry. Until recently, the startup companies in the automotive industry had a huge entry barrier.

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But that has changed now with the electrification of cars. More and more startups come into the market with a variety of individual ideas, for example, the integration of solar panels into the vehicle exterior, or electrified low-trim utility pickups.

What all these startups have in common is that they need to get an overview very quickly on the investment concerning timing, human resources, and budgets, in order to realize their project.

Now to what I do with Neo4j. RLE International has been an automotive engineering services provider for the last 35 years. And as such, they have worked with a variety of automotive companies throughout the world.

Hence, the company has collected a lot of process knowledge. I collect this knowledge from the employees’ minds and put it into a huge knowledge graph. And then startups can come to us and query this knowledge graph in order to obtain an individually tailored project plan for their individual project. Before we had Neo4j, this was all done in a huge Excel spreadsheet with over 200 tabs.

Every single tab represented one single process within the automotive development. These tabs were all interconnected with each other, representing the predecessors and successors. If a company came to us asking for a specific project plan, a huge group of experienced engineers had to work through the whole Excel sheet, and through all the 200 tabs, to calculate durations of those processes and resource requirements, in order to get a good plan.

This was of course very tedious, time consuming, and also very subjective which is not true anymore with the graph. That’s how we came to use Neo4j.

What makes Neo4j suited to solve this problem?

When we have those Excel sheets with those 200 tabs, they are all linked together. But of course, extra linking is not the same. You can click on something, then you come to the next tab, but you still have to keep everything in mind.

And when you calculate durations, you need to keep all the links in mind. That’s really very, very hard. With Neo4j everything is just there. You can just look at the graph and you’ll see all the links. During our calculation, the graph takes care of everything. That’s why it’s so important for us.

What have been surprising results you’ve seen?

Neo4j was really helpful with our problem. What used to take weeks and weeks and a group of highly experienced engineers now only takes minutes and some clicks.

With the time saving that the software that I conceived gives us, we can even start thinking about the optimization of plans and also conduct business plan gaming. This was not possible before because if one parameter changed for a project plan, the whole thing had to be recalculated manually, because you could never know where this parameter has an effect in the process.

But now we just change the parameters of the program, recalculate in the graph, and the new project plan is there directly.

What are some of your favorite parts of the Neo4j community?

I really like the Neo4j community. It’s a very friendly place. If I got stuck with any problems, I knew that I could turn to the community with questions or problems to discuss. It’s a really nice place.

Also what I really like is the Neo4j Ninja program that was launched a year ago. Those exclusive sessions have really helped me to boost my programming experience and also to support the development of the software as it is now.

What’s your favorite part of working with Neo4j?

I really like the ease of debugging. I just go into the graph, have a look on the nodes and the edges and all the attributes, and then I can find my problems and my box really quickly. And that makes a programmer’s life really a lot easier than with other stuff.

What do you think the future holds for graph technology?

As of now my program is running as it’s supposed to run, but of course there’s so much more to explore and to do.

Next in my program I want to integrate more graph data science and artificial intelligence algorithms to explore the knowledge graph even more profoundly. I also want to introduce more intelligent functions for future customers.

As for the graph technology future, I think Neo4j’s slogan, “graphs are everywhere,” is really true. So there are just so many applications for graph databases. As for us, we have a lot more projects that we want to discover using graphs. I think graph databases will get more and more popular in all industries once the right people discover their usefulness and their potential.

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Interested in how graphs are being used in the automotive industry?

Read this customer success story about how a global auto manufacturer reduces time to market with a knowledge graph.

Read the Case Study