Once again, this year’s Hanover Fair lived up to its reputation as THE event to attend to see where our industry is heading. No other event or conference offers the same combination of presence of industry players and access to C-level executives. So what makes this show so successful? The answer is simple: Hanover is keeping pace with rapid developments and even anticipating the advent of important new technologies.
This year’s show continued the focus on the convergence of IT and OT and introduced two game-changing technologies that are more than just buzzwords: 5G cellular communications and artificial intelligence. Here, in part 1 of this two-part ARC Insight, we focus on the show itself and the trends we observed.
2016: The Year We Discovered the Edge
The Hanover Fair hasn’t always been this dynamic; then something happened in 2016. That was the year that our industry stopped debating the merits of Industrie 4.0 and the Industrial IoT and started implementing those approaches instead. It was also the year in which industrial companies discovered “the edge.” Suppliers showed products and solutions for data analysts using newly empowered edge devices. IT companies exhibited with partner booths to demonstrate new collaborations with industry partners. Industrial communications consortia spoke of a future with a single Ethernet-based network and a common protocol. Cloud platforms for industrial users popped up like so many cumuli on the horizon. And best of all; start-up companies, a hitherto rare species, exhibited unique, future-oriented concepts and solutions.
This year, many suppliers have finally moved beyond the focus on edge computing and analytics, and into practical application areas of IT-enabled technologies such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence (AI). While AI is still in its infancy in the industrial world, there is no shortage of use cases in every area of manufacturing.
Hanover Fair In Numbers
First organized in 1947, the Hanover Fair remains the largest industrial trade show worldwide. This year’s edition attracted more than 215,000 visitors; 40 percent of these came from outside Germany. Top visitor countries after Germany were China, the Netherlands, Italy, and the US.
This year, 6,500 exhibitors from around the world presented solutions for the future of manufacturing and energy supply, including more than 500 examples of the deployment of artificial intelligence in industrial manufacturing, 5G applications, and solutions for the energy and mobility transitions. Robotics was also a major draw for visitors. Partner Country, Sweden, was represented by 160 exhibiting companies.
The Danish enterprise, OnRobot A/S, received this year’s Hermes Award for its Gecko Gripper. The runners-up were forwardttc (in cooperation with KUKA) and the MASKOR Institute. The Gecko Gripper is modelled on structures found in the feet of certain reptiles. Millions of microscopically fine hairs create van der Waals forces when they contact smooth surfaces. This results in strong adhesion and anti-shearing force without the need to use any power for the purpose. The object is released simply by tilting the gripper surfaces.
Partner Country: Sweden
Staged under the motto, "Sweden Co-Lab", Sweden's Partner Country showcase was all about innovation and collaboration. Announced as the most “chill“ place at the fair, the Swedish pavilion presented itself as an open, accessible area where the country showcased 13 industry-changing projects using the ”power of collaboration.” Major Swedish companies like ABB, Ericsson, SKF, Tetra Pak, and Combient contributed as well as a host of innovative SMEs.
Hanover Trends: Get Them While They're Hot!
Thanks to the ongoing IIoT trend and the influence of commercial IT on automation, Hanover was once again hotbed for trendspotting. Here’s what ARC analysts saw at this year’s show.
5G: Coming Soon to an Industry Near You
Imagine a factory or process plant in which wireless signals replace most cables. Applications from equipment monitoring to closed-loop control are executed “over the air,” and cable marshalling becomes a historical footnote. 5G cellular technology may make this dream come true.
Most of us know two things about 5G, the latest generation of cellular communications: 1) it’s coming, and 2) it’s lightning fast. But will it be suitable for industrial use on day one? Our industry has a checkered history with the adoption of “commercial” communications technologies like Ethernet and Wi-Fi, so why should things be different with 5G?
The difference this time is that industrial interests have banded together to claim a seat at the standardization table. Represented by the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), industrial users will have access to a band of frequencies that can be allocated for use as non-public (private) networks in industrial plants. In addition, the specific requirements of industrial users (determinism, security needs, quality of service) are being considered at this early stage, rather than being retrofitted years later. According to ACIA, not all requirements for industrial use cases are aligned with other interests, but progress is being made as successive releases of the technology are “frozen.” One example is latency and reliability for “ultra-reliable low-latency communication” (URLLC). This enables reliable transmission of small data packets over the air within a specific time limit, as required for closed-loop control applications.
Standardization will likely take two more years to complete, after which time chip makers will launch new 5G chips that can be embedded in industrial devices. After that, it’s up to the industrial community to recognize how and where it makes sense to apply the new technology.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are currently hot topics in industrial production. AI companies and startups have been selling their solutions to other technology suppliers, who are using them to support the development of their own AI technology. Microsoft made five AI-related acquisitions in 2018, including Bonsai, XOXCO and Lobe. Oracle acquired DataFox, Amazon acquired Harvest.ai, and Trumpf started Axoom as a subsidiary in 2015. Festo acquired Resolto in 2018. Many consumer-oriented companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Spotify also strengthened their AI-expertise through acquisitions.
At the Hanover Fair, we observed that maintenance and quality control are key applications for AI and ML across all industries. Other applications examples we saw included complex machine tooling (Siemens using AI brain from Microsoft and Bonsai) and material handling (Toyota using autonomous forklifts with edge devices computing an AI deep learning neural network).
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Keywords: Hanover Fair, Hannover Messe, Industrial IoT (IIoT), Artificial Intelligence, (AI), Machine Learning (ML), ARC Advisory Group.