Hanover Fair 2024: Trends and Highlights

Author photo: David Humphrey
By David Humphrey

Keywords: Hanover Fair, Hannover Messe, Automation, IIoT, IT/OT Convergence, Industrial-Grade AI, ARC Advisory Group.

Overview

Hanover Fair 2024

The Hanover Fair still claims to be the world’s largest industrial fair even as the show’s post-pandemic recovery has stalled, and attendance has settled at about 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels. With 130,000 visitors and 4,000 exhibitors this year, this reduction brings the show’s numbers closer to those of other German fairs such as SPS (annually in November) and ACHEMA (triennially in June). Despite this, the show remains a good indicator for the general health and attitude of the industry and tends to have the most international audience.

AI Touches All Industry Topics

The Hanover Fair has increasingly reflected the impact of software and “commercial” IT on industry applications and has become the major event not just for industrial automation and equipment, but increasingly for industrial and enterprise software. As expected, the various aspects of industrial artificial intelligence (AI) were on display everywhere in the form of assistants and copilots. 

Generative AI appeared on the industrial scene just over a year ago with the introduction of copilots embedded in design and engineering tools. This year the focus was on “industrial-grade AI,” which refers to AI solutions considered to be robust and trustworthy enough for use in industrial applications. Exactly how users are to gain trust in these solutions remains to be seen.

There was a fair amount of “AI washing” from some companies overhyping the amount of AI in their products, or implying that their solutions are industrial grade when they clearly are not that far yet. Some showed lightweight Generative AI use cases with chatbots and copilots that under superficial scrutiny were just marketing demos and proofs-of-concept for the tsunami of Generative AI-powered UIs coming soon to all software in our daily and working lives.

ARC analysts found compelling industrial-grade AI use cases using traditional machine learning, neural network, and especially computer vision techniques. Most industrial-grade use cases came from trusted industrial automation suppliers and software vendors, many bringing credibility to the cloud hyperscaler booths (AWS, Microsoft). AVEVA and Schneider Electric, SAP, and Siemens went beyond the superficial Gen AI washing, showcasing their decades of experience incorporating industrial-grade AI techniques into their solutions. While many vendors also showcased their partnership with Nvidia, it was made clear by some that they had work to do to make Nvidia hardware industrial grade for mission critical AI use cases. No surprises as to the most prevalent of ARC's 25 industrial-grade AI use cases: predictive maintenance, quality management, and worker safety were to be seen everywhere.

Hype and Impact

Unlike recently overhyped technologies like the industrial metaverse, AI won’t fizzle out before next year’s Hanover Fair. In fact, a recent ARC survey shows that AI is expected to be the most impactful technology for the next 5 years. For digital twin, mixed reality and metaverse, our latest survey shows renewed focus over the next 3 years after industrial-grade AI and data fabric foundations are laid down. 

Based on observations at the fair, the pace of industrial-grade AI innovation is accelerating, with new models and techniques coming to market as investments pour into research and startups. Amongst the hot topics discussed were the benefit of cold start AI models (model starts learning from scratch without any prior training data) and federated learning approaches (multiple entities collaboratively train a model while ensuring that data remains decentralized) for industrial edge AI use cases. 

Digital Services and IT/OT Convergence

Each year, the presence of IT companies such as AWS, Microsoft, and Google at the Hanover Fair is increasingly prominent. Automation suppliers are embracing this trend by presenting an expanding array of digital solutions. A particularly intriguing observation from this year’s fair is the growing emphasis on open infrastructure. This concept has been a significant topic in the industrial world for many years and is now making its way into the digital realm. The principle is both simple and ingenious—providing customers with solutions that offer full functionality, particularly beneficial when catering to various industries with specific applications. 

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