SPS Fair 2023: Technology Trends

Author photo: David Humphrey
By David Humphrey

Keywords: SPS Fair 2023, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, IIoT, IT/OT Convergence, Sustainability, ARC Advisory Group.


While Germany’s SPS fair hasn’t yet returned to its pre-pandemic size in terms of visitors and exhibitors, it still maintains its place as the number one discrete automation show in Europe. This ARC Insight is one of two reports that summarize the impressions gathered by the team of ARC analysts who visited this year’s SPS fair, the autumn counterpart to the larger but less focused Hanover show in the spring.

The Ups and Downs of the Automation Markets

Trade shows serve as excellent barometers of industry mood. European automation suppliers have had good reasons to celebrate the past two years, but they should be concerned about the next two years. Most SPS Fair 2023reported record revenue in 2021 and 2022, thanks mostly to the shipping of products stuck in backlogs that have been plaguing supply chains. While many suppliers at SPS reported backlogs returning to normal levels, many also noted that new orders are dropping, signaling difficult times ahead.

SPS @nearly 30

The SPS fair has grown substantially since its inception in the early 1990s as a regional automation show. Today, it attracts about four times as many visitors and exhibitors since the show moved to Nuremberg nearly 25 years ago. In recent years, the show has settled on a consistent size of 60,000+ visitors. If the last two shows set a trend, then SPS is well on its way to reaching pre-pandemic levels of visitors and exhibitors. The size of the fairgrounds may have had limited capacity in the past, but Nürnberg Messe has been busy building new halls to accommodate even larger shows. 

Past attempts by the SPS organizers to expand the scope to include process automation have yielded mixed results. The Hanover Fair had a similar experience 20 years ago when it tried to create process automation as a “show within a show,” but the attempt failed due to lack of support from process suppliers. Currently, the only significant process show in Europe is ACHEMA, but that show takes place only every three years. This year, process component suppliers like Endress + Hauser, Vega, Krohne, Wika Pepperl+Fuchs, ifm and Baumer exhibited at SPS, but no major DCS supplier showcased a complete process automation solution. A drawback for such suppliers is the show’s short duration of three days.

What We Saw: Technology Trends

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

We expected to see a lot more practical uses of AI and we weren’t disappointed. AI is now integrated into an ever-growing number of products in a myriad of innovative ways. For example, AI can generate PLC code (Siemens). Machine builders probably won’t be asking AI to generate code for entire systems anytime soon. Instead, AI can write small bits of code to integrate a new device or function into an existing program, based on a wealth of experience that it accesses. AI can also do the opposite: translate cryptic, legacy PLC code into a plain language description of its function, thus making it accessible to non-automation engineers. AI is also appearing at the industrial edge, performing functions that don’t rely on a connection to a hosted AI cloud.

Private 5G Networks

Siemens showcased its solution for private industrial 5G infrastructure, developed in-house and launched just two months ago. According to the company, the solution is already in use at Siemens plants and pilot customers like Salzgitter AG. 

Private 5G networks in industrial applications were big news in 2020 and 2021 when many companies in automotive, oil & gas, utilities, and logistics installed trial network systems using LTE to understand the benefits of 5G use cases. As ARC predicted, 2022 did not see growth in terms of adoption as industrial companies were still reluctant to adopt 5G as the successor to currently used wired and WIFI technologies. In 2023, 5G vendors reported some success with a few customers installing private 5G networks, but sales remain below expectations. According to ARC’s research, demand for 5G in industry won’t start to kick in until 2025.


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