Two ways to improve manufacturing, and three big issues at Hannover Messe
Investment will be needed to realize all the great innovations available at this year’s show.
Wander the massive fairgrounds at Hannover Messe and you are immediately struck by the diversity in products, solutions, strategies and innovation available to manufacturers. You cannot see everything in four days or 40 days, but you do get a sense that there is probably a solution out there, somewhere.
Manufacturing has reached a stage where we are focusing less on problems and more on improvement, and if there were an overriding theme for this trade event in Germany in 2014, it would be that improvement requires two specific and wildly diverse things: measurement and investment.
Measurement is the bread and butter of the engineer. The sheer depth and breadth of data capture today is amazing, but the things we measure-speed and heat, temperature and flow-are still pretty much the same. Making that measurement easier, more complete, more usable and more intuitive is what is on display this week in Hannover. The show serves as a preview of what we will see in the U.S. in the next year, but it's available and working today in Europe and elsewhere.
To take advantage of this innovation, however, there will need to be a commitment to invest in manufacturing equipment. We have limped along with our existing equipment for long enough.
There needs to be new investment to drive more productivity, lower waste, greater efficiency at a lower cost. After three years of cautious growth, there's going to need to be a commitment from the guys with the purse strings to loosen them up. Only then will the promise of all this technology be fully realized. Until then, you can walk for miles at Hannover Messe and all you're really doing is walking in place.
The 3 Big Issues:
There were three prevailing themes at this year's Hannover Messe that are universally understood and will be felt in every manufacturing plant from Baltimore to Beijing to Berlin:
1. Industry 4.0/Advanced Manufacturing/Internet of Things/Insert your own name here: The German government calls it Industry 4.0 (or in the local language, Industrie 4.0), while the U.S. is calling it Advanced Manufacturing. Of course, a few vendors here will tell you they've been connecting devices to one another for years and years, and they don't understand why it now needs a name.
The terminology is irrelevant; the technology is remarkable. In giving a truly interconnected, responsive and dynamic manufacturing plant, and by incorporating design, logistics, and energy into that plant, we can achieve massive cost savings (some folks are touting 50% improvement in overall efficiency) and deliver products faster and smarter.
Multiple products being produced on a single line once reserved for a select few; the technology exists to change that paradigm. If this idea meets the acceleration we've seen in the logistics market, the way we acquire and consume everything could change.
2. Energy management: We've given this issue a lot of lip service over the past 40 years, but there finally appears to be some actual movement on this front for manufacturers. Energy management is a significant component of every stand here at Hannover. In Europe, energy management is a way of life and a manufacturing imperative. In the U.S., it is finally getting its due.
Beyond the fundamentals of electrical sensors and pneumatic system efficiency and compressed air measurement, there is an appreciation of the need to treat energy as a managed cost. There also are a lot of electric cars here. You can zip around from hall to hall at the fair in electric smart cars. Volkswagen has a large booth that displays its electric car offering, and Tesla is here as well.
3. Globalization: Holland is the Partner Nation at Hannover Messe this year, and the tie between these two neighbors and trading partners is strong. It's strong just as long as they don't meet on the soccer pitch at the World Cup this year, as one speaker who opened the Partner Night event noted.
There are also delegations from every corner of the world. The U.S. Department of Commerce has a large booth on hand, but there are larger contingents from Russia, China, India, and others. Perhaps the largest international booth at the fair is the United Arab Emirates, which has made it clear that it is open for business.
The key to Hannover Messe is that it is a global show. In the interest of continuing to grow our own economic and manufacturing presence, the U.S. needs an even more visible presence at this event. Reshoring manufacturing jobs is one thing; developing new partnerships with global manufacturers to take advantage of our existing strengths as a global manufacturing leader requires not just opening the door for business, but hitting the road and seeing who you can direct through that door.
More U.S. states need to take that approach when Hannover Messe returns April 13-17, 2015. More American manufacturers need to get here as well. The technology on display will put you six months ahead of your competition. Either way, it is an investment with a very clear return.
Plant Engineering will be providing daily coverage of the Hannover Messe conference at plantengineering.com.