Future innovations and expectations setting tone at Hannover Messe

Hannover Notes: What will the U.S. do in 2016? The drivers for Industry 4.0. The cool stuff that doesn’t (yet) have much to do with manufacturing. See a short video of Festo's robot butterflies.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager, CFE Media April 14, 2015

HANNOVER, GERMANY: The first big day of Hannover Messe 2015 starts Tuesday with more than 250,000 people expected to attend. Even as the show ramps up to full capacity, there’s already been plenty to talk about:

Setting the bar high for 2016

The U.S. is one year away from being the Partner Country at Hannover Messe, but if it is looking to make a big splash on the world’s largest industrial trade show stage, it will have a big bar to hurdle.

India’s presence at Hannover has been ubiquitous. Its symbolic lion can be seen at every corner of not just the fairgrounds, but the city of Hannover. Hundreds of Indian manufacturing leaders, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have made it clear they want to roll out a welcome mat for global manufacturing by easing taxation and business rules and offering India’s massive labor force as a further incentive.

The U.S. approach at Hannover in 2016 will be different. As the world’s single largest manufacturing economy, the U.S. will not need to position itself as an economy on the rise. Still, the U.S. cannot afford to take its leadership position for granted. A full public-private partnership to bring an India-size delegation to the 2016 Messe and a willingness to make greater global direct investment in manufacturing easier will attract further investment to a sector already seen as a safe, smart bet by the rest of the world.

It’s a delicate balancing act between flexing muscles and extending a hand of partnership. The U.S. has a year to make sure it strikes that balance.

On the way to Industry 4.0

Even as the Industry 4.0/Internet of Things (IoT) concept of connected technology emerges as a topic of discussion for manufacturing leaders, it’s clear the world is far from fully understanding how to use this technology and its capabilities.

At its annual global press conference Siemens officials said Industry 4.0 will be a long journey, and one on which we are just taking our first steps.

Klaus Helmrich, a member of the Siemens board and the person responsible for the company’s strategic direction for digital manufacturing, said the Internet’s role as an information source is changing.

"We live in a world of networks. Everything is interconnected. Being connected is a fundamental human need," Helmrich told more than 100 global journalists Monday night. "In looking at what drives the Internet, it is not just there to give access to knowledge. It is a catalog of processes. We can integrate customer groups into reshaping these worlds."

Helmrich cited three main challenges and drivers for the emerging industrial Internet:

  1. Shorten time to market: Creating shorter innovation cycles, more complex products and greater data volumes
  2. Increase flexibility: Developing individual mass production, even in volatile markets, and with high productivity
  3. Boost efficiency: Energy efficiency and resource efficiency are critical competitive factors.

Even as companies such as Siemens wrestle with both the structure of Industry 4.0 as well as helping its customers wrestle with the same issues, Helmrich said the biggest hurdle right now is raising the knowledge about what is possible.

"There’s a certain awareness out there, but we’re not able to say where the actual risk is, and then don’t know how to minimize that risk," he said. "We consult with small and mid-sized companies to get to a much higher level of awareness."

That robot’s got quite a grip

Even as Hannover Messe goes from a chaotic mass of wires, crates, and products to a finished trade show floor, the global press was taken on a pre-show tour of the fairgrounds Sunday afternoon. How the 27 halls at Hannover are transformed from a mess to a Messe overnight is one story, but it’s not made any easier by having wandering hoards of journalists in the way.

Still, the pre-show allows for a preview of some specific and amazing technologies. Schunk has developed a fully articulating robotic hand that can reach, grip and manipulate in much the same manner as a human hand. Journalists got a chance to test that statement by actually shaking hands with the robotic arm.

Festo, which has developed a reputation as a creative thinker in the robotics industry, unveiled two new ways to demonstrate its concept of connecting robotic devices to each other to perform tasks.

It launched—literally—two blue butterflies above the show floor that were equipped with GPS. This allowed the butterflies to flit about without crashing into each other.

Another demonstration showed how a small army of ants could be deployed to work together and a move a large multifaceted object. The ants communicated via GPS so each grabbed a side of the object. The ants then coordinated their movement to move the object along.

The practical applications are still being worked out, but the potential of many mobile robots working together is intriguing, and the Festo application is enough to get trade press journalists to crowd around in wonder.

– Bob Vavra is content manager, Plant Engineeringbvavra@cfemedia.com 

See additional Hannover Messe coverage below.

Festo is a CSIA member as of 4/14/2015