Global manufacturing, future trade agreements are major topics at Hannover Messe

Hannover notes: U.S. paces manufacturing growth in a partly sunny outlook; is TTIF the European NAFTA; human/robot relationships evolving


While global manufacturing growth shows no signs of retreating, the pace of growth may slow a bit as the pressures of low oil prices deliver a one-two punch according to IHS, which delivered its annual manufacturing market update to industrial leaders and global trade press at Hannover Messe 2015 Wednesday. While oil prices will affect new wells and some automation product purchases, the overall outlook for the U.S. manufacturing economy remains bright, according to IHS analysts.

"The overall economic situation is improving," said Alex Chausovsky, senior principal analyst for industrial automation with IHS. "We're seeing some of that pent-up demand resulting in new orders." He sees overall growth for the U.S. at between 4% and 5% in 2015, but what he called "headwinds" may slow that growth a bit. "Oil and gas could have a significant impact," Chausovsky said. "We see a decline in investments in automation equipment of about 8%, and oil and gas is approximately 7% of overall industrial automation equipment sales." He
added, "The growth in the discrete sector will offset losses in the process sector."

IHS analysts said overall oil sector growth will slow because certain types of drilling and extraction operations—shale oil, for example—cost more than the price of oil, which makes extraction unprofitable. In many countries, such as Venezuela, the overall cost of extraction is prohibitively high, and was barely profitable when oil was $50 a barrel.

Spencer Welch, director of downstream consulting for IHS, said the market will spend the next 18 months rebalancing production and supply before prices begin to rise significantly. "There are a number of wells just sitting out there waiting for the taps to be turned back on," he said. He noted that prices remain low despite a continuing rise in global demand for oil.

"North America already is starting to cut back production. Expensive projects will be at risk," Welch said, but added, "We're talking about a delay in projects, not cancellation."

Bullish on U.S. market, part 2

In his annual meeting with the international press, Dr. Andreas Gruchow, member of the managing board of Deutsche Messe responsible for international shows (and the host of the global press at Hannover Messe) said the importance of the United States as a global trading partner for Europe in general—and Germany in particular—is a vital one. It is one of the main reasons Hannover Messe officials are so excited that the U.S. will be the Partner Country at Hannover Messe 2016.

Gruchow noted that not only is manufacturing the single leading economic driver in the U.S., it is the world's ninth largest economy on its own with 12 million jobs. The U.S. manufacturing sector also supports 1 million German jobs.

On the subject of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Gruchow said the Integrated Industry topic, which is at the center of Hannover Messe 2015, reflects the needs and expectation of exhibitors. "Everything is moving from a cost center to a profit center," Gruchow said. Projections are that IIoT deployment in Germany next year will increase efficiency by 18% and reduce costs by 14%. "We are making a big leap forward," said Gruchow.

A tiff over TTIP?

As reported yesterday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker visited Hannover Messe Tuesday to make a speech in support of the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP). The goal of the proposed agreement would be to reduce trade and tariff barriers between the United States and the European Union. It is patterned roughly along the same lines as the once-controversial North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The difference now is that the controversy is not as great on the U.S. side. President Obama launched the negotiations in 2013, and Walker called TTIP, "the biggest bilateral relationship in history," when he addressed a forum at Hannover this week. Even as the trade deal is being painstakingly negotiated, there are some factions in the EU that are less than thrilled by the prospect.

Robots are reaching out to be our friend, and humans are returning the favor. Courtesy: Hannover MesseOne speaker at a U.S.-German business partnership forum conceded that, "there is a lot of skepticism" over the prospects of TTIP. "From my perspective, that skepticism is not unjustified," he said. "There is a need to find out what is negotiated about it. There is a lot of secrecy, and this will lead to skepticism."

Our pal, the robot

There have been many fascinating presentations and discussions at Hannover Messe 2015, and number one on the list has been the Industry 4.0/IIoT topic that pervades every corner of the fairgrounds. Another topic that may emerge even more quickly is the evolving relationship between humans and robots.

In the past, robots were programmed and kept at a distance from humans. Emerging technology is allowing humans to teach robots by showing them movements needed to complete a task and have the robot remember those movements. Collaborative robots could become a major presence on factory and plant floors as the research and technology becomes more sophisticated.

While this won't happen for most applications, or even many of them, the difference between programming a robot and teaching it is a fundamental change in the barriers between the two workers.

Incidentally, the barriers are coming down as well. The robots used in some smaller-speed applications will interact more directly with humans in the near future, and will have sensors that will stop a robot's motion when the human gets too close.

- Bob Vavra is content manager, Plant 

See additional Hannover Messe coverage below.

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Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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