IDC Manufacturing Insights at Hannover Messe 2017: IIoT in Focus, with Blockchain Set to Come on Strong
Hannover Messe (HM) is the biggest European industrial expo and a meeting point for more than 6,500 exhibitors and over 225,000 visitors. The motto of HM 2017 was "Integrated Industry – Creating Value”, which was fulfilled by a record number of more than 500 examples of concrete applications demonstrating the power of technology in modern industry. With mature Industry 4.0 technologies hitting the market, the concept of seamlessly networked systems, machines, devices, employees, and business processes is indeed a reality.
HM should be of imminent interest to CEE manufacturers, as well. While CEE technology and industrial supply companies should consider active participation as exhibitors, manufacturing executives should save the date in their calendars for an annually recurrent visit. If attendance is well planned and has clearly set objectives, the value of the fair can be tremendous — not to mention that no equivalent industrial fair takes place in the CEE region.
Poland was the official partner country of HM in 2017, which was an important achievement. The country’s slogan “Smart Means Poland” was supported by 10 Polish companies that were presenting their innovative products and solutions, including Zortrax, producer of 3D printers and printing materials used in advanced design, and TMA Automation, a company with a focus on robotics, automation, and machine vision systems. The national stand presented Poland as a favorable manufacturing location, promoting individual regions and the country’s five Special Economic Zones. Of course, many leading political representatives showed up at the Polish booth, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended the opening ceremony.
My congratulations also go to Slovakian company IXWORX, which took second place at the Startup Pitch contest for its GUIDE software platform that which enables interactive 3D product design and presentation. A total of 32 tech startups competed for prize money provided by Constantia New Business, a corporate venturing arm of Constantia Industries, headquartered in Vienna. The contest took place in the Young Tech Enterprises zone, an interesting place to visit for those who had time to explore bits from the abundant supporting program (i.e., industry conferences, presentations, workshops, vendors’ announcements, press conferences) at HM. The zone had a very laid-back setup, and it obviously served as an important meeting point for entrepreneurs and inventors with investors, influencers, business angels, and others.
IoT maintained a prominent position in the discussions and showcases at the fair. Given the audience profile, vendors focused heavily on Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) use cases and solutions. The term IIoT was, in fact, highlighted more often by vendors than Industry 4.0. It was obvious that more and more industrial machinery and equipment manufacturers are aspiring to replicate the business model transformation of industrial leaders like Siemens, GE, Bosch, or Schneider Electric, developing smart software solutions and building so called “IoT platforms”. To give one example of lesser-known companies on such a journey, I spoke to AXOOM at their IoT-Café, which showcased their IoT solutions using connected coffee machines. The company was founded in 2015 in a close partnership with Trumpf, a German provider of manufacturing solutions in the areas of machine tools, laser technology, and electronics.
In terms of IoT, Siemens probably made the biggest noise at the fair with their open cloud platform for IoT, called Mindsphere. In the always crowded Mindsphere lounge, Siemens was positioning its platform as an IoT operating system with multiple connectivity layers, a powerful data analytics engine, open tools for developers, and endless integration possibilities for applications and services. Siemens also gave space to some of its partners that are involved in the rapidly expanding partner ecosystem. For instance, Atos and Accenture showcased their individual solutions built on Mindsphere. Siemens also presented some of the early customer references, such as Heller Maschinenfabrik (manufacturer of CNC machining centers) with a case study for asset and performance monitoring, and Calvatis (manufacturer of industrial cleaning machines) with a case study for predictive maintenance.
The approach of companies operating within IoT ecosystems is likewise evolving. While solution providers and manufacturers may compete in one ecosystem, they can opt for a partnership in another, if new business value can be created through integration of complementary solutions. Open solutions and products are now the norm, largely to facilitate partnering within ecosystems. Also, systems integrators are all actively pursuing the IoT ecosystems and platforms, partnering with individual providers, and effectively helping manufacturers to connect, integrate, and analyze across the whole value chain, leveraging their technology know-how and cross-industry experience. The recently announced partnership of Siemens and TCS to deliver plant solutions for Connected Digital Enterprise is one of many examples.
Nevertheless, I have returned with an impression that the word "platform" is probably overused nowadays and has become a rather empty qualifier, more of an umbrella term in the IoT age. For one thing, I could see that a "platform" clearly means different things to different companies. I think the time has come for some IT vendors to rethink the way they are marketing their IoT products. There will likely be a more accurate way to explain IoT value proposition to potential buyers than simply calling it (yet another) IoT platform.
Numerous vendors and solutions are available in the market to help manufacturers with connecting machines, as well as data collection and analysis. An important differentiator for all these providers will be the processes and best practices of how these valuable data-driven insights will be applied in real business — i.e., how effectively manufacturers (or any other customers) will use them to take corrective actions and optimize their operations for an improved customer experience.
Where possible, augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) demos were presented at HM. I experienced Microsoft’s HoloLens in their booth and HTC’s device at Dassault Systemes’ demo. AR/VR is indeed a perfect tool for lively demonstrations of technology focus and new capabilities. Although I could see that the applications are quickly maturing, the industry still is a few years away from mainstream adoption, as some of the applications will likely be too complex or too expensive for the average CEE company.
The fair assured me that cognitive computing will become a key pillar of the next generation of software technologies. It is currently a very important domain for all major IT vendors that are heavily investing resources in embedding cognitive features in their products and/or creating cognitive platforms (solo design or through partnerships). The rise of cognitive investments begs an interesting question: How will SW companies monetize cognitive features of their products and who best to manage it on a large scale?
If you're wondering about the next big thing on the technology horizon, I would have to say it will be blockchain. It already gets a fair amount of interest in IT communities. Big promises are being made (by manufacturers for supply chains especially) with a lot of disruptive potential. I can tell that there is a keen appetite among the IT community, as well as the industry for independent research, use cases, and forecasts. I encourage you to browse through IDC sources for more information about blockchain, and I recommend checking back more frequently, as a fair amount of research on this topic is currently in the pipeline.
Anyone who attended HM 2017 naturally left with his or her own views and would maybe favor different presentations. Indeed, there are countless routes to explore during the week at HM and endless possibilities for discussion. I’m eager to hear your stories and impressions and, of course, I’m happy to share additional thoughts not included in this blog (e.g., #3Dprint, #robotics). Feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.