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Hannover Messe 2024: Bridging the Pragmatic with the Fantastic

A fantastic building at Hannover Messe 2024

With a partnership here and a collaboration there – not to mention all the aspirations around open and unified ecosystems – Hannover Messe 2024 often came across less as the world’s largest manufacturing trade show and more like Burning Man. Especially if you factor in all the solar tractors, soccer-playing robots, and buzzing bionic bees…

Shared Vision: Tech Nerds Unite

“We live in exciting times for manufacturing!” many said as they opened talks and presentations during Hannover Messe 2024 – the unimaginably large manufacturing trade show that attracts 140,000 visitors and 4,000 exhibitors from 150 countries.

Like any trade show, exhibitors try to present the right balance between being feet-on-the-ground pragmatic and being pie-in-sky futuristic. 

Certainly, manufacturers are facing a myriad of real-world challenges: not enough talent, crushingly competitive markets, slippery customer demand, even slipperier geopolitics, the eternal drive to boost production while cutting emissions… Etcetera.

Many exhibitors offer AI-powered real-world solutions to deal with these problems. While in recent years, there was much talk about Industry 5.0, now people are focused on getting a more pressing job done, Industry 4.0, which also happened to be this year’s overriding theme

So, while pragmatism was in the air, visitors still had to be careful not to trip over small soccer-playing robots or get their hair parted by Festo’s nifty new BionicBee.

There was also a much stronger sense of community. It seems people are recognizing that no one can face down these challenges alone. While innovation has always been driven by partnerships and collaborations, this approach is only becoming more apparent. 

So, while pragmatism was in the air, visitors still had to be careful not to trip over small soccer-playing robots or get their hair parted by Festo’s nifty new BionicBee.

In short, tech nerds unite! 

Welcome to Hydrogen Europe

Visitors were also made very aware they were in Europe – beyond the offering of beer and sausage as an acceptable breakfast option. For instance, the rest of the regulation-lagging world was offered a peek into the future. The European Green Deal sets out that greenhouse gas emissions have to be cut at least 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and the continent has to be climate-neutral by 2050. And for the very short-term, larger companies have to start reporting their Scope 3 emissions from 2025 – meaning they are becoming responsible for their full supply chain. So yes, that’s quite the deadline…

Hence, sustainability is not just part of the agenda; it is the agenda. For instance, over 500 exhibitors were dedicated to the hydrogen and fuel cell sector alone.

It does make sense, however. Who can’t love a technology that can provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels for energy-intensive industries – with the only byproduct being water? 

But yes, there’s still work to be done.  

Is AI Hysteria Sobering Up?

Also, all-things-AI were generally presented in more down-to-earth ways than in recent years. 

While last year, many were improvising visions around the relatively fresh potential of Large Language Models and claiming ChatGPT as a cure-all, this year saw everyone rally more around the idea of use cases – knowing what problem you want to solve before deciding on the best tech to solve that problem. 

And if anyone was talking about generative AI, it was usually focused on its strengths as a savvy assistant – one that applies RAG to minimize any hallucinations

In general, the salespeople have finally done some proper research. Big ideas are still out there but tempered with “it’s still a work-in-progress”. 

Better Together With Margo

People looked up and listened to the announcement about Margo, the new open standard initiative for interoperability at the edge of industrial automation. Margo’s founding members included heavy hitters such as The Linux Foundation, ABB, Capgemini, Microsoft, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, and Siemens.

On the face of it, Margo is what Industry 4.0 is all about: “One agnostic, scalable, secure edge application ecosystem.” Future customers will be able to pick and choose the best automation software apps that work best for their unique operations – without being locked into a single hardware platform. 

Of course, interoperability has been a long and cherished dream. But the fact they have so many owner-operators on board – and a shared realization that everyone can win in such a scenario – the industry might be able to make a move from closed proprietary systems to open flexible systems.

It’s a great idea. So why fight it? But again: there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Next Level Better Together with Manufacturing-X 

In other news around the dizzyingly ambitious, there was a lot of talk and action around Manufacturing-X – with the X standing for the exchange of data. Basically, it’s a move to digitize supply chains for all manufacturers. 

For now, the ambitions are for Europe, but already, there was a Hannover Messe panel Making Manufacturing-X International featuring heavy hitters from across business, government, and academia. 

Again, it’s a great idea. Better together! Share the data for better outcomes! Optimize how we work across supply chains and networks! No more silos!

“Sorry, I love getting data into my system, but I hate giving it away.
Won’t it affect my market share?”

It’s also not a new idea. And one that was never before achievable due to technical challenges and eternal questions such as:
1) “Who pays? And in particular, who pays for the smaller and middle-sized companies?”
2) “Sorry, I love getting data into my system, but I hate giving it away. Won’t it affect my market share?”

But it was easy to get swept up in the optimism. Everyone involved is painfully aware of the challenges – yet still seems determined. And, again, this initiative involves not only tech companies but also the big owner-operators who can help push the agenda. And with sustainability so high on the agenda, how else will we be able to monitor compliance but with a unified system?

These are exciting times – involving a lot of work. So, tune in next year for Hannover 2025 to see how it’s all playing out.

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