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Hannover Highlights – Day 1: Industry 4.0, Clever Collaborations and “Plug and Produce”

Posted By Paul Tate, April 13, 2015 at 9:10 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future

By Paul Tate and David R. Brousell

hm_logo_col.jpgEven on the first day of this year’s Hannover Fair, the world’s largest industrial event, some clear themes began to emerge about the future of manufacturing.  What they all have in common is they presage a very different world for manufacturing than we have right now – a world in which digital technologies are deeply embedded and in abundance.

Almost everywhere across the 26 halls and 6,500 exhibitors at Hannover this year you can hear the mantra of Industry 4.0 -- Germany’s industrial vision of a future for manufacturing in which pervasive connectivity, sensor networks, cyber-physical systems, and increased production flexibility promise to drive the creation of ever-more customized and smarter products.

To turn this vision into reality, of course, will demand new levels of digitization, automation, and integration within an enterprise, and many new areas of technical and software innovation.

Here are just some of the highlights we spotted on Day 1:

  • Festo’s Bionic Learning Networks

Undoubtedly one of the most visually-impressive stars of this year’s event, the digitally-driven robotic insects and butterflies that use collective intelligence to perform collaborative tasks provide an early insight into how natural models of behavior may someday dominate the way machines and networks operate across tomorrow’s factories.


Part of a futuristic Festo R&D program, the partially 3D-printed BionicANTS communicate with each other to coordinate both their actions and their movements to achieve cooperative tasks. Each ant takes autonomous decisions but is always subordinate to the common objective.


Festo_Butterflies.jpegThe electro-mechanical e-Motion Butterflies, meanwhile, autonomously coordinate their flying patterns using indoor GPS, a collection of spatial infrared cameras and controller, plus on-board guidance and monitoring systems so they never collide.  The expression on the faces of Hannover Fair attendees as the butterflies soar gracefully overhead the corridors is testament to both their technical ingenuity and lightness of design.

Festo’s airborne innovations even stunned the guests at the Hannover Fair’s Opening Ceremony on Sunday night, with a flotilla of intercommunicating floating spheres hovering in coordinated patterns above the VIP audience.

  • SmartFactory’s Plug and Produce Approach

Pioneering German research initiative, SmartFactory KL e.V., and the German Center for Artificial Intelligence demonstrated how the Industry 4.0 concept can be integrated into existing industrial applications. Working with 15 industrial companies, SmartFactory showed a modular production line based on standards that use a “plug and produce” principle to enable expansion.

  • Harting’s Customized Production Line

Though still in development, Germany’s Harting Technology Group is showcasing a prototype modular factory line able to create individually customizable products with the speed and efficiency of mass production volumes, says the company. Called the Harting Integrated Industry 4 You (HIIA4YOU) project, it connects an eShop customer selection system, with an SAP ERP network, and finally the production and assembly machinery in a three-cell production line.

  • Volkswagen’s e-Golf and Factory Powerwall

In the belief that digital networking will become an essential part of the auto industry in the future, Volkswagen featured a number of digitally-driven production and product developments, including augmented reality systems that show where specific parts are installed in the body of a car, the e-Golf electric vehicle which features wireless charging and a digital key that can be operated by smartphone, and what it calls the Powerwall – a virtual wall screen, adapted from a similar technology used earlier in vehicle design and engineering, that now allows factory teams to simulate a plant and plan and refine an entire production process for a new product in a virtual world before any physical changes are made to the factory itself. 

  • ABB’s YuMi Robot

ABB showed its new YuMi robot, a so-called collaborative assembly system that is designed to work safely alongside human beings, a requirement of the Industry 4.0 philosophy, ABB said.



YuMi – which stands for “you and me – we work together” – combines a vision system, grippers, touch-sensitive sensors, software, and integrated safety components in a form factor that weighs 38 Kg and consumes one square foot of space. YuMi is designed for consumer product manufacturing applications such as electronics, phones, and various small parts. It carries a base price of about $40,000, ABB said.


Watch out for more innovation highlights for this year’s Hannover Fair in the days ahead. 

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive

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