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Hannover Fair: The Challenges of Transition to Industry 4.0

Posted By Paul Tate, April 16, 2014 at 4:06 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future

It’s rare for the world to converge around a shared vision of the future of manufacturing, but there was a distinct sense of alignment during last week’s massive industrial fair in Hannover, Germany. However, there was also increasing acknowledgement that there are still many steps to take to get us there.

It’s a year since the German government formally announced its high-tech vision of Industry 4.0, in which ubiquitous connectivity, cyber-physical systems, advanced analytics and highly integrated systems create increasingly intelligent factories that are more responsive, adaptable, and resource efficient.

Germany’s Industry 4.0 mirrors many similar initiatives around the world, including the concepts of Smart Manufacturing, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet.

But this year, as 180,000 visitors from 100 countries inspected the latest products from over 5000 exhibitors in the Fair’s multiple exhibition halls, the practical realities of moving the world’s industrial base from a present to future state were more apparent.

Germany’s industrial giant Siemens, for example, used the event to showcase what Siegfried Russwurm, Siemens Industry Sector CEO termed Industry 3.X – an expanding package of integrated systems and technologies that the company regards as the next steps for manufacturers on the way to the visionary Industry 4.0 goal. From Siemens perspective, this is clearly about setting the right technological course for the production approaches of the future, rather than expecting a sudden sea-change of adoption.

This reality-check also highlights the findings of a recent survey by German-based SAP consultancy Fistec AG, which suggests that many manufacturing companies “are still in an orientation phase” when it comes to Industry 4.0 and that its importance is still regarded in some industrial sectors as only “moderate”.

That’s not quick enough for Germany’s Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, however. "90 per cent of growth is taking place outside Europe," she said on the eve of this year’s Hannover event. "So we must get our skates on and do all we can to maximize our advantages. Europe must not miss out on the next industrial revolution.”

"Make an effort to accept one another, be interested and curious in what is coming, and don’t cling too much to the old vision of separate individual branches [of activity]," added Merkel.

NAM president and CEO Jay Timmons also stressed the need to act swiftly to create the right environment for rapid industrial change in his Hannover speech. Some of the challenges involved in the transition to Industry 4.0, such as cybersecurity, IP protection and global data flows for example, are going to be significant and need to be addressed on a global scale, he warned.

“As the [Internet of Things] technology grows,” said Timmons, manufacturers will need “to continue to protect and secure the personal and private data travelling across it from those in cyberspace with malicious intent.” 

“We must set a high bar for how we want the global economy to operate,” he added. “We must pursue policies, such as intellectual property protections and enforcement, which enable the economy of the future. We must advance priorities that address market access and regulatory redundancies. We must advocate investor protection and the ability of companies to move our data across borders. These are all imperatives in the 21st-century global economy.”

The main theme of this year’s Hannover Fair was pitched as “Integrated Industry – Next Steps”. But if you still think that the next steps towards a brave new world of smart, connected factories are simply about the adoption of new technologies, it may be time to think again.

The transition to a new future for manufacturing looks set to be a far more complicated journey.  

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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