Notes from the Digital Transformation: Hannover Messe 2018

This year, the "world's biggest industrial fair" transitioned itself into an enormous stage to showcase of the full power and potential of the IIoT.

Over the last five years, software and computing has slowly crept in from the fringes of big metal shows like Hannover Messe and IMTS.

At first it was the cloud, hovering around machine tools and implements of production, promising new, simpler processes. Then Big Data and analytics came in, plugged directly into the tools and machines, absolutely brimming with potential and disruption.

And now, the data takeover of manufacturing is complete: The Industrial Internet of Things has swept over the "world's biggest industrial fair," transforming it into a massive, 20+ hall city-sized exploration of the power and potential of total connection.

Nearly every industrial company on earth were exhibiting this year, promoting digitalization, analytics, digital twins, industrial software, and every other facet, application, and brand name for the IIoT front and center, all of it promising to fundamentally transform manufacturing forever.

While I do love marveling at the old-school big metal of these shows, I was happy to see this transition.

We write a lot about the "digital transformation" here, and devote a lot of our coverage to helping companies along their digital journey. Because it's a difficult one—it's filled with vital capital investments, new skill requirements, and (often) a totally new way of thinking.

Nearly every expert we quote in these articles, and nearly every speaker in our webinars on the subject, deliver the same line: If you don't start now, you will be left behind.

This year's Hannover Messe was the closing argument in this case: The industry has changed; the leading companies in it have changed. The manufacturing world is in flux, transitioning into a cyber-heavy industry in which data and software are quickly becoming as vital as axes and tolerances.

And we have to get busy making these changes, too.

Along with all of this, of course, there remained plenty of manufacturing toys to cover. Which is lucky in this case—galleries are my favorite medium to highlight my findings at a tradeshow, and software (however cool and powerful) makes for painfully boring pictures.

In all, besides software, there were three major themes of this show (or at least as it seemed from the paltry 25 miles of it I was able to visit), which lend themselves nicely to this format:

  • Virtual/Augmented Reality: Finally, companies are finding ways to industrialize this technology and put it to use.

  • 3-D Printing: Still on the course for mainstream industrial viability, it has made some very healthy strides in that direction.

  • Robotics & Automation: With the help of the IIoT, robots have become smarter, more flexible, and far more prevalent than ever before.

And a bonus here: Generative Design. This was only mentioned directly in a few booths, but it remains one of the most potent new disruptors in the market. This one should be huge.

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