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Reflections from the Hannover Messe

By Jayson Myers   

General Manufacturing digital systems Hannover Messe Manufacturers Technology

Photo: ©Wirestock/Adobe Stock

After two years of pandemic lock downs the Hannover Messe fair reconvened in person earlier this year. Hannover Messe is the largest advanced manufacturing trade show in the world. The fair usually takes up 43 mega-size exhibition halls and attracts over a million visitors a year – most of them engineers, technicians, and high-level decision makers – from around the world. It is the place to go to see the latest in advanced manufacturing technologies, equipment, and industrial energy solutions and to exhibit innovation and production capabilities to a global audience. Ultimately, it’s a great place to meet people and do business.

NGen brought several of its members to the fair. We partnered with the Canadian, Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta governments to host an exhibit highlighting Canada’s advanced manufacturing capabilities in digital technologies and AI, automation, and electric vehicles. We were joined by several other Canadian exhibitors who were also participating in the show, including a delegation of hydrogen technology companies. All parts of Canada were represented. Our reception on the Tuesday evening drew a huge crowd.

After four days of intense networking, we came away tired but also with some lasting impressions. First and foremost, how great it was to travel and meet people again. There was a real buzz at the fair this year and a lot of good discussions. Participants seemed to want to meet each other more than ever and to have fun, and our delegation made great connections.

However, there were some notable gaps this year. A lack of many Chinese companies and very few American exhibitors; making it a primarily European show. Uncertainty and limited prep time played a role. We found it difficult to recruit as many company reps in person as we would have liked to, but made up for that by running a virtual showcase and being there in person and situated in the Digital Ecosystem exhibit hall. I’m sure next year will be bigger and will once again draw the international audience that previous shows have.

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You can’t attend Hannover Messe without having a sense of how fast advanced manufacturing is changing. With the exception of EVs and hydrogen systems, there weren’t as many new manufacturing technologies on display this year, there wasn’t a particular technology theme like the fair has had in previous years. However, what became clear from walking the floor, was in every field of application – from product design and development, automation systems, energy, motors and drives, robotics, additive, to digital systems – how much connectivity, high power cloud and edge computing capabilities, and AI have become embedded in the latest technology solutions available to manufacturers.

Ten years ago, advanced manufacturing exhibits were contained in one hall. This year most of the industry exhibits were about digital manufacturing and automation systems. It was only four years ago that the fair highlighted AI applications. The year before that it was additive. In 2019, it was cloud computing and 5G networks. Now connectivity is taken for granted. Additive, AI, and advanced computing capabilities were not only highlighted throughout the show but part of the automation and control systems on display. We are past the dawn of Industry 4.0. Now it’s smart products, processes, and materials, with digital
solutions everywhere.

In my discussion with exhibitors, I was impressed by how similar their views are of the challenges and opportunities they see when it comes to adopting their technologies. The show is always a good place for engineers and technicians to meet, see what their competitors are up to, and find potential business partners. Yet, when you ask how business is going, the response is pretty much the same, and much different from what I hear in Canada. Tech providers are finding it difficult to make the business case to manufacturers. It’s not just about the features or potential benefits of their technology; it’s about how it can be integrated into operations, successfully managed, and sustained.

Most of the solution providers I spoke to talked about the importance of helping their customers identify opportunities for implementation to improve processes, demonstrate applications in actual use cases, manage data, and develop the skill sets required to manage their technologies productively. As impressed as they were with the technologies on display, most manufacturers were simply looking for solutions to the business challenges they face in delivering higher value to customers or cutting costs. It’s difficult to look beyond the tech in Hannover Messe, but that’s exactly what manufacturers need to do to figure out where in their business, production, or supply chain processes new solutions could be implemented to improve performance and meet business objectives.

When these two perspectives come together, magic happens. When they don’t, tech providers don’t get much business at the fair. Manufacturers who pursue the tech for tech’s sake usually end up disappointed because they don’t improve their business, often because they don’t have the expertise, IT capacity, or skill sets to implement in a profitable way.

Which leads me to perhaps my biggest takeaway of all. I was highly impressed by the enthusiasm and expertise of the young people exhibiting advanced manufacturing solutions at the fair. Leon, a graduate from Paderborn University, who is setting up an open-source AI platform for systems optimization. Sylvie, whose start-up company is working with nanomaterial coatings for EV battery casings. Mark, the 20-something CEO of a lean consulting company that specializes in automation and AI installations for auto parts suppliers.

Gorve, the young employee from Siemens Canada who took our delegation on a tour of the Siemens exhibit.

The last day of the show is usually open to students from across Germany, and as usual this year they flooded into the fair. Noise levels kicked up a notch that day. You could feel their excitement and see their interest and the engaged discussions they were having with exhibitors.

Labour and talent shortages are not only a concern for manufacturers in Canada, but around the world. Yet, I couldn’t help but think advanced manufacturing will be in pretty good hands in the future and how great it would be to invite a cohort of Canadian students to attend the fair. I’m sure it would be equally as exciting for them. Like me, I’m sure Hannover Messe would leave a lasting impression.
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Jayson Myers, the CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, is an award-winning business economist and advisor to private and public sector leaders. E-mail jayson.myers@ngen.ca. Visit www.ngen.ca.

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