Hanover Fair focuses on digital transformation and Swedish optimism

The Hanover Fair is the largest capital goods fair in the world, and this year demonstrated how digitization is penetrating all sectors. Six mega-topics were omnipresent – and the featured guest country Sweden demonstrated how relaxed and easy it can be to work with AI and IT.

Norbert Möller, Executive Creative Director

Anyone who works for industrial brands should be familiar with the current topics and concerns of the industrial sector. To keep abreast of the latest developments, a visit to the Hanover Fair is an absolute must – after all, it's the world's largest trade fair for new products. This year's motto was "Integrated Industry – Industrial Intelligence" and the topic of digitization was omnipresent. All the major IT manufacturers were on hand, and traditional industrial groups also put their digitization initiatives in the foreground.

One lecture I happened upon at the fair was about nothing but buzzwords and the many abbreviations that have sprung up everywhere: DL, ML, AI, DS, PA, OR, and so on. It might be worthwhile to reassess how process terminology is communicated, because it seemed to me that the entire vocabulary was nothing but insider jargon by and for engineers – which doesn't exactly contribute to a broad public understanding. Which leads me to the next question: If the topics require more and more specialist expertise, is a trade fair still the right forum? How can data-based applications be presented in the conventional format of a trade fair exhibit? How do you make tangible something that cannot be displayed?

My impression was that the Hanover Fair has evolved from an exhibition to a networking event. It's an opportunity for experts to exchange knowledge.

And these six themes were omnipresent in Hanover:

Artificial Intelligence

A few years ago the buzzword was "Big Data" – today we are one step further. As we gear up for Industry 4.0 we are generating huge amounts of data, and we are starting to wonder how to evaluate this flood of information. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the only conceivable way to go: what we as humans cannot manage, we must delegate to the concentrated computing power of the machines. AI will thus become the key technology for industry.

For laymen, this development may sound dangerously akin to science fiction, as though aliens were plotting world domination. But it is actually nothing more than an analysis and evaluation procedure. The intelligence is that the system can make deductions on the basis of existing data and subsequently process the results. This of course contributes significantly to value creation. But it doesn't mean that artificial intelligence will somehow become self-sufficient. Human beings will still set the boundaries and specify the tasks AI can perform. Of course it can also be abused – like so many technical achievements – but it will prove indispensable to the industrial sector in the future.

Standardization

Standardization procedures and government regulations have pretty much always lagged behind technological development, but the pace of digitization is widening the gap between feasibility and security. At an international panel discussion at the Industry 4.0 Forum, everyone on the podium agreed that the lack of standards was a major obstacle to current developments on the international level as well. As the digital and physical worlds merge, process interfaces are changing dramatically.

I was curious and visited the DIN stand to find out how to deal with this development. I was told that a new, agile standardization procedure called DIN SPEC has been developed in response to these new requirements. Anyone can trigger a process flow and achieve publication within a few months after undergoing a content-related workshop phase.

For example, this procedure has resulted in the creation of DIN SPEC 920001-1, a metamodel for evaluating the quality of artificial intelligence. It provides a foundation for "robust, traceable, secure and trusted AI applications." Additional standards are planned on the same basis.

Data and Information Security

At the Hanover Fair there was actually an entire hall for companies dealing with the topic of "Industrial Security." We must bear in mind that production processes and IT infrastructures are becoming increasingly networked. There is an increasing number of interfaces and potential points of attack in increasingly complex systems. On top of that, security must not impair speed or availability. It will be a particular challenge for medium-sized companies to keep pace here.

One solution that has been suggested foresees a larger role for blockchain in the future. Because it is decentralized, blockchain offers a smaller attack surface for cyber attacks; on the other hand, the individual periodic data records can be checked more easily.

Cloud

The huge amounts of data generated by the development of Industry 4.0 represent a Herculean task not only in terms of their evaluation. Storing that much data is a challenge, too. Companies are often forced to operate their own data centers – or to store their data to the cloud. The latter is usually the most practicable way, because the data competence remains in the company, while the data volumes end up in the cloud.

Amazon announced at the Hanover Fair its cooperation with VW and the development of a joint supercloud. In the future, all data from the VW Group's manufacturing and production will be combined in this system, which will store data from more than 30,000 locations, 1500 suppliers and 122 factories. The aim is to optimize processes and increase productivity. The issue of security plays an immense role in a system of such gargantuan dimensions.

Energy efficiency

The handling of natural resources and the search for ways to use energy efficiently was another topic that drew a lot of attention at the Hanover Fair. Simultaneously this topic demonstrated just how far the trade fair has evolved from a conventional exhibition of capital goods. Whereas a few years ago the topic of energy efficiency might have referred to more efficient machines and smoother-running engines, this year it was also considered from the point of view of digitization. Exhibitors presented software solutions for optimized energy management, and featured ways to control and monitor the distribution, storage and use of energy while minimizing consumption.

Digital control plays an important role, especially in the course of the conversion to renewable energies. At the same time, artificial intelligence can help predict energy demand and manage the optimal distribution from decentralized sources. For the fourth time, Swedish cleantech companies joined forces to host an energy pavilion where they presented innovative solutions ranging from smart homes to electric mobility. The exhibit included a striking cityscape that expressed the sometimes highly technical offerings in a tangible, everyday aesthetic.

5G mobile technology

The discussion about setting up a 5G mobile network has been omnipresent in the media in recent months. Sooner or later, it was always a question of possible compromises and the question of how comprehensive such a network could or should be in Germany. Here I have the feeling that it is often simply not understood how indispensable this new standard will be. All topics of importance to the industrial sector require the transmission of massive amounts of data in real time, seamless networking and permanent availability. If this is not possible everywhere in Germany in the near future, then the country will no longer be a suitable industrial location. It's that simple.

It is painfully obvious that you don't have to look to Silicon Valley or China to realize that you can tackle the issue of digitization with determination and optimism. Sweden is regarded as one of the drivers of digital transformation, thanks not only to the innovative spirit of the country's industrial sector, but also to the fact that the government is creating the right framework conditions and counteracting its citizens' fears in a targeted manner. As early as the 1990s it subsidized home computers; today children are taught computer programming in primary school. And on top of that, Sweden's digitization strategy takes sustainability and climate protection into consideration. Cooperation is built on a strong foundation in Sweden, as 90 percent of all companies are micro-enterprises that depend on cooperation with others. All this makes the country an Eldorado for digital start-ups, which are interesting for large corporations as well as for international cooperation.

Sweden was thus perhaps the logical guest country for a trade fair focused on the spirit of digitization – and seized the opportunity with gusto and self-confidence. Not overly technical, neither nerdy nor austere, but relaxed and accessible: The stand was an exemplary co-lab, with helpful employees in bright yellow T-shirts, and exuded openness and collaboration in every way. An exact representation of the very success factors that have catapulted Sweden to the top of all relevant international industry 4.0 comparative rankings. So while my day at the fair started with me thinking about the inaccessibility of industry buzzwords, it ended surprisingly pleasantly, at the Swedish Partner Country Celebration. And I found that digital transformation can be a lot of fun if you look at it with Swedish eyes.