We are all familiar with the challenges currently facing industry. They can be broadly summarised as follows: The pandemic has disrupted and severed familiar supply chains. The war in Ukraine has resulted in turbulence in the global energy market. The climate crisis means that identifying alternative sources of energy – a task industry previously considered more of a side issue – has taken on a central role. In the USA, inflation has led to the Inflation Reduction Act, which has added further fuel to European fears of an exodus of local industries. And, last but not least, industry is wondering what challenges the EU Data Act and the new data ecosystem Manufacturing-X will bring.
New ecosystems and open platforms in the cloud
At Zühlke we believe that these significant challenges can only be solved by working together. Collaboration, co-creation and co-innovation that transcend company and industry lines are vital if we are to stand our ground in the market. The Hannover Messe confirmed our view. Discussions, presentations, keynotes and exhibitors all made it clear that collaborating – both vertically and horizontally – is key. Open rather than closed systems, standards rather than proprietary access, software rather than hardware. On a product level, for example, we are seeing an increasing number of ecosystems that are not limited to a single manufacturer’s product range. A typical example: today, a machine manufacturer that purchases connection technology for its new machine series from a supplier won’t just be purchasing an interchangeable connector. They will also get access to the control level of another supplier and to the cloud functionality of a third. Contrary to past experience, this does not result in self-contained, vertical technology layers that force the manufacturer to choose a particular value-added environment. And the most exciting aspect here is that this openness can also be seen horizontally vis-a-vis fellow competitors. This could be seen impressively at the Schneider Electric booth during the Innovation Tour with the "Industrie-Club Hannover" and was confirmed in the discussions at the following "Niedersachsenabend" at the Salzgitter AG booth.
Open platforms and standards create new opportunities
Open platforms and open-source approaches are the order of the day. This is most clearly illustrated by machine control. For decades, control technology suppliers tended to work in their own lanes and had few dealings with their competitors, but it was clear at the Hannover Messe that things here have radically changed. Instead of being tied to specific hardware, manufacturers are turning to open systems for control functions and common standards such as IEC 61131-3 for application development. This new approach brings the prospect of manufacturers being able to create products that work with their competitors’ hardware. It also means that competitors’ applications that adhere to open standards can be rolled out on the open platforms as easily as apps on a smartphone. This is opening up new digital servitisation possibilities in the engineering sector. Digital services offer new potential – in recurring sales, for example, and closer customer ties. Find out more about how you can successfully implement digital services in the engineering sector here.
Climate-neutral industry: the question isn’t ‘if’ but ‘how’
Another core issue for the future of the sector is sustainability. We believe that sustainability in engineering goes way beyond ecodesign and the use of sustainable materials. We need new strategies, processes and business models in order to achieve carbon-neutral production and a climate-neutral circular economy in the medium term. Climate neutrality depends on industry taking action – both as a provider and as a user of technologies that make carbon-neutral production possible. Numerous companies presented solutions of this kind, particularly in the area of energy management and the establishment of a hydrogen economy. While promising, these approaches simultaneously demonstrate that, as we head towards climate-neutral production, we need to work on more innovative solutions if we are to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the industry.
On the other hand, achieving a circular economy, which has the additional benefit of increasing reliability in the supply chain, is not rocket science – a pragmatic approach will enable us to harvest the low hanging fruits. It is a matter of changing the way we think and sometimes questioning processes that have been in place for decades. Thomas Feeting from Wilo and Tom Schneider from Trumpf impressively illustrated this in their animated, pragmatic talk at the „VDMA-Maschinenbau-Gipfel-Salon“.
They made it clear that, be it quick wins or long-term sustainability goals, cooperation is also key when it comes to sustainability. Increasingly complex challenges demand multidisciplinary solutions and co-creations, as the sustainable future project we carried out with Sensirion Connected Solutions AG shows.
ChatGPT etc.: data and AI are all around us
When it came to data and AI (artificial intelligence), the Hannover Messe had a little surprise in store: contrary to expectations, given the hype surrounding ChatGPT and Generative AI, it wasn’t assigned a dedicated exhibition area. Instead, Industrial AI was presented as an enabler for optimising a wide range of solutions. Making strategic use of data – an adequate quantity of suitable data – and AI helps companies boost productivity or improve services, for example, and paves the way for the smart factory or the data-driven organisation. Read more about how to apply this approach and the hurdles you can expect to encounter in our study ‘Data-driven Companies’. The trade fair once again underlined the importance of data-based decisions and goal-oriented AI applications and showed how crucial these technologies are to new ecosystems, automation, climate protection, digitalisation and, as a result, the survival of industry as a whole.
If you have any related questions, do get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you!
Gerald Brose is Director Business Development at the Zühlke Group. An Economics graduate, he is responsible for business development in Germany for the industrial sector with a focus on plant and mechanical engineering. Before joining Zühlke, he worked as a consultant and key account manager in IT outsourcing. In addition to the overarching theme of digitalisation, Gerald is currently focused on IP ownership in product innovation, monetisation of data science use cases, and customer experience.