Best in show: the smartest smart factory demos at Hannover Messe 2018
Hannover Messe is the biggest industrial fair on the planet; this year’s smart factory set-ups were its most exciting yet – exhibiting high speeds, high security, and high performance, and suggesting high times for manufacturers in the coming months and years. Here, we select four of the best-in-show.
Siemens, the biggest presence at Hannover Messe, dominated the smart factory scene with its digital enterprise and smart factory demos. Demonstrating digitalisation throughout the entire lifecycle of a plant, the company had an array of ‘digital twin’ showcases to simulate, test and optimise processors prior to commissioning. Through its ‘module type package’ interface, the modules are physically connected to a subsystem via plug-and-play.
Siemens’ automotive showcase highlighted the essential steps used in automotive production, using the example of an electric car. Using a virtual copy, from the design phase the product can be simulated and tested in a completely virtual environment. Simulations include airflow around the vehicle, driving properties, heat generation during operation, battery and all electrical components. Digital Twin removes the need to build actual prototypes, allowing designers to locate possible problem areas during early development stages.
All products were linked together by Mindsphere, Siemens’ open, cloud-based IoT operating system, which took charge of securing data acquisition and analysis. The results could be used for predictive maintenance of machines or to increase energy efficiency.
Another ,major smart factory exponent, and perhaps slightly overlooked, is Beckhoff. Its TwinCAT speech recognition announcement during the conference, detailed how automation systems could operate as ‘efficiently and smoothly as the human body’.
The new TwinCAT Speech software module allows multilingual input and output of queries or information in line with industry standards. This enables interaction with the automation system to be carried out much more efficiently and conveniently. For example, when working on a machine component, operation and maintenance personnel can simply inquire about the impact of changed settings on the current control or simulation application without having to use a conventional operator interface. In addition, appropriate alarm messages can be given out acoustically when critical system values are reached.
Speech input is available as an offline function – it is accomplished without requiring an Internet or cloud connection. Speech output from TwinCAT Speech is available both as an offline function and an online function. In the case of offline, support is provided by the appropriate Windows functionalities and in online cases via Polly, the text-to-speech service from Amazon. The realistic sounding speech output for these applications is synthesised with the aid of deep learning technologies.
Another big presence at Hannover Messe, Microsoft focused on three distinct themes which they thought stood out at the event. These were: increased productivity and safety, increased monetization and increased collaboration.
By 2020, IDC predicts that 60% of plant floor workers will work alongside assistance technologies that enable automation, such as robotics, 3D printing, AI and mixed reality. According to Microsoft, several leading manufacturing and robotics companies have already created new and evolved ‘lean’ processes that leverage these capabilities to help service technicians optimise tasks and lower waste and inefficiencies while providing better customer service.
For example, Toyota Material Handling Europe is planning its 10-year vision for the factory of the future by evolving its traditional lean processes. Its goal is to find more efficient ways to distribute intelligent logic across the factory and its robotic systems. Using AI capabilities like Microsoft AirSim and mixed reality, the company can train autonomous pallet drones to recognize patterns, automate processes and learn the flow on the plant floor safely alongside humans. This is thought to drastically reduce disruptions to warehouse operations, one of the key roadblocks to deploying autonomous systems.
Toyota Material Handling Europe has also worked with Microsoft to develop T-Stream, a brand new, all-in-one solution. Built on Microsoft’s Azure cloud, it runs on Windows and utilizes Bing Maps and GPS systems to provide technicians with improved, proactive services that can carry out maintenance for customers before breakdowns occur.
Its smart palette was on display during the show.
Smart factory automation specialist ABB was showcasing its wide range of products and solutions for industry, transportation and infrastructure, and utility companies. Its Power Transformer demo – the product was announced during the conference – is the world’s first integrated solution for digitally enabled power transformers.
All power transformers leaving ABB factories will soon come enabled with digital capabilities, enabling remote monitoring and data analytics of its vital parameters in real time. It comes equipped with a digital hub that can leverage a portfolio of smart devices on a modular platform with plug-and-play capabilities.
According to ABB, the new product is already being tested by 100 customers, as well as being used by ABB itself.
Everyone knows you end up with hundreds of conference, branded pens when attending Hannover Messe. But this demo completely reinvents the wheel.
Instead of picking up generic pens, visitors were able to stop by a Vision laser printer in Hall 8 and order themselves an engraved pen. The laser printer is automated and connected to a digital hub which takes the orders – no need to speak to a Sales Representative.