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Industrial IoT, Industry 4.0, Manufacturing Digitalization, or whatever phrase you might hear is a big trend. Unsurprisingly, this was a major theme at this year’s Hannover Messe. Walking the show, you did not have to travel far to encounter some manifestation of this on a vendor booth.

Nothing to see here then, move along? This was true last year, and the year before. Some even argue that Industrial IoT (or whatever you want to call it) is just a variation of a theme we’ve seen in factory connectivity for 10+ years. In fairness, they might be right. The ideas behind Industrial IoT and the problems faced by its implementation are the same as we talked about back then: overcoming system interoperability, using an Ethernet-based architecture, distributing intelligence around the factory floor, centralizing data and acting upon it, adopting new and untrusted technologies, ensuring uptime and being secure. So, what’s new?

Industrial IoT at Hannover – what’s changed?

In short, the large amount of floor-space occupied by very well-known IT brands at the show seemingly brings a new sense of urgency to the topic. It’s as if manufacturing has recently pinged as a very large object on these companies’ growth radar. The ones that stand out are Amazon, Cisco, Dell, IBM, HP, Intel, Microsoft and SAP. That’s not to say this was a first-time exhibit for all (SAP, for example, has offered a major presence for several years now), but the size and scale of their presence was more notable than in previous years, as was their partnership footprint on other vendors’ stands.

Industrial IoT is clearly getting momentum, and the cloud is a key component to bring it all together. These vendors bring the infrastructure or capability to connect to and utilize the cloud, and in some instances software tools to help maximize its capabilities. Amazon, IBM, SAP and Microsoft were touting analytical capability in particular. IBM’s Watson was nicely showcased at its newly announced partner’s (ABB) keynote. We saw examples of usage cases in industry, with Kone and Schaeffler providing examples that benefited from Watson analytics. Enter the Amazon Cloud (yes, an outside exhibit in the shape of a cloud) and you were not only offered cloud storage services for your IoT solution, but access to Amazon’s extensive library of tools including its analytical engine used for predictive preferences on the Amazon store. Dell, Cisco, HP and Huawei were more infrastructure oriented; edge computing, onsite data centers and solutions for secure communications were the focus, highlighting the many different ways that digitalization in manufacturing can be implemented.

Siemens’ MindSphere – a parry or riposte?

Siemens’ booth at Hannover never disappoints and undoubtedly drew the most foot-traffic; this year the star of its exhibit was its MindSphere Lounge. MindSphere represents a push into cloud-based services, a critical component to ensure it is well-placed to maintain its leadership position as a total solution vendor. It’s a novel approach, providing an open-platform Industrial IoT operating system, thereby enabling connectivity between its own and third party products. It has the potential to create new revenue potential, pushing into the IT vendors’ domains while they are pushing into Siemens’.

The MindSphere lounge highlighted the partnership nature of Industrial IoT. SAP, Amazon and Microsoft were showcased as MindSphere partners, among others. Seemingly, for the larger IT vendors, a multi-partner approach or being vendor agnostic is their strategy – “use our cloud or not, or our tools, or both – we don’t mind.” Siemens, for now, seems happy to play this game. But one does wonder how this will shake out towards the end game.

New business models for automation vendors are real

Several automation companies were offering cloud-based data analytics solutions for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, which up until recently could be considered costly and limited to higher-value assets and large machines. However, new technologies and advancements in sensor and software technology, such as ABB’s Smart Sensor systems, are empowering end-users to monitor and maintain a broader base of machines (or in ABB’s case, individual motors) more efficiently and cost effectively.  Therewith the digitalization of systems comes new business models for automation vendors too, who can offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) to their end customers.

Intelligent Automation is now the way forward

However, condition monitoring and predictive maintenance is not new, right? We’ve heard much of this before, but the difference is now the necessary pieces are now coming together in a way that can make the end-goal real – pulling together everything that exists already to create a true manufacturing nirvana. A place where costs and production processes are completely optimized, maintenance planned to suit, and a machine’s intelligence suitably connected to other business systems. To do this properly, IT vendors need to collaborate with automation vendors and end-users alike to offer an interconnected total solution. Simple interconnected analytics is where we are now, but down the road artificial intelligence (AI) will be the next big thing that you can expect to see on everyone’s booths at Hannover Messe – it’s just a question of when.

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