Hannover Messe: overwhelming in scope and developments shown
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Hannover Messe: overwhelming in scope and developments shown

Inspiration, amazement, tips, information, useful conversations and lots of walking miles. A sizeable delegation from northern business, government and education visited the Hannover Messe together this week. On the way to Industrie 4.0.

You have to get up very early for it, take a long bus ride for granted and accept tired legs. But then you have something. At the Hannover Messe the latest inventions, innovations and applications in industrial technology are shown every year. (Tech) companies from around the world showcase themselves in fifteen halls, each the size of, say, Martiniplaza.

Modular robots that can be converted in an instant, transport trucks that find their own way, grab arms that recognize what to grab in a haphazard pile of stuff. It's all there. As are A.I. programs that design products themselves, fully automated factories that know for themselves when to make what where, and much more.

NOM, the Smart Industry Hub, Top Dutch and the European Digital Innovation Hub North Netherlands (EDIH-NN) organized the group trip, which started as early as 06:00 at P+R Haren, from where two buses departed. An early start of a long day including coffee, packed lunch, dinner and lots of great things.

Hannover Messe: overwhelming in scope and developments shown

How does this fit with us?

Overwhelming it is at the Messe. Not only because of the size of the fair and the state of development of the technology on display. Also because of the voice in the back of the visitor's mind: "How far into that future am I myself?" and "What technology from this vast array do I need to make progress?

Jan Middel, co-owner of De Vries Trappen in Heerenveen, has such questions. ,,We are always looking for ways to make the production process more efficient. With our product, custom-made stairs, it is not easy to apply far-reaching smart technology. So with everything I see, I think: how does this fit in with us?''

That, of course, is the tricky thing about this Industry 4.0, which, by the way, according to some trip participants, is mostly a buzz word. Where do you start, what do you leave out, how do you tackle it? Expert Anno Cazemier(Consultancy firm Langhout and Cazemier), who together with Wilbert van den Eijnde(NHL Stenden) had plotted a 4-hour tour, doesn't have the answers ready either. ,,Start small, for example with adjustments to machines. When they are due for replacement, you can take bigger steps. It's mainly about thinking carefully about what data can give you insights that will be of great use to you quickly.''

Can wander around here for two days

That thinking certainly gets a boost at Hannover Messe. Jorn Zijlstra, electrical engineer at Demcon: ,,I saw exceptional electrical engineering applications, some of which I would certainly like to try. The fair also reassured me quite a bit: we are already working with techniques that are quite up-to-date.''

Incidentally, a one-day visit is a bit on the short side for Zijlstra. ,,I am an enthusiast. I can certainly spend two days wandering around here, talking to interesting suppliers and getting ideas. Something striking? You see that the technology is increasingly focused on function and the customer. Complicated switch boxes outside and technology in the field will soon no longer exist. That's all going to be integrated into the field.''

Over dinner on the way back, near Bremen, enthusiasm grows about the day that has been. It was mega, it was overwhelming, it was well done, educational and mighty interesting.

Jan Middel (De Vries Stairs) listed his top three. ,,That software that engineers products itself would be a great idea for us, I think. The robot carts could greatly improve logistics on our shop floor. That's a development that will be commonplace in many factories in about five years, I think. And then I wrote down that this smart robot arm is something to keep an eye on. In our factory, several pieces of wood fall off the machine after a model is cut from a slab. If a robot recognizes and picks up those leftover pieces, it saves a lot of manual labor.''

Again next year, participants hope.