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Hannover. HANNOVER MESSE is the world’s leading trade fair for integrated industry. Its exhibition lineup is truly comprehensive, spanning the full gamut of automation technology, from sensor systems to cobots, and including software for virtual product development and factory control, and all manner of solutions for end-to-end data connectivity and platforms for leveraging artificial intelligence. "Hannover is the place to go if you want to see where the future of manufacturing is headed and how it all fits together," remarked Arno Reich, the director in charge of HANNOVER MESSE’s automation-themed trade shows. "That’s because Industrial Automation and Digital Factory are where manufacturers unveil their latest Industry 4.0 innovations. And the big themes that will shape these shows at HANNOVER 2017 are digital twins, cobots and artificial intelligence," he added.

Double is better

When the physical and digital worlds meet, digital twins are born. The digital twin is conceived along with the product idea, serves as a virtual template for production, grows and develops in the product creation phase, and remains inextricably linked with the physical product throughout the latter’s life cycle.

Reich: "For industry, the potential benefits of digital twins are immense." Developers can avoid the expense of physical prototypes and endless testing iterations by using digital twinning to quickly run through myriad scenarios, develop and sift through multiple solution strategies, and explore and implement improvement options.

A good example of this is the German packaging machinery manufacturer Optima, which digitally maps, tests and validates its products using simulation software provided by HANNOVER MESSE exhibitor Siemens. Optima is able to model and optimize product flows across the entire life cycle of its machines before they are even built. "Digital twinning is no longer just about speeding up time to market," Reich explained. "It is now also used as the basis for new service offerings like preventive maintenance and is giving rise to completely new business models. These and many other highly practical applications of digital twinning will be there for visitors to see and explore at the upcoming HANNOVER MESSE," he said.

A helping hand from your friendly cobot

The International Federation of Robotics forecasts that there will be around 1.4 million new-generation industrial robots in service in factories worldwide by 2019. Among them will be a host of cobots - aka collaborative robots - working at close quarters with their human counterparts.

"Smaller companies, in particular, need cost-effective and easy-to-use solutions if they are to capitalize on the opportunities of Industry 4.0. And that’s where cobots can help," Reich commented.

One of the key benefits is that cobots are very easy to program. In fact, some are even self-learning - they can learn a new movement simply by having a technician touch them and guide them through it once or twice. Another benefit is that they can be moved and adapted to multiple locations in the production line.

Reich: "All the leading robotics manufacturers will be at HANNOVER MESSE, where they will present their latest developments and demonstrate the benefits of human-robot collaboration."

From AI to machine learning

The upcoming HANNOVER MESSE will also have a strong focus on AI applications such as machine learning. The exhibitor lineup here includes Microsoft and, of course, IBM with its Watson IoT Platform.

Machine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence that encompasses a range of different software technologies for things like self-learning computers, solutions for identifying people in photographs, systems for guiding driverless cars through city traffic, and technologies for finding patterns in vast stores of data (Big Data).

"The potential benefits of machine learning for the manufacturing industry are huge," commented Reich. "For example, in the future, machines will be able to autonomously optimize the production process and hence maximize efficiency. The first steps towards achieving this exciting new world of production will be on show at HANNOVER MESSE 2017."