Hannover Messe 2023 Day Three: Connectivity and communication are critical to industrial transformation

Manufacturers and associations at Hannover Messe emphasized the need for better connectivity and communication with their products and each other.

By Chris Vavra April 20, 2023
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Communication insights

  • Manufacturers are improving their networking and communication protocols to streamline operations.
  • Several manufacturers are increasingly taking control of the entire production process and making it easier for customers to do business with them for an entire facility.

Hannover Messe has revolved the 2023 show around the idea of industrial transformation. What that means differs depending on the company and its agenda. However, almost all companies can agree on the need to get information faster any way possible. Industrial networking advances are certainly at the heart of it, but so is relaying and communicating the data to the right people when they need it.

While this has gotten better in recent years, there’s still a long way to go.

Profibus and Profinet International (PI) is focused on developing and supplying fieldbus and Industrial Ethernet solutions for cost efficient and highly reliable automation. More than 20 manufacturers at the PI booth showed PI-related solutions.

Xaver Schmidt, the chairman of PI, said, “Our goal is to collect developers, vendors and different communities and bring them together. We want to exchange ideas and different technologies and improve industrial communication.”

Ole Borgbjerg, senior director of sales at PTC, said, “Being industry-agnostic is important to us. No matter if it’s process or discrete industries.”

Making communication strong and versatile

Improving communication in manufacturing has often been a challenge. In a large facility, it’s hard to tell what’s happening at any given moment. Even with the advances in digital technology, it still comes down to people responding and reacting. That isn’t always easy as the engineers are interacting more with cybersecurity. Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) are learning to work together and respond to each other’s language, but the process is a bumpy one.

“We want to bring OT and IT together,” said Nina Tebbe, head of software sales in Central Europe for Rockwell Automation. “Everyone should ask what the client wants to achieve. It’s important to look at it from their perspective.”

Connecting systems like a beehive

Patrick McCurdy, vice president – industry management and automation: USA, Phoenix Contact USA, described open-source programming as like the combs on a beehive. While perhaps a strange analogy at first glance, it does make sense upon further thought. Engineers, especially those just starting out, don’t want to be stuck using programmable logic controller (PLC) languages such as ladder logic when they’ve been working on Raspberry PI. They want the freedom and the flexibility to choose.

Where the beehive analogy comes in is when the engineers are building their system, it needs to be flexible and modular and can take on many different forms. McCurdy said the Phoenix Contact PLCnext, which is where the honeycomb example started, called it an ecosystem.

Phoenix Contact emphasized modularity and freedom for their product lines, particularly the PLCnext, likening it to an automation ecosystem. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Phoenix Contact emphasized modularity and freedom for their product lines, particularly the PLCnext, likening it to an automation ecosystem. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

“It’s an open ecosystem to do control and automation,” he said, adding later that this kind of flexibility for engineers brings “A world of openness.”

Becoming all things to a consumer

Beckhoff Automation’s Tuesday press conference described a trend that has been happening the last few years where manufacturers are going beyond their usual niches and expanding their reach and expertise.

“We are a system provider so we try to offer the complete automation system from I/O down to motion. We do this with a PC-based control system,” said Johannes Beckhoff, R&D department, Beckhoff Automation.

From there, he described the company as an industrial PC, an I/O, a motion, a system and an automation company. All of its expertise is folded together to give them control over products as possible and reduce reliance on other manufacturers and providers. There is a certain appeal to it from a control standpoint. In some cases, as was seen with SEW Eurodrive expanding from motors and drives to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), these expansions are leveraging the technology that already exists and finding new uses for them.

Through partnerships with associations and consortiums, automation technology providers are learning from their competition and other companies outside industrial markets. It’s not just technology, but also philosophies and ideas and procedures. All of these help manufacturers willing to accelerate, using new tools to be successful in the journey to greater digitalization and industrial optimization. Customers also benefit because it can reduce the long-term price points if something needs to be fixed or repaired.

Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

Author Bio: Chris Vavra is web content manager for CFE Media and Technology.