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Community Blog Progress of Industrial Digital Intelligence amid the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Quick Look from Hannover Messe

Progress of Industrial Digital Intelligence amid the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Quick Look from Hannover Messe

This article discusses how the pandemic has accelerated the practice and transformation towards industrial digital intelligence and how industries have reacted.

By Lu Zisheng

At the recent Hannover Messe 2021 (Digital Edition), more than 1,800 exhibitors showcased about 7,000 types of products and nearly 400 R&D projects that focused on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, Industy 4.0, and electric vehicles in the form of live connections and streaming.

Since its establishment in 1947, Hannover Messe has represented the highest level of technological development in global industrial manufacturing, led the innovation of global manufacturing enterprises and service providers, and is also the vane of industrial digital intelligence transformation in recent years. In 2020, due to the pandemic, the exhibition was suspended for the first time. However, this year, Hannover Messe 2021 was held online for the first time. Although it was not as crowded as previous years, it gave us an opportunity to witness the development of industrial digital innovation after the pandemic outbreak.

In addition to launching some new products and sharing cases, this year’s Hannover Messe delivered two important messages. In terms of scale, the penetration of digital and intelligent applications in the industrial field has been expanded further. In terms of method, cloud-based digital infrastructure architecture is being accepted by more enterprises.

First, digital and intelligent applications in industrial manufacturing are maturing, and the number of applications and the scale of practice has increased significantly.

Since the concept of Industry 4.0 was first proposed in Hannover in 2013, digital transformation has been a hot topic at Hannover Messe. Exhibition content in previous years shows that traditional topics are still the mainstream of the exhibition. In particular, automation-related technologies and products are more likely to win direct business opportunities and are more valuable to exhibitors. However, in this year’s exhibition, the topic of digital intelligence became mainstream. Among 1,239 official events, 836 events are related to digital topics, such as digital platforms, AI, cloud service and infrastructure, and predictive maintenance, which accounts for 2/3 of the total number of official events. From the perspective of case maturity, most of the nearly 400 cases shared this year have been (or are being) implemented, which is different from previous exhibitions that focus on prototype display and product introduction.

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Figure 1 – Top 10 Topics at Hannover Messe

Alibaba Cloud Research Center believes that two main reasons account for this progress. The first reason is the pandemic. The pandemic has high requirements on the resilience of manufacturing and the reliability of the supply chain. Industrial enterprises are seeking digital and intelligent applications that can solve current problems and avoid future risks. Many enterprise leaders are engaged in frontline operations and paid unprecedented attention to digital intelligence. This accelerated the popularization of industrial digital and intelligent applications.

The second reason is accumulation of expertise. After six to seven years of exploration, the concepts of industrial Internet, Industrial 4.0, and intelligent manufacturing have been deeply rooted in the hearts of the public. Many pioneers have explored their way to success and attracted more enterprises to participate. Therefore, the pandemic and successful cases in digital practice have significantly improved quantity and quality. The success of these practices gives confidence to those who pay attention to digitalization in the industrial field. Although the digital industry is more complex than other industries, digital applications can still empower manufacturing enterprises.

However, we have also noticed that difficulties exist at the same time. Currently, the digital applications in the manufacturing industry are still limited to a few mature scenarios, such as predictive maintenance, defect detection based on machine vision or optics, and multi-parameter system performance optimization. There is no significant breakthrough in technology. These application scenarios strike a good balance between the return on investment, reusability, implementation complexity, and business independence. They are suitable for single-point applications and have been well promoted. It is more difficult than ever to develop new application scenarios, but it is also a valuable chance for participants to seize the opportunities in the future.

Stimulation from the popularization of digital and intelligent applications and the application of industrial chains have caused more industrial enterprises to choose to migrate data and applications to the cloud. Due to the consideration of performance and costs, migrating single-point industrial applications to the cloud is still under discussion. However, as the number of digital and intelligent applications grows and achieves data interconnection, resource sharing, and higher security, it becomes urgent and necessary to migrate multiple digital intelligence application platforms and global digital intelligence applications to the cloud. The flexibility, ease of use, and sound platform support brought by the cloud allow more enterprises to build applications and platforms on the cloud.

More industrial enterprises have started looking beyond the factories, shifting their focus from using single-point digital intelligence applications for cost control to using digital intelligence applications to win new revenue growth opportunities and improve global efficiency. For example, using digital intelligence for upstream and downstream fields, such as end-to-end digital intelligence, digital supply chains, digital production and sales collaboration, and global marketing, has attracted more attention. At this time, cloud migration has become a natural choice for these enterprises that can use cloud infrastructure and data platforms to break down data silos and allow data to flow freely at all stages of the industrial value chain to truly realize the value of data. However, data ownership and information security are still the major concerns at the exhibition. They are also difficult problems to solve if enterprises plan to promote cloud applications in the industrial field in the future.

The pandemic has accelerated the practice and transformation towards industrial digital intelligence, and the participants in the industry have also made full use of this opportunity to promote the transformation. For enterprises that want to carry out digital intelligence transformation, three points need to be considered:

  1. Pay attention to mature application scenarios and choose applicable solutions according to the situation to improve the success rate of digital intelligence transformation.
  2. Broaden your perspective and extend the attention to the integration of manufacturing and other links to improve the overall efficiency and revenue.
  3. Build a cloud-based digital infrastructure that matches the application scale to avoid data silos or repeated construction. Keep up with the pace of digital and improve competitiveness continuously.

About the Author

Lu Zisheng is the Strategy Director of the Alibaba Cloud Research Center. The author previously worked with Siemens Management Consulting and Accenture, focusing on digital transformation and science and technology strategic research in fields, such as industry, energy, electricity, and transportation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are for reference only and don't necessarily represent the official views of Alibaba Cloud.

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