The annual Hanover Fair brands itself as the world’s leading manufacturing industry fair. Where better to take the pulse of the industry? So I spent my time gathering views from sector experts about the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) in manufacturing. There is a lot of excitement about this subject, especially about the combined effect of the artificial intelligence of things (AIoT). Are we on the cusp of sustainable change in manufacturing? And if so, what are the biggest opportunities and problem areas?
Hype and reality
Larry Terwey made the case that AIoT is both hype and reality. He suggested that companies were coming under pressure from customers and competitors, and there was a genuine desire to transform. He also believes that all the necessary technology is already available. Companies are only being held back by a lack of ability to develop strategic initiatives.
The next generation
Kathy Walsh from the Industrial Internet Consortium felt that AI in IoT could be considered the next generation of the IoT. She noted that there has been no shortage of candidate articles for a special journal edition on this subject, suggesting that there is plenty of ongoing work. In her view, the digital twin aspect is one of the biggest opportunities because of the efficiencies that it brings. She also saw potential in the provision of both manufacturing and products as a service. The challenge for many companies is to bring everything together in a single solution to get the best value and full benefits out of the IoT.
Dell's point of view
The next two people that I spoke to were both from Dell Technologies. Dorian Gast believes that far from being hype, AIoT is a necessary change. He set the idea into a societal context, noting that around the world, populations were getting older. We need AI to fill the gap in the workforce and ensure a good quality of life in the future, even as the working age population shrinks.
He felt that automation in manufacturing was a big opportunity. But he also thinks the real potential of AIoT is in environmental management in smart cities. He believes that using the AIoT to manage power and heat generation and water consumption, for example, offers the strongest route to sustainability. Like Larry Terwey, he felt that the necessary technology was available, and the biggest problem was getting people to just do it.
Damian’s colleague Martin Scheyhing also felt that the AIoT was here to stay and could drive real business benefits. He believed that the biggest problem was not the technology itself, but concern about the ethics of its introduction and compliance with regulations. Those concerns may well be real, and Martin suggested that industry leaders like Dell need to develop ethical thinking around the use of AI to work through these issues. Cultural change must go hand in hand with technology.
The value of partnership
My final three interviews were all talking about a new partnership between SAS and Siemens Mindsphere. Hauke Wulfmeyer from Siemens believes that AIoT is the logical direction for the future. Data is generated on the edge, and it must therefore be handled and analysed there if we are to handle the huge volume of data and achieve real-time capabilities. The biggest gap was an integrated solution for AIoT, but the Siemens Mindsphere and SAS partnership is starting to develop that solution now.
Craig Foster from SAS was also adamant that the AIoT was absolutely sustainable. He noted that the IoT has been around a long time, but investments now allow us to apply more techniques and generate more value. Perhaps the biggest opportunity at the moment, at least in his line of work, is the SAS and Mindsphere partnership. This is because of its power to reach out across industrial environments and create value. He suggested that the biggest change needed in AIoT was simplification. Customers find it hard to understand how to bring together all the different facets, and sometimes more complex is very definitely not best.
Having talked separately about the Siemens and SAS partnership, Hauke and Craig went on to discuss it together. They described it as a partnership between analytics and functionality of Mindsphere. Both agreed that it had great potential. It was particularly helpful for business customers to be able to analyse their business without needing analytics knowledge or programming skills and use the platform across different devices. Hauke and Craig also provided a demonstration of the potential of the SAS Platform with Mindsphere, using the electric grid as an example.
Discover more insights on connected manufacturing and AIoT on our IIoT Information Hub.