Soccer team in a huddle

SAP at CeBIT: Industry 4.0 Takes to the Stage

March 20, 2015 by Andreas Schmitz

Sensors in agriculture, golf swing analysis, an open platform by SAP and Siemens, Bill McDermott’s mission, and a new book on Big Data: Nowadays, IT touches the lives of all of us.

The sound of a golf club hitting the ball slices through the conference hall hubbub. The player, SAP UX expert Nis Boy Naeve, is not on the golf course but in a small booth in Hall 4 at the CeBIT IT expo in Hanover, Germany. The ball comes to an abrupt halt in front of a screen yet soars 220 meters down a virtual fairway. The shot puts him on the leader board. The golf ball’s trajectory and speed are measured by sensors in the ball and club and appear in real time on a screen. A simple demonstration of what sensor technology can do.

New business models

One thing’s for sure: We are finding more and more uses for sensors. The data they collect gives us valuable insights that pave the way to completely new business models.

“Data is the raw material of the digital economy,” said Germany’s economic affairs minister, Sigmar Gabriel, at CeBIT, where he announced that Germany’s government, business, research institutes, and labor unions would be joining forces to create a platform for Industry 4.0.

Henning Kagermann, president of the German Academy of Science and Engineering, is the co-chairperson of its Smart Service World working group. He predicts smart services will soon know our every whim and fancy. The 150 research and industry partners on the working group have identified six smart service use cases – which all need platform technology to succeed.

“First we have to bring software and services together,” says SAP’s tech chief Bernd Leukert. For instance, today’s air-conditioning manufacturers don’t just sell air conditioning systems; they sell the temperature the customers want in their buildings. How? By connecting software to sensors, and using algorithms that translate the temperatures from the sensors into valuable data. That’s one scenario for the smart service world we are about to become.

Industry 4.0 in action at Siemens and Schunk

Industry has already embraced the digital revolution. Peter Weckesser is the CEO of Siemen’s Customer Service DF & PD division. His mission is to turn Big Data into Smart Data. He’s created an open cloud platform, the Siemens Enterprise Cloud, which runs on SAP HANA technology. Weckesser feeds real data in to it to create, say, a machine’s digital counterpart, and then runs simulations on this data.

Schunk, headquartered in southern Germany, is a chucking tools and toolholding manufacturer. They already have a digital factory. Sensors record all parts coming into and leaving the plant, and even update the ERP system. “This turns a physical infrastructure into an intelligent infrastructure,” says Stefan Hütter, professor of production, logistics, and procurement at Germany’s University of Applied Sciences of Saarland. His film at CeBIT shows how goods movements are tracked in real time in the ERP system.

The future is already here. This year’s CeBIT shows how we are moving toward Industry 4.0. Companies can’t afford to ignore Big Data, says Rolf Schuhmann, senior vice president at SAP, in conversation with Micheal Steinbrecher, a former sports commentator and now a professor of journalism, who has co-authored a book on how the digital revolution is changing our lives.

Agriculture goes high-tech

Even farmers won’t be able to do without sensors in the future. To flourish, crops need the right temperature and optimum level of light, humidity, and fertilizer. In one scenario, which SAP developed for CeBIT, sensors collect this kind of data where crop yields were high and where they were poor. Analyzing the data reveals long-term insights, such as whether more fertilizer should be applied, and information of more immediate relevance, such as when the irrigation system can be turned off. Greater efficiency, less waste, and higher yields beckon, but we’ll have to wait and see whether it really works.

As Bill McDermott said when presenting his book, Winners Dream, to an audience of students and startups at CeBIT: “Before you can win you have to have a dream.” Industry 4.0 is already far more than that.

See more coverage from SAP at CeBIT 2015.

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