What will the factories of the future look like? Will human beings still have a role on production lines? Such questions are being asked at the world’s largest industrial trade show in Hanover.
As the world's largest industrial trade show opened on Sunday in Hanover, the presence of "smart" robots and fully automated production lines begged the question: Will humans have any role in the factories of the future?
Futuristic novelties on display included production lines that communicate directly with the components they assemble. There were also robots capable of parking a car entirely on their own.
"Digitalization has made it possible to have a production line that doesn't only produce one product," said Jochen Köckler, the head of the trade show, adding: "You'll be able to paint a product one color one day and a different one the next."
Today's factories are producing more custom-made goods than ever before, Köckler noted. A significant challenge thus remains remaining competitive while addressing consumers' individual needs.
Consumers' wishes in focus
Consumers "expect to get the product they want as fast as possible," said Eckhardt Ebele, who works with industrial automation systems for Siemens.
Another major trend this year is an emphasis on sustainable, low-energy production facilities.
At one point on Sunday, a dexterous robot developed in the Netherlands sporting golden pigtails and a traditional Dutch bonnet handed a tulip to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was there to open the event with her Dutch counterpart, Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Humankind already finds itself in a time of change but "even for Industry 4.0, the principle holds true that the economy should serve the people - not the other way around," Merkel said, addressing the issue of whether fully automated factories would even need human workers and what the economic consequences could be.
In all, some 5,000 firms from 65 countries have their products on display. The Netherlands is Germany's partner country at this year's show.
"By now our semiconductors are almost as famous as our tulips," Rutte said.