For three days at the end of November thousands of visitors from all over the world will descend on the medieval German city of Nuremberg to witness an exceptional display of the latest in drives and automation technology. The event is the renowned Smart Production Solutions (SPS) trade show, now in its thirtieth anniversary year.
Some 1,650 exhibitors are expected to attend. Ranged through the fifteen or so exhibition halls of the Nürnberg Convention Centre, their stalls will offer a comprehensive overview of the state of play in the field of industrial automation and every possible related sector: drive systems and their components; sensor technology; interface technology and power supplies; industrial communication systems; and – this year more than ever before – software and IT applications.
Last year’s show attracted more than 65,000 visitors from a variety of technical backgrounds (though the fields of control technologies and electric drives were especially well-represented). Reasons for attendance were many. Most attendees were potential buyers, with some on the lookout for specific products or solutions. A good number were there to pursue or renew relationships within the industry.
But what brought everyone together – and what the SPS is particularly known for – was an in-depth exchange of experiences and information, above all with regard to product innovations and trends.
The buzz last year – every SPS tends to throw up a theme that captures the assembled imagination – was around Time Sensitive Networking. US signal transmissions specialist Belden was there to unveil a never-before-seen complete TSN system for Ethernet networks; before long, talk of the technology’s potential to support real-time communications for industrial control applications was all around the halls.
Product demonstrations are standard theatre at Nuremberg and often create real excitement – as when, last year, German automation giants Beckhoff and Bosch Rexroth both displayed working models of floating ‘movers’ – small, magnetically levitated platforms operational through six axes of freedom that promise to open up new possibilities in the fields of robotics and machine building.
Even without such futuristic wizardry, most demonstrations guarantee the attention of engineers curious about developments in their specialised areas of work. Thousands of motors, drive systems, safety controls, gears and adaptors are all on prominent display alongside thousands more digital screens.
What to expect this year? A clue lies in the show’s change of name. SPS used to go under the altogether less snappy designation SPS IPC Drives, the first three letters being, in fact, the abbreviation for a programmable logic controller in German. That signification has been remodelled – it now stands for Smart Production Solutions – with the secondary components left implicit.
The rebrand is meant to reflect a shift of interest within the automation industry at large – a new focus on the next generation of software and on opportunities raised by the digital revolution. Not that there will be any shortage of the usual hardware on display in Nuremberg. But this year those exhibitors will share the venue with relatively new faces from the worlds of cloud and big-data computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other IT technologies.
The new themes are evident in the list of product presentations, lectures and panel discussions scheduled to run over the course of the event’s three days (admission to which is free for exhibitors and visitors). Topics to be covered include everything from future directions for 5G in mechanical engineering, to the principle of interoperability in the age of Industry 4.0, to the likely impact of digitisation on process measuring technology.
On top of this, a dedicated joint stand – ‘Automation meets IT’ – will give special visibility to exhibitors specialising in areas such as cloud-based services, data-centric services and unified machine architecture.
Finally, a series of guided tours will focus on the themes of AI and predictive maintenance, industrial security in manufacturing and cloud ecosystems. Shorter, self-guided tours will also be available.
Within the strongly international feel of every SPS event, European exhibitors and visitors naturally predominate (making up 60% and 80% of last year’s attendance respectively) – with big names from Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy, especially in evidence. The strongest presence from further afield is always that of China, which last year accounted for almost a fifth of the exhibiting firms.
The number of those who have booked stands for this November includes over forty companies from the UK and USA. Their presence alone – expect to find up and coming web and software developers alongside well-established names in the field of precision motion control engineering, in turn rubbing shoulders with smaller outfits dedicated to manufacturing locks, brakes and other safety equipment – should capture much of the diversity of the SPS remit.
SPS Nuremberg is not the only show coming up. Satellite events will take place throughout 2020 in other emerging automation heartlands: Guangzhou in February, Parma in Italy in May, and Dubai in September.
But Nuremberg is undoubtedly the event of the year. 94% of last year’s showing told a survey that they were planning to return in 2019, with individual visitors describing it as ‘the best trade show around’ and ‘the highlight of the exhibition year’.
Full details of the event can be found at the SPS website.