Earlier this year, we walked the halls of the Hannover Messe, one of Europe’s largest events for industrial manufacturers. The newest robots, 3-D printing systems, and data-mining hardware and services were all there along with a host of people hyping Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT), Digital Manufacturing, and big data and advanced analytics. It seemed as though everybody from the best-known software giants to basic industrial parts providers was marketing a “latest technological breakthrough” — even if it amounted to little more than a new sensor attached to an old piece of equipment.
Amazing dreams were being sold: A black box that could be installed in your plant and would improve your competitiveness — all by itself; big data servers and algorithms that would tell you how to improve your process — with no additional engineering investment; virtual-reality glasses that would make your workforce more productive — just by putting them on.
It was all reminiscent of 19th century advertisements for cure-all patent medicines.