22 Jul 2024

AUTOMATION FOR MANUFACTURING

SPS 2023 Show Exclusive Report

SPS 2023: Bringing Automation to Life

Germany’s SPS automation mega-show is showing signs of returning to its pre-pandemic scale, despite difficulties in its domestic industrial market. We look at some of the trends and technologies at the 2023 event which took place in November.

The SPS (Smart Production Solutions) automation mega-show returned to its venue in Nuremberg, Germany, for three days in November and showed signs of regaining its pre-pandemic size. In 2019, Europe’s biggest automation show attracted 1,585 exhibitors and 63,708 visitors. The 2023 event drew 1,229 exhibitors and more than 50,000 visitors – up from 999 exhibitors and 44,000 visitors at its first post-Covid outing in 2022.

More than a third of the exhibitors (38%) were from outside Germany with the top three external countries represented being China, Italy and the US. Some 28% of those attending hailed from outside Germany, while the number flying in from outside Europe was 27% up on the figure for 2022.

At the event, there were 165 forum sessions, attracting 5,380 participants, both in-person and online. A survey of visitors revealed that 94% of them would attend a future SPS and that 95% would recommend the show to their colleagues.

“We are proud to have achieved results such as these, and the figures speak for themselves,” said Sylke Schulz-Metzner, vice-president for SPS at the organiser, Mesago Messe Frankfurt.

The show occupied 16 halls – two more than in 2022 – and covered a total area of 128,000m². The organisers describe the 2023 event as “an out-and-out success”. The number of people attending SPS could have been even higher had it not been for a train drivers strike, which was called at short notice, and led to difficult travel conditions both on local and long-distance rail services in Germany.

The show took place against a background of tough times in the German automation and manufacturing sectors. The VDMA trade body reported a 13% real-terms fall in orders for the mechanical and plant engineering sector during November compared to the previous year, with both the domestic and export sales being hit. “A bottoming out to end this downturn is not yet in sight, as our customers worldwide would first have to regain confidence in foreseeable growth and stable political processes,” warned the organisation’s chief economist, Dr Ralph Wiechers.

The adverse economic climate was perhaps reflected in the fact that there fewer major new product launches at the show than there have been in previous years, but probably more iterations to existing ranges. But there were still significant announcements, some of which we have covered in the magazine and on our Web site since the event – as well as over the next few pages of this issue.

There were also individual companies that appeared to be defying the downturn – perhaps, most notably, Beckhoff Automation which reported a 28% increase in sales to €1.515bn. This followed a similar spurt the previous year, and average growth rate of 15% from 2010-2022, despite the effects of Covid.

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The UK presence at SPS is usually limited both in terms of the number of exhibitors and visitors. But 2023 bucked this trend with more UK-based companies having stands at the show, a several launching new products. For example, Sprint Electric used the show to unveil its expansion from its traditional role as a supplier of DC drives, to enter the market for regenerative AC drives as well. It was previewing its new family prior to its commercial launch this spring.

Other UK-based businesses displaying their latest ranges included Trio Motion Technology, Invertek Drives and PMW Dynamics.

One interesting development at the show was the growing interest of global electronics distributors in the automation sector. Both RS and DigiKey were exhibiting at SPS for the first time, with the latter attracting large numbers of visitors to its stand to play on slot machines that were dispensing tools as prizes.

According to Eric Wendt, DigiKey’s director of industrial automation, automation products now account for more than 10% of the company’s activities and it is now selling more than 1.4 million items from more than 400 automation suppliers – and the numbers are growing.

Another electronics distributor making inroads into the automation sector (but not at SPS in 2023) is Mouser Electronics which, in recent months, has signed distribution deals for Siemens automation products (including its Logo! logic modules), Panasonic sensors, and AI microcontrollers from Ambiq.

The dominant buzzwords at SPS 2023 were AI and the industrial metaverse. Almost every supplier seemed to be offering some sort of AI-powered system, while Siemens was leading the metaverse revolution in its vast hall.

On this Web site, we have reported on some of the products and technologies on show to visitors to SPS 2023. We have listed them below.

The VDMA trade body is bullish about the prospects for the German robotics and automation industry for the year ahead, and is forecasting a 4% increase in turnover for 2024, with sales rising to €16.8bn – a new record. If this is accurate, it could augur well for the 2024 SPS show.

SPS is scheduled to return to Nuremberg from 12-14 November, 2024. The organisers are planning to support the show with a series of year-round activities including digital events called the SPS Technology Talks, expert newsletters, and a platform called CareerDrive, where suppliers and users can network.

♦  Compact global drive redefines what ‘standard’ means

♦  Drives-based automation system is ‘one of the fastest’

♦  Novel high-efficiency motor ‘will shake up the industry’

♦  Water-cooled servomotors triple standstill torque

♦  Siemens develops AI manufacturing tool with Microsoft

♦  Next-gen multi-core motion control avoids limitations

♦  Technology creates bridge from motor switches to digital world

♦  Motion controller marries Windows with multi-axis engine

♦  Siemens simplifies motion engineering to tackle skills crisis

♦  Liquid-cooled SynRM IE5 motors combine efficiency with output

♦  Dell, Nokia and Kuka join Rexroth’s ctrlX automation platform

♦  AI-powered online community supports automation collaboration

♦  New generation of controllers share code, allowing OEMs to scale machines

♦  Automated goods receipt system delivers transparency

♦  Quartet of motion controls includes 100µs per axis model

♦  New generation of cycloidal gears deliver 30% more torque

♦  Chinese automation giant pushes into Europe

♦  Profinet safety controller operates as an expansion module

♦  3D cameras monitor the contents of containers