If you’ve heard the term “Edge computing” recently but weren’t sure if you (or the person mentioning this term) knew exactly what it has to do with manufacturing and the day-to-day concerns of the average factory manager, you are not alone.
After quite a few discussions with industry players, we realized that there are significant knowledge gaps and a lot of confusion around cloud computing and Edge computing in manufacturing. It helped me decide on putting this article together.
No doubt, Edge computing is one of the latest trending buzzwords, and for a good reason. It appears that relying on pure cloud architecture raises deficiencies and limitations that require shifting to a more distributed architecture combining cloud and edge devices.
The transition to running complex calculations on the cloud has served as a catalyst to advanced technologies as it made many things better and faster for users worldwide. Cloud computing brought multiple advantages to the manufacturing arena, but it is not problem free. One can argue that cloud computing leads to a risky situation in which most of the world’s information is being held and managed by a just a handful of giants that store endless amounts of data all over the globe.
Also, the distance that we’ve created between our data and our physical computers may have freed many of us from having to rely on localized solutions, but at the same time slowed operations down, creating problems related to latency, security bandwidth and more. In the manufacturing industry, these disadvantages can have meaningful implications on the smooth execution of daily operations.
What is Edge computing?
In order to solve these issues, Edge computing was born with the goal of bringing the processing stage of cloud computing geographically closer. Edge technologies are based on certain distribution hierarchy- the collected IIoT data is analyzed, filtered, cleansed and only the valuable data is sent to the cloud.
Looking at the manufacturing industry, here are some of the key benefits of Edge computing:
- Reduced latency: When data storage facilities and computing power are at a significant distance from the actual production site, delays are bound to happen and depend on network characteristics. While some manufacturing applications can tolerate a few seconds of delay, for others, delays can cost a fortune. Think of a quality issue indication that goes undetected for a good few seconds, thus not allowing factory staff to respond on time. Edge computing, due to its unique architecture, is designed to minimize the latency that has become an integral part of cloud computing.
- Improved availability: While networks availability is close to 100% in some cases it is simply not sufficient. Local Edge devices are always available, collecting real time data from on-premise devices, machines, robots and sensors and ensure the continuity of data collection.
- Enhanced security: The type and stage of data that goes up to the cloud is pre-defined, thus valuable information, design etc. – could be protected on your on-premises storage. Additionally, the distributed nature of Edge computing architecture allows easier implementation of security protocols. Since more data is being processed on local devices rather than transmitting it back to a central data center, Edge computing also reduces the amount of data actually at risk at any one time.
- Easier scalability- Edge computing provides cheaper and more accessible route for scalability by combining IoT devices with Edge data centers. The use of processing-capable Edge computing devices also eases growth costs because each new device added doesn’t impose substantial bandwidth demands on the core of a network.
- Reduced storage and bandwidth costs: Local data cleansing and smart IIoT filtering improve responsiveness and send to the cloud only the relevant and valuable information collected from the sensors.
Edge computing and Industry 4.0 manufacturing- Connecting the dots
Put the sophisticated wording aside, the industry first learned to manually collect data, then it moved to make things easier by running data collection automatically, then it evolved to automatically collect much more data in real-time and now the focus moved to getting computers helping us forecast the future and make smart optimal decisions based on the data.
Manufacturers had to draw a cloud in the picture in order to accomplish the above.
With Edge computing solutions, manufacturers can still enjoy the cloud advantages while adding a layer of localized processing that prevents data overloads, saves time and protects the information. That’s the big news.
How could Edge affect manufacturers day-to-day work?
Manufacturers should immediately see the value in that because they understand the meaning of real-time solutions and the massive impact of breakdowns. Brutally simplifying a much more complex technology – the information that should be implemented right here, right now is being processed using Edge computing solutions, while remote cloud storage continues to support the other ongoing tasks.
Manufacturers should be aware that Edge computing distribution architecture brings the following benefits:
- Responding to shifts and changes: Manufacturing sites are dynamic. Edge computing enables quicker decision-making and much faster real-time analysis, which allow manufacturers to respond to issues as quickly as they happen on the production floor.
- Predictive maintenance: The newfound speed enabled thanks to Edge computing is also extremely valuable in forming a solid predictive maintenance process, which saves costly mistakes for manufacturers.
- Time is money: The issue of latency is mentioned throughout this article for a reason. Factories must save every possible second and Edge computing is the latest technology to help them do that.
- Storage is also money: Cloud storage solutions can be quite costly and making smart choices as to which data is sent where can decrease costs and save valuable resources for manufacturers. Let alone the issue of security that is better handled by Edge computing technology.
- Connecting other solutions: We’ve mentioned earlier traditional data management solutions such as ERP, and Edge computing may very well be the connecting layer we’ve been waiting for, to create much needed synergy between these solutions and the latest technology developments in Industry 4.0 manufacturing (such as Plataine).
The transition to Edge computing
In order to enjoy the advantages of Edge computing, manufacturers need to onboard software apps that are based on this technology.
But, Edge computing presents not only benefits but also a few challenges, mainly during the transition phase. While Edge computing ultimately increases our safety and privacy levels, unprofessional transitions may create vulnerabilities and expose the network to leaks and hacks.
In addition, after the deployment has been established, some Edge computing solutions might turn out to be rather costly in terms of configuration management. This means that manufacturers should remain alert and make the decision of whether to send certain information to remote cloud-based storage on a case-by-case scenario. As with any other new technology we introduce to our business, collaborating with professionals and implementing intelligent solutions can save a lot of frustration, time, and money.
Plataine’s Edge computing solution
We’ve witnessed the power of AI-based manufacturing solutions on many occasions. It helps predict and respond to changes and prevent order latency, reduce production costs, make swift and smart decisions in a fraction of the time, and more. These and other benefits do not remain a theoretical positive influence, but are translated into concrete ROI that can be calculated.
The PlataineEdge® application allows running a localized, intelligent manufacturing data management and analysis that boosts responsiveness, cost-efficiency, productivity, and much more. According to Compositesworld magazine:
“It’s not that cloud computing power is eliminated, it’s more that it is being distributed to the production line. Cutting this distance between data generation, processing and feedback into the IoT system reduces the lag time, or latency. Minimizing latency is crucial for Composites 4.0 production lines to operate in real time.”
As with AI and IoT, Edge computing is the direction in which the manufacturing industry is headed, alongside many other arenas. Smart manufacturers who embrace these solutions sooner than later will enjoy the many benefits of intelligent data distribution and management, while eliminating the risk of being left behind in the competition. By implementing Edge computing solutions the right way, they will overcome the few, yet crucial, challenges of this transition and will be able to focus on taking their manufacturing business to the next level.