Edge computing in manufacturing: Organisational progress and product updates

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

For manufacturers, the digitisation and automation of processes, from the factory floor to research and development, is a key step to competitive advantage. Edge computing, as an emerging paradigm, can fit squarely into this Industry 4.0 vision.

But how are manufacturers getting on? A new report from IDC and Lumen Technologies has found more than two thirds (69%) of companies polled were using edge solutions to better acquire, analyse, and act on critical data.

The study, which polled around 350 respondents in manufacturing as part of a wider survey around IT and OT convergence, asked about adoption of edge solutions, connection to operational data and assets, and the state of manufacturing operations right now.

In total, more than half (56%) of those polled said their edge solutions were in production in multiple locations, with a further 13% saying they had at least gotten to the production stage. Generally, between one and three quarters of a manufacturer’s operational equipment is instrumented – such as sensors and meters. Of that, almost half (47%) is connected to a wired network, with a third (33%) connected via a wireless network.

This is where the edge opportunity lies. Various applications are seen as fair game with regard to intelligent solutions – or edge – services. IoT applications (54%) was the most frequently cited by respondents, followed by process automation (53%), inventory management, such as in the warehouse or for distribution (53%), and predictive maintenance (50%).

The research also explored how the edge conundrum will become exacerbated if left untouched. Only 4% of those polled expected no change in the growth of operational data created, in terms of terabytes per day. The majority either plumped for up to 15% (47% of respondents) or 16-30% (38%).

When it came to the benefits of edge services, lower cost – cited by 23% of those polled – was the clearest improvement from those who had already deployed in edge storage services. For security, opportunities for product and app improvement was most frequently cited.

“In manufacturing, a company cannot have a cloud strategy without an edge strategy,” said Jonathan Lang, research manager for worldwide IT/OT convergence strategies at IDC. “Edge computing can address the latency, reliability and security requirements of industrial operations while opening the world of possibilities that remote connectivity offers.

“Edge computing use cases can increase Industry 4.0 maturity and support the resilient decision-making necessary to thrive in today’s markets,” added Lang.

The report cited four steps as ‘essential guidance’:

  • Begin Industry 4.0 initiatives with an assessment of your asset inventory, including connectivity, security, and instrumentation
  • Include operations and IT stakeholders to align on infrastructure requirements and to build a data governance and access model that will be adopted and maintained by operations
  • Leverage edge computing to aggregate and broker operational data to cloud and on-site systems while maintaining critical operational requirements (security, latency, reliability)
  • Utilise partners in your technology ecosystem to drive progress and fill gaps through managed services

As an example of a vendor looking at bolstering its edge manufacturing offering, Dell Technologies announced upgrades to its Dell EMC Streaming Data Platform (SDP) last week. As reported by SDXCentral, the upgrade will help organisations store and process data generated by edge devices with the addition of real-time analytics.

On the manufacturing side, the Dell Technologies Manufacturing Architecturing, designed in partnership with PTC, was created to simplify deployments. This is set to be achieved through ‘application consolidation and real-time edge insights’, available on a private cloud offering.

You can read the full IDC/Lumen report here (pdf, no email required).

BONUS: Learn about an exclusive IoT for manufacturing event on 18 May by clicking here

Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash

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