Edge Computing brings Industry 4.0 to the workshop

Over the past decade, cloud-based software and services have become ubiquitous. Consumers were the first and fastest to adopt these offerings and delivery models, but adoption in the industrial sector was slower and more measured. More recently, especially with shrinking expertise and personnel, the ability to centralize data and information for organization-wide visibility and analysis while reducing the cost and complexity of on-premises infrastructure has driven manufacturers to migrate to the cloud. Many industrial organizations today are comfortable with running cloud-based applications.

Today, the need to collect data from complex equipment on the shop floor is increasing. The growing abundance of data on smart machines and connected factories provides organizations with a greater opportunity to operate as efficiently and safely as possible – which is the full promise of data availability and Industry 4.0. As machines become more complex, smarter and more connected, the challenge is twofold.

First, organizations need to be able to deploy software easily, to manage increasingly software-driven equipment. Second, they must run, monitor, and control applications that connect machine and plant data to the cloud for performance analysis and advanced applications, such as predictive maintenance. These applications depend on access to reliable shop floor data, but face bandwidth and latency constraints.

Edge Computing provides the means to simplify the deployment of software to machines, process data, and connect what’s really happening on the shop floor to the cloud. It’s a key technology that operations and engineering teams need to be aware of.

What is Edge Computing?

Remote servers and clusters offering vast data storage and processing in the cloud are a world away from the factory. They are not designed for the harsh conditions there. More importantly, remote servers and clusters are not suitable for real-time data collection at operational sites, especially where bandwidth is limited. Therefore, organizations must bring computing power to the manufacturing line or on board the machine to exploit critical data in real time.

Edge Computing refers to computing power deployed in “edge” locations – factories, machine shops, remote equipment and manufacturing sites – at the edge of corporate or industrial networks where data is generated. It has many applications in a wide range of industries, from machining to finished products, to industrial assets such as power plants, oil pipelines, and water and wastewater facilities.

Edge Computing provides the bridge between what happens at the individual machine level, factory-wide supervisory control, and the cloud. It is therefore an essential technology that makes Industry 4.0 a reality and accelerates digitization at ground level.

Smart machines and the connected factory

Individual machines are becoming increasingly intelligent and connected with expanded sensors and logic. Combined, they form the larger factory network with edge-to-enterprise connectivity and data management. The ability to integrate Edge Computing platforms into intelligent machines is a natural extension that brings on-machine computing capability, adding value to equipment with software and extending the life cycle of equipment.

Reliable Edge Computing eliminates issues of data loss, networking, and information or access not being available when needed. Installed with local histories and local data storage, it can meet processing requirements when bandwidth and latency are issues for edge-to-business connectivity.

Specifically, purpose-built edge computing platforms bring four key benefits to shop floor machines: reliability, flexible software deployment, cybersecurity, and OT/IT convergence.

Reliability and availability

Modern edge computing platforms are built with operational technology (OT) in mind where machines and equipment are expected to have a long lifespan and operate continuously without downtime or, conversely, provide maximum availability. The ideal platform is available in industrial forms that can withstand heat, vibration, and other environmental factors with UL Class I Div 2 certification that goes far beyond simple industrial PCs (IPCs).

Edge Computing platforms provide built-in redundancy to ensure that machine software or supervisory control and history operate without any unplanned downtime. They can be serviced while in operation. The net result is compute capacity close to critical equipment that ensures reliable machine performance and continuous data capture. This combination of availability and efficiency provides the opportunity to improve yield, OEE, or other performance metrics.

Flexible software deployment with virtualization

An Edge Computing platform brings traditional computing capabilities to enable intelligent machines. The ability to deploy software to a local compute platform eliminates the need for operators to become software programmers and allows teams to standardize the deployment and management of software across machines. This provides a quick way to research new features and capabilities through software deployment.

Edge Computing platforms also bring an important capability from the computing world to the shop floor: application virtualization. With virtualization built into Edge Computing, teams can run multiple software applications simultaneously on a single compute platform, rather than managing multiple IPCs for individual software applications. The ability to deploy software in layers close to equipment – ​​or start with a single application with room for growth – provides significant flexibility to increase digitization and connectivity over time.

Ideal compute platforms are also agnostic, supporting industrial software from AVEVA, PTC, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens, and others, in pre-validated and tested configurations. Thin client management tools can be used so that a new set of mobile devices and other internet-connected solutions can be used to extend operations and maintenance outside of the traditional control room and factory floor .

cyber security

Cybersecurity remains a key consideration in the industrial environment where malware can shut down equipment. To address potential risks, manufacturing equipment must be secure and discoverable on industrial networks for regular patches and updates. An Edge Computing platform makes it easy to run third-party cybersecurity software, ensuring that equipment is visible to management in larger factory environments and protected by standard operating system security features as layer between supervisory control and control/PLCs.

Edge Computing also offers standard features that are fundamental to cybersecurity, such as IP address management and role-based access, as well as a secure design around IEC 62443 standards. security and a secure industrial manufacturing environment.

OT/IT convergence

In addition to bringing new features and capabilities to devices, Edge Computing converges OT and IT technologies, practices and networks. Modern Edge Computing platforms enable teams to quickly update the computing required for the IIoT, including how machines, applications, and systems collect, transmit, and process valuable data.

At the same time, they enable easy plug-and-play deployment by OT teams without IT support and meet IT requirements related to security, interoperability and support. In this way, Edge Computing platforms are designed for the OT environment while bringing traditional computing to manufacturing settings. Additionally, modern remote support services provide easy and secure web-based access to manage the health and performance of multiple Edge Computing platforms from any location, as well as transmit, store, and retrieve data. platform templates for remote backup and restore.

Accelerate digital transformation

Modern Edge Computing platforms bring computing power to shop floor machines and processes by delivering highly automated, zero-touch computing capability with built-in virtualization, redundancy, automated data protection and disaster recovery. apps. It opens the doors for operations and maintenance teams to deploy new machine data capture and analysis capabilities.

As Industry 4.0 progresses, operators and engineering teams are urged to use equipment data for better efficiency and safety, as well as to prepare for analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Edge Computing allows machine shops to enable these capabilities, and associated value-added services, in a simple yet powerful platform that should be on the radars of manufacturing leaders.

DoShik Wood is the Senior Director of Product Marketing for Stratus Technologies, a developer of “edge computing platforms that are contactless, simple to deploy and maintain, protected against interruptions and threats, and autonomous.”

Sherry J. Basler