Manufacturing on the Edge

By 2025, the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market will pass the $900 billion valuation mark worldwide. Among other changes, this ongoing wave of digitization promises to change how manufacturing plants look, operate, and produce goods.

A chief component of this change is edge computing — locating data storage closest to the facility or facilities leveraging it. One tech pundit describes it like this: “(Edge computing) doesn’t mean the cloud will disappear. It means the cloud is coming to you.”

Edge computing will impact not only homes, vehicles, and street lights, but also commercial buildings, entire transportation fleets, and entire cities.

As far as industries go, manufacturing will feel the most impact. While edge computing’s capabilities continue to unfold, many of the changes manufacturers must make are clear now. Here are four of them.

1. Wireless

The Future: Wirelessly connected sensors capable of pulling in data from disparate sources — the temperature within a manufacturing plant, for example, or particulate matter in the air — execute algorithms that adjust to, or directly modify, plant conditions. This enhances efficiency and decreases errors.

The Present: Reliable wireless networks are a must even today. With IIoT leading the march toward even greater reliance, plant locations today must ensure the proper foundation is in place to leverage wireless’ power tomorrow and beyond. That means not only network surveys and well-distributed access points, but detailed plans for dealing with endpoints and more.

2. Cybersecurity

The Future: Automated industrial machines deliver capabilities manufacturing leaders in previous generations could only dream of. But potential nightmares lurk in such capabilities, as well. Users must remain constantly vigilant against malware such as one that enables hackers to add false but “realistic, malignant-seeming growths to CT or MRI scans before radiologists and doctors examine them.” That same malware can also remove such growths from scans, leading to misdiagnosis and faulty follow-up care.

The Present: In a world already grappling with periodic reports of devices shipping from factories with malware already installed (1, 2), the real-life malware mentioned above is just one example of the sorts of threats against which any edge computing implementation must be protected. Fortunately, companies such as Cisco, Fortinet, and Palo Alto Networks — among others — increasingly leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to combat attempts by bad actors to infiltrate networks. If your own network currently lacks such protection, begin rolling out such solutions now. They’ll ensure enterprise leaders understand what is required and what is available once edge computing efforts begin in earnest.

3. Cabling

The Future: Even in a 5G world, cables still provide the infrastructure support required to operate communication tools, security cameras, and more. Among them: low-voltage Cat 6 Ethernet, which allows for higher bandwidth and shields from interference, optical fiber, and copper-based wiring for paging and alert systems.

The Present: Ensuring facilities new and old alike have well-laid cables is an essential step to IIoT success. In addition to the importance of helping keep the plant’s various components connected, cabling also helps avoid manufacturers avoid the sort of costly delays sub-par cabling may cause. Given that some plants can exceed half-a-million square feet, that’s a lot of potential issues it helps to avoid.

4. Support

The Future: Enterprises are free to focus their efforts on expanding business since edge computing offloads resource-demanding and time-consuming on-site IT work to partners capable of managing complicated installations remotely and ensuring rapid on-site deployment if such necessities arise.

The Present: While it’s true that edge computing helps lay the foundation for autonomous manufacturing solutions, periodic and/or unforeseen work will be required. Working with the right IT support team today means building a collaborative relationship with a partner that can demonstrate, through testimonials, case studies, and referrals, that it can deliver.

Life on the Edge

Edge computing effectively guarantees that its predictive capabilities and process optimization establish levels of productivity and product uptime previously unseen in manufacturing.

This is more than a promise; it’s a future unfolding right now. If you need help implementing edge computing solutions in your location, CTC Technologies can help. Contact us today and learn what edge computing and IIoT can do for you.