Enabling industry 4.0 transformation through edge computing

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Industry 4.0, the next evolution in industrial manufacturing, promises to deliver true integration of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT), enabling dramatic improvements in efficiency while reducing costs. Getting there, however, will require companies to rethink how and where data is produced, processed and stored, with industrial edge computing likely playing a starring role.

Where Industry 3.0 was all about automation, connecting devices, and determining what we could learn about the operations of business-critical equipment, Industry 4.0 is about applying advanced computer models to make more informed operational decisions. It’s less about understanding the behaviors and characteristics of individual machines, and more about understanding interdependencies — cause and effect — of the entire complex production line, plant operation, and the plant itself.

industrial edge solution in factory

Understanding such interdependencies requires data — lots of data. The data is generated from various sensors, devices, and machines and, in many cases, will need to be dealt with locally rather than in a cloud-based data center due to its real-time nature and sheer volume.

Getting it right can deliver numerous business benefits, helping industrial companies to:

  • Reduce operating costs
  • Improve operational efficiencies
  • Increase throughput
  • Reduce non-productive time or unplanned downtime
  • Reduce costs and frequency of maintenance
  • Improve product quality
  • Reduce worker health and safety issues
  • Optimize supply chains and reduce inventory

Challenges along the Industry 4.0 quest

Customers generally understand the many benefits to be had from Industry 4.0, yet in almost all industries they are struggling to execute on the transformation. In dealing with our respective customers, we see various reasons why.

Most customer production sites operate 24/7/365. It is difficult to plan for infrastructure changes when any downtime directly impacts throughput and top line production revenues.

Introducing IT skills to the OT field is another challenge. OT professionals are used to the manufacturing-specific networks, protocols, and tools they’ve used for years. But Industry 4.0 is asking them to adopt technologies that come out of the data center world, such as resilience, fault-tolerance, virtualization, and software-defined capabilities. Similarly, IT professionals are challenged to bring these data center concepts to the industrial environment, delivering edge computing solutions that are on par with data centers in terms of reliability, performance, and security.

Industry 4.0 solutions include industrial equipment, sensors, IT compute and storage infrastructure, and networking. They also require expertise in services implementation and business transformation. No one vendor can supply a customer a complete Industry 4.0 “solution.” So, customers are forced to be their own general contractors, finding all the required infrastructure and expertise and work out for themselves how it all fits together – or enlist vendors and/or consultants who can help.

We also see a fair amount of proof-of-concept (POC) paralysis. Companies begin testing one solution but see continual technology changes happening all around them, making it difficult to decide which direction to go in. There’s a fear of vendor lock-in and backing the wrong technology or approach.

Data is another issue. IDC predicts that 79 zettabytes of data will be generated by billions of IoT devices by 2025. In many cases, this data is siloed and inaccessible to the analytics systems that need it to make informed decisions. Organizations will need to develop a plan to manage all of that data, as well as leveraging it to improve operations.

Building on an open foundation for IT/OT integration

To achieve the IT/OT integration that Industry 4.0 promises, customers need to break down current siloes and build a new foundation on an open standards, enterprise-focused platform.

An open standards-based platform will better enable customers to:

  1. Manage the rapidly increasing data volumes at the edge
  2. Introduce new analytics to gain operational insights
  3. Add resiliency, data security, and trustworthiness
  4. Be open and flexible: have extensibility and scalability built in
  5. Be vendor-agnostic
  6. Take an enterprise-wide approach from the onset
  7. Show direct positive business impact, with long term sustainability

Any new platform must be easily maintainable and not introduce complexity, which could minimize the flexibility of the customer’s operation or introduce more operational risk. And it has to be implemented without undue disruption to existing operations.

Partnering for an Industry 4.0 solution

As noted earlier, no single vendor provides all the components required for a comprehensive Industry 4.0 solution. Rather, it will need to be delivered through the collaboration of vendor partners, each providing their skills, products, and services. Customers should no longer have to be their own general contractors.

That’s why Schneider Electric and NetApp are partnering to deliver comprehensive IT solutions to support the transition to Industry 4.0.

Schneider Electric offers a full array of supporting infrastructure for edge environments, including enclosures, power, cooling, and physical security offerings tailored for any environment, as well as harsh industrial use cases. And many customers are likely already using Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure analytics software and services, including its remote IT management solutions.

NetApp will help you get a handle on the data that IIoT solutions produce with its data fabric and management offerings that span from the edge to the core and the cloud. Its software-defined environment makes data management easy, efficient, and secure. You’ll have access to the data you need when and where you need it.

Both companies have existing relationships with other key players in the Industry 4.0 ecosystem, including IT solution providers, industrial system integrators, and factory information system providers, along with reference designs that define how it all fits together. Together, we can deliver complete solutions — so you realize business value faster.

Next up: Addressing industrial edge requirements

In our next post, we’ll talk specifically about the requirements we’re seeing at the industrial edge, including real-time insights, advanced analytics, environmental protection, and power protection — and what it takes to address them. We’ll also delve into how Industry 4.0 must integrate factory-based data with business systems, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), to deliver on its promise.

In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this white paper, “Industry 4.0: Minimizing Downtime Risk with Resilient Edge Computing,” which outlines key Industry 4.0 trends and best practices for industrial edge deployments.

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