Industrial edge computing and 5G: Friends or foes?

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

Edge computing is fast becoming essential to industrial environments, bringing compute, storage, and analytics closer to where content is created or consumed. The edge enables real-time processing and decision-making by eliminating cloud latency.

That being the case, do industrial environments need 5G? The answer is a resounding yes. Putting 5G wireless connectivity and edge computing together creates a powerful combination that supports significant advances in industrial settings through automation and virtual and augmented reality technologies.

How industrial edge computing and 5G work together

Three-fourths of industrial companies view 5G as a key digital transformation enabler, according to CapGemini. This is because 5G boosts connection quality, minimizes latency, increases bandwidth, and delivers speeds five times faster than 4G. It also strengthens security and efficiency through network slicing, enabling organizations to prioritize specific data, such as that used in mission-critical, real-time activities.

As such, 5G provides the perfect complement for edge sites that need real-time wireless connections. The symbiosis of 5G and edge computing can significantly advance Industry 4.0 adoption. It will lead to the development of applications we haven’t even thought of yet. Remember when the internet was little more than a curiosity? Now it affects just about every aspect of our lives. In time, 5G connectivity may do the same.

Industrial Edge computing

Pilot programs for edge computing and 5G

The list of scenarios where edge and 5G can work symbiotically is limited only by the imagination, considering the potential for applications in factory floors, smart cities, warehouses, smart grids, oil and gas pipelines – you name it.

Projects combining edge and 5G technologies are already underway. In one test case, Schneider Electric teamed up with telecom giant Orange for a project at Schneider’s Le Vaudreuil, France, factory. The project is the first to use 5G in a French industrial setting.

A platform combining 5G and edge infrastructure supports the use of augmented reality for maintenance activities and a telepresence robot. The augmented reality piece allows technicians to superimpose real-time data and virtual objects onto manufacturing equipment to access information for troubleshooting and maintenance – or to check performance status. This approach helps stop problems before they occur, minimizing downtime and streamlining maintenance operations while reducing the potential for error.

The telepresence robot also delivers significant benefits by cutting travel time and costs and helping to reduce the factory’s carbon footprint. It accomplishes this by giving remote technicians an on-site experience through high-quality video and audio.

In another project, Orange and Nokia are working with French rail company SNCF on a project at the train station in Rennes. A 5G network handles a number of functions, including tracking the movement of equipment with cameras, real-time connectivity for process control, and analysis of real-time video feeds to look for graffiti or hatches left open by maintenance crews.

More innovation to come

5G networks are still being implemented and may take a few more years for widespread coverage. As it becomes ubiquitous, use cases will increase.

Using 5G and edge computing, mining companies can run entire fleets of autonomous vehicles in areas where working conditions can be dangerous for humans. Connected cars will tap 5G and edge networks to communicate with each other about road and traffic conditions. Smart cities will transmit data from sensors on assets such as traffic lights, water distribution systems, and utility lines. Energy companies will perform powerline inspections remotely. The number of scenarios goes on and on.

Ultimately, the combination of 5G and edge computing will enable industry to automate anything that can be automated. As a result, it may well prove the catalyst for an explosion of innovation that will transform industrial environments, bringing profound change to our lives just as the internet did.

To learn more about how Schneider Electric is transforming industrial environments and bringing industrial edge computing solutions to factory floors, check out our Ruggedized Micro Data Centers.

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