What is the Industrial Edge?

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming industrial spaces across the globe through digitization of once manual processes. Enterprises that embrace digital transformation are benefiting from increased productivity and higher quality output.

industrial operations

Although digitization concepts are mature, Schneider Electric research reveals that only 15% of companies have deployed IoT technologies to support industrial applications. However, 40% of companies are piloting new IoT use cases. When Schneider Electric customers are involved, research data is being gathered and analyzed so that deployment of these solutions can help to further optimize business performance.

The digitization of industrial processes means that data that did not exist before is now accessible. New ways are being devised to both gather and analyze that data. In many cases, the computation of that data is happening in or around local devices (a concept referred to as edge computing). How much of that data is processed locally will depend on both security risks and on latency, bandwidth and process reliability issues.

The disruptive nature of digitization around the “industrial edge” (the places where digitized industrial assets and human operators are located) means that industrial stakeholders will need to think differently in order to devise new ways of capturing unique digitization-driven business opportunities. One example of this new thinking emerged as one of our customers recently upgraded their manufacturing plant. As their legacy system transformed to digital, four critical success factors emerged: high availability, backup and recovery, power protection and security.

How industrial edge business continuity can improve

As industrial organizations digitize, attention now focuses on how best to protect industrial edge systems from threats to business continuity. An important challenge for our customers is to ensure system uptime.  Events such as unexpected power outages and other forms of unscheduled downtime disrupt production. In extreme cases, downtime can irreparably damage the reputation of the manufacturer. In order to minimize such risks, planners, designers and installers of industrial edge solutions should consider the following actions:

1. Ensuring high availability of edge applications

A major competitive differentiator is a company’s ability to quickly respond to customer needs and requirements. Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) edge compute systems should be designed to maximize systems availability. Understanding the trade-off between investments in redundancies (in order to enhance availability) and the risks of downtime becomes a critical success factor in a connected world.

2. Integrating a backup and recovery plan

When disaster strikes (natural or otherwise), how quickly can industrial edge operations be brought back on-line?  Does the business continuity plan account for partial or total loss of digitalized edge assets? When new edge compute applications are installed, oftentimes disaster recovery plans are not taken into account.  In the age of advanced connectivity, systems downtime can often have an unexpected cascading effect on operations. Proper business continuity planning can eliminate much of this risk.

3. Investing in proper power protection

Power systems such as uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs), power distribution units (PDUs), circuit breakers, automatic transfer switches, isolation transformers, and generators are designed to provide uninterrupted, conditioned, clean power to the critical loads. These systems feed and protect a variety of electrical loads including lighting, heating, ventilation air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, elevators, large pumps, fans, motors, security systems, specialized machinery equipment and more.

4. Implementing a physically secure and cybersecure edge

Cybersecurity starts with physical security. The risks of cybersecurity breaches can be mitigated in a number of ways, but if processing and storage hardware is not physically secure it is vulnerable to malicious or unintended tampering. As a result, data may be compromised. Developing industrial edge physical security and cybersecurity best practices should involve both OT and IT experts and solutions that have attained proper cybersecurity certifications.

Access edge computing white paper

Industrial organizations faced with the challenge of properly securing their industrial edge applications can engage engineering experts to perform complete physical infrastructure assessments that both identify business continuity exposures and power protection best practices. Access our white paper “The Drivers and Benefits of Edge Computing,” to learn more about the benefits of adopting an edge computing solution.

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