Edge computing is a distributed computing architecture that brings computation and data collection closer to where it is needed to provide local monitoring and control, run advanced applications, improve response times, save bandwidth and connect to the enterprise.
Not only does edge computing help minimize bandwidth, latency issues and reduce data processing costs, it also delivers real business benefits. For example, edge computing reduces downtime of critical equipment and assets that could otherwise lead to lower yields, regulatory fines and lost revenue. It also provides the continuous visibility on operations that companies need to maximize productivity and overall quality.
Companies across a wide range of industrial sectors achieve success using edge computing as a foundation supporting many different use cases and improving many parts of their business.
For example, edge computing is a proven way to achieve the benefits of information technology-operational technology (IT-OT) convergence, empower the post-pandemic remote workforce and accelerate larger digital transformation efforts through the use of complementary advanced technologies.
To help demonstrate the technological and business value of edge computing, this article will describe each of these use cases in detail.
Much has been written about the need for IT-OT convergence—that is, the requirement for operational technology to meet IT requirements—and how technology, especially the industrial internet of things (IIoT), has created new opportunities that require organizations to optimize how their machines, applications and systems collect, transmit and process valuable data.
There are many benefits to a successful IT-OT convergence strategy. Companies can improve productivity, eliminate unplanned downtime, simplify process controls and better use the data and technology to make better, faster business decisions.
Yet as compelling as these benefits may be, one issue is not so clear: Who should be responsible for evaluating, supporting and managing edge computing infrastructure? OT and IT professionals, who may be responsible for computing on the edge, may already have their hands full.
A successful IT-OT convergence strategy involves edge computing platforms with built-in and preconfigured redundancy and virtualization that can be operated and maintained by OT personnel, eliminating the need for IT staff to be present at all sites. This is especially valuable for operational departments whose limited IT staff is already stretched too thin.
As a result, most companies operating edge environments tend to rely on OT professionals; if something goes wrong, the idea of flying someone in from IT to fix the problem is not time- or cost-effective.
Edge computing can be the answer, particularly when purpose-built for rugged environments and zero-touch operation with self-diagnosing and self-reporting capabilities and comprehensive remote systems management. This makes modern edge computing platforms simple to deploy and maintain, easing the skill and resource burden on IT and OT while positioning the business to reap the benefits of the convergence strategy.
The remote workforce concept is here to stay, and many manufacturing and industrial automation companies will support this model to promote employee safety, morale and even retention. Yet, it is a difficult balancing act in an industry where workers are so vital in keeping critical systems up and running at all times. It can be even more challenging when something goes wrong—or systems stop running.
Edge computing technology addresses these concerns with remote monitoring and visibility capabilities. For example, by using hardware sensors and application performance monitoring, industrial companies can create detailed monitoring tools and dashboards. This provides the real-time visibility employees need, even from a distance, to ensure all equipment and systems are running smoothly.
These remote monitoring capabilities also support the concept of the internal center of excellence (COE) in response to the newly remote workforce. For example, industrial automation companies could no longer keep equipment specialists in each and every plant. Instead, they are now choosing to consolidate these valuable resources in a centralized COE and using edge computing applications to give them a better way to keep machinery running at top capacity.
At a midstream oil and gas company, a valve specialist seemed to be able to diagnose any potential issues by touch or by listening to machine vibrations. This company used to jokingly say that when predictive maintenance technology could ever match this employee’s “superpowers,” they would be first in line to implement them.
With edge computing, that time is now. Manufacturers can implement new technology to monitor critical equipment, proactively plan maintenance and improve their ability to avoid unplanned downtime. For example, by making better use of IoT, data analytics, machine learning and even self-reporting applications and systems, manufacturers can stay ahead of potential outages and keep machinery operating at peak efficiency.
Edge computing can also be the perfect complement to any digital transformation strategy since it provides mission-critical data needed for IIoT, data analytics, predictive maintenance and many other digital use cases. Users are also seeing the emergence of edge-AI, where artificial intelligence (AI) workloads are moving away from on-premises data centers and into edge-based software applications. Edge-AI is now able to overcome past limitations faced by on-premises and cloud-based AI technology and make better use of higher volumes of data, faster response times and better analytics and insights.
As manufacturers and industrial companies continue to reevaluate business and technology strategies, edge computing is becoming an essential component of their infrastructure architecture. With the ability to support critical operations in far-flung, physically demanding locations, edge computing can deliver the high availability needed to keep vital systems up and running at all times.
Yet with other capabilities such as ease of use, remote monitoring and the ability to power innovative technologies and accelerate digital transformation efforts, edge computing can become a modern solution to help these companies achieve critical business goals.