Manufacturing at the edge: how to get started with edge computing - The EE

Manufacturing at the edge: how to get started with edge computing

Nevzat Ertan of Sandvik Coromant

In the last five years, web searches for edge computing have increased by a colossal 473%. Clearly, there’s an appetite for understanding the edge but the technology has yet to be widely deployed in industrial applications. Here are some misconceptions and barriers of edge computing, as well as the strong case for manufacturers to embrace the edge now, says Nevzat Ertan chief architect & global manager for digital machining architecture at Sandvik Coromant.

Defining the edge

Edge computing describes data capture, processing and analysis that takes place on a device at the edge of the process in real-time. Unlike traditional methods, which typically collate data from several machines at a centralised store, edge computing brings data storage and computing power closer to the sources of data. In an industrial environment, conducting analytics at the edge can provide significant cost and resource savings compared to processing data in the cloud.

Drowning in data

Using the centralised method, huge volumes of data must be collected and transferred to one place before it can be analysed. While there are advantages to having every piece of machinery data in a central hub, it can be difficult to manage. This complexity will be heightened in facilities with a large number of machines, especially if the communication protocols differ on each device. Unfortunately, not all data speaks the same language.

This method can also create a massive glut of operational data and weeding out insightful knowledge from the monotonous can be a painstaking task. For example, spotting inaccuracies in the metal cutting process of a large and expensive part is crucial knowledge, but the energy efficiency of a small conveyor at the end of the process, for instance, isn’t quite as valuable. With edge computing, operators can instead set parameters to decide which data is worth storing and which isn’t.

The computing environments associated with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are essential to support edge computing because they are distributed away from the cloud. They have the capacity to perform a variety of tasks including those that don’t require analytics at the edge.

Edge computing does not replace cloud-based methods or IoT processes. Rather these technologies complement each other and are more powerful when combined. The integrated approach allows enterprises to have the best of both worlds, reducing latency by making decisions based on edge analytics, while also collating the data in a centralised source.

Edge computing in practice

As with other industrial innovations, some manufacturers perceive edge computing as daunting or out-of-reach. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The primary benefit of edge computing is its scalability. Pushing computing power to sensors and network devices can significantly reduce the strain on enterprise data management (EDM) and analytics systems.

Manufacturers have the opportunity to start small. Unlike the smart factory concepts hailed in the early 2010s, deploying edge computing does not require an entire system overhaul or massive investment. Manufacturers can opt for one edge device and will start to see value immediately.

Overcoming barriers

Nevzat Ertan

As with all industrial technologies, security concerns about edge computing are rife. According to a Kollective report, 66% of IT teams view the architecture as a genuine threat to their organisation. 

The distributed nature of edge computing does require some changes to security methods especially if the facility has relied previously on a traditional centralised or cloud-based infrastructure. With edge computing, data instead travels between different distributed nodes, which may require special encryption mechanisms that are independent of the cloud.

On the other hand, processing data at the edge minimises the transmission of sensitive information to the cloud. Some could argue this is more secure but, in reality, it depends on your security protocols.

That being said, malicious, routing information and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are still possible as they are with any internet-enabled device. The first and most important step is to seek confidence and reassurance from the manufacturer of your edge device.

At Sandvik Coromant, for instance, we’ve designed a new security principal to give our customers peace of mind. It’s been developed to support the ANSI/ISA-95 standard, an international standard from the International Society of Automation for developing automated interfaces between enterprise and control systems.

Embracing the edge

Edge computing is widely hailed as a ground-breaking technology for the industrial realm and can provide significant benefits to manufacturers. With a proper edge deployment, manufacturers can reduce latency in real-time, use bandwidth and storage resources more efficiently, enhance scalability, reduce energy costs and improve environmental performance all without the need to overhaul the existing system.

The author is Nevzat Ertan chief architect & global manager for digital machining architecture at Sandvik Coromant.

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