In 1913, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line at the Highland Park factory in Michigan. The impact was immediate, with the amount of time to assemble a new car going from 12 hours to just 90 minutes. It was nothing short of a revolution in manufacturing.
Today, another revolution is under way, only this time it’s being fueled by the capabilities of edge computing and operational technology. Real-time data, 5G connectivity, machine learning, artificial intelligence—these modern tools at a manufacturer’s disposal are just as transformative as the conveyor belt was a century ago.
The makings of a smarter factory
Modern manufacturing marries edge technology with enterprise-grade infrastructure to both streamline operations and avoid unnecessary downtime. Utilizing data streams at the edge, manufacturers are now able to:
- Leverage machines that predict problems before they happen and schedule their own repairs
- Coordinate shipments of parts exactly when they are needed
- Automatically ramp up and down production depending on resources and market demand
- Adopt technologies like digital twin to design, plan, and certify projects before production even begins
Each of these advancements is made possible by the unprecedented amount of data now being used at the edge. And that amount is only going to increase dramatically in coming years, with one estimate from S&P Global Market Intelligence pinning the total number of data computed at the edge to reach 10.8 million petabytes by 2024.
Challenges in adopting the edge
For all its obvious benefits, edge computing and modern operational technology are not without their challenges.
For one, keeping up with the sheer amount of data manufacturers now have access to can limit their capabilities. In fact, a 2020 study from our partners at Dell Technologies found that 71% of decision-makers are capturing data faster than they can put it to use, making turning data into actionable insights difficult.
Security is another major concern, as more complex architectures—and more repositories for data—mean increased risk to operations. Simply put, the more access points a manufacturer has for its data, the more open to bad actors they are.
The best way to alleviate these two problems is for manufacturers to focus on simplifying the complexity of their infrastructure. This means:
Consolidating applications, hardware, and processes whenever possible to streamline IT management and get the most out of operational technologies
Working within a partner ecosystem that offers consistent solutions at the edge, the core, or in the cloud
Implementing a scalable architecture that allows for real-time analytics and artificial intelligence/machine learning applications to be used at the edge efficiently
Focusing on building a secure and highly available infrastructure, including consistent disaster recovery measures in the cloud
Each of these will go a long way toward making it possible for a manufacturer to increase its reliance on data at the edge without sacrificing security—the key to modernizing facilities.
In many ways, manufacturing and other industries have only begun scratching the surface with edge computing. The innovations—and challenges—of today likely won’t be the same tomorrow.
Keeping up with this pace of change can be daunting, but we’re here to help. To learn more about edge computing and how it can transform your business, schedule some time to talk with our experts.
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