Edge Computing technology in machine building

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What would a Machine Builder’s architecture look like based on Edge Computing Technology? Here, Greg Hookings of Stratus Technologies gives us a clue.

Edge Computing technology in machine buildingMachine builders remain a pivotal part of manufacturing industry, designing and building specialised machinery for a wide cross-section of industries. Traditionally, once a machine is commissioned and installed, the OEM was left in the dark in terms of the data produced by the machines. And without access to this data, effective product use and future product development based on real-world use are more difficult. Without accurate and timely data, how can an OEM predict maintenance needs or introduce efficiency improvements? The answer is that they can’t!

One solution is Edge Computing, a scalable modular technology that supports the development of standardised, compatible software components and applications to increase efficiency. A Machine Builder architecture that incorporates Edge Computing is data driven, allowing end users to operate at peak performance. It does so by analysing data from where it is collected, providing real-time actionable intelligence to managers that can inform their decisions and help to drive improved overall equipment effectiveness.

Data where it is needed

Taking the computing power to machine level brings with it the host of efficiency benefits for the end user. By being on the factory floor, an offshore rig or in any process environment, latency of sending data to the Cloud for analysis is removed.

Just for Machine Builders

Working Edge Computing into the architecture actually enables smarter machines. As a scalable and modular technology, Edge Computing enables an OEM’s existing applications, such as control and monitoring software, to be consolidated onto a single platform while enabling other critical applications to run simultaneously. Not only does this make the development of IIoT-enabled machines easier, OEMs can add future applications adhering to customers’ digital transformation journeys.

New revenue opportunities

Bringing in Edge Computing at machine level doesn’t just help meet the needs of both OEMs and end users: it can also open up more revenue opportunities. One such approach is the increasingly popular ‘machines-as-a-service’ opportunity. With Edge Computing built into the foundation of the machine, the OEM is receiving constant data about its health. This is perfect for effective predictive maintenance, further increasing the efficiency offered to the end user. For the OEM, however, there is a steady stream of information about real-world usage patterns. Having this previously unavailable data available aids research and development for future machines as well as offering peace of mind when it comes to maintenance. The OEM is continually updated about the possibility of any potential fault and the end user can sleep soundly knowing its machines are supported by the people who know them best – the machine builders. Reducing unplanned downtime has remained a goal for end users since the start of production facilities, and this can now be packaged and added to an OEM offering. In a recent survey of IT and OT decision makers at 204 European manufacturing companies with more than 500 employees almost half (48%) stated that “building the business case for Smart Factory investment” is a significant challenge. An Edge Computing architecture takes away that challenge, offering a clear and defined business case benefit to the end user and a road to a smart factory.

Simplicity is key

Choosing the right Edge Computing platform should be as simple as the platform itself; not only simple to integrate but simple to manage on-site, where there is often little to no IT support. The harsh environment of the machine is also often a factor, so the platform must be ruggedised to withstand the vibration, heat, dust or damp conditions that come with many process environments. The final thing that an Edge Computing platform must be is secure, both physically through robust hardware and restricted USB ports, and digitally, with easily configured host-based firewalls for network protection.

OEMs utilising Edge Computing can package peace of mind and offer that directly to the end user while opening up new revenue opportunities. With digital transformation capabilities packaged in, OEMs can be secure in the knowledge that their products are future-proofed and ready to address any changing need in the industry.

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14 September 2020

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