With the combination of edge computing, the Internet of Things, computer vision and data analytics, manufacturers are poised to transform their operations with real-time insights. Here is a look at some innovative edge solutions that automate data collection and move processing and analytics closer to where the data is born.
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To compete effectively, manufacturers need real-time insights into their operations from data that is generated across the production environment. This is one of the keys to reducing downtime, improving product quality, increasing factory output, and meeting other business-driven goals.
To achieve these goals, smart manufacturers are transforming their operations with innovative edge solutions that automate data collection and move processing and analytics closer to where the data is born. These smart manufacturing solutions allow intelligent systems to take immediate actions to optimize everything from machinery performance and equipment maintenance to supply chains, logistics and factory security.
There are compelling reasons for moving data analytics to the edge, rather than sending everything for processing to corporate and cloud data centres. That’s the case, for example, when a piece of machinery is showing signs of failure, or when defective materials have found their way onto the production line, or when computer vision systems detect signs of security violations. Events like these require immediate responses—which is a key reason for moving the analytics to the data, rather than sending the data to a distant data centre for analysis. Other reasons include the cost of sending so much data and storing it when the decisions can be made at the edge. And yet another reason is the risk of losing the network connection to a faraway cloud or corporate data centre.
Industry research has found that the majority of manufacturers have updated, or are in the process of updating, their operations with edge and IoT solutions that collect, process, and analyze data. A 2019 research report found that 87% of manufacturers were already adopting edge and IoT solutions.
As a headline in an Information Age article proclaimed, “Edge computing is the gateway to smart manufacturing.”
Top use cases for edge and IoT solutions
The use cases for edge and IoT solutions in manufacturing environments are underscored in an “IoT Signals” research report commissioned by Microsoft. That report, based on an international survey, found that the top use cases for IoT in manufacturing are in industrial automation, quality and compliance, production planning and scheduling, supply chain and logistics, and plant safety and security.
Let’s take a high-level look at some of these interesting use cases, which illustrate ways in which edge and IoT strategies pave the road to more intelligent manufacturing strategies.
In today’s digitally-driven manufacturing environments, there are simply too many sensors and devices and too much data to rely on manual processes. Manufacturers need to automate both the monitoring of systems across the factory floor and their responses to abnormal conditions and issues, such as equipment that is showing signs of stress. With immediate feedback from monitoring applications, intelligent systems can automatically remediate certain problems proactively and then alert plant operators to the issues on the factory floor.
Here’s an example: The edge computing system notices that a feed tank is low and tells the production machine to slow down so it doesn’t run out of raw material. At the same time, it signals the upstream processes to speed up and notifies the plant operators about what is happening.
Quality and compliance
Edge solutions are keys to maintaining the highest levels of product quality, via real-time quality-control processes. For example, manufacturers can now use a combination of data from IoT sensors, computer vision, and machine learning capabilities to automate the visual inspection of products and materials, detect faults, and automatically eject defective products from a production line. With edge computing, they can do this faster and more accurately than could any human inspector.
Capabilities like these can yield significant savings. A study by McKinsey & Company found that AI-driven quality testing can increase productivity by up to 50% and increase defect detection rates by up to 90% in comparison to processes based on human inspection.
These processes depend heavily on edge solutions.
In another important use case, edge computing helps manufacturers automate the collection and management of regulatory and compliance information. Automation drives more accurate reporting by helping manufacturers avoid the errors and other pitfalls that come with manual data collection methods and people walking the manufacturing floor with clipboards in hand.
Here’s one example: IMS Evolve, a Dell Technologies partner, worked with a major U.K. supermarket chain to use edge computing to automatically set refrigerators at the correct temperature to enable compliance with standards for food quality, avoid waste, and reduce costly refrigeration over-chill.
Production planning and scheduling
Edge and IoT solutions are helping manufacturers improve product quality and factory yields through better production planning and scheduling, as well as real-time monitoring of production lines.
One organization realized that its production process required more than 200 manual inspections and that these checkups were consuming up to 30% of the total production time. The factory operators needed to automate these checks in order to increase throughput. They installed sensors to monitor the temperature, humidity, and dust levels throughout the manufacturing process. An edge analytics solution then ingested data from sensors and delivered real-time insights into changes that might impact the quality of components being produced. Within six months of deployment, the new infrastructure system covered 70% of the factory and eliminated 5,000 hours of manual data entry per year.
Plant safety and security
The combination of IoT-enabled devices and computer vision capabilities is now among the keys to increasing safety and security in manufacturing environments. In particular, the rise of edge and IoT solutions to ensure safety and security have made tremendous impacts.
Examples include using computer vision to monitor 360-degree safety operations inside and outside of a manufacturing facility and deploying rugged systems in the harshest of environments to save workers from frequent inspections in dangerous areas. In another use case, computer vision can help manufacturers keep an eye on company vehicles, property, onsite injuries, and loss or damage to facilities. Once KPIs are determined, safety and security solutions can help determine how best to protect employees and properties.
Today’s manufacturers are producing enormous volumes of data, thanks to a steep drop in sensor costs that have allowed data collection at every stage of production, and now they need an edge and IoT solutions to capitalize on all of it. And there’s good news on this front. Edge and IoT solutions for manufacturing are getting better, smarter, and easier to deploy.