This is a Guest Post by Travis Cox, Co-Director of Sales Engineering at Inductive Automation
Modern businesses recognize the benefits of edge computing. The fact is, Industry 4.0 cannot happen without it. With edge computing’s popularity on the rise, even C-level executives are showing greater interest. Edge devices are used at the edge of a network, close to the data being collected. With data being managed, analyzed, contextualized, and cleaned near the source, it can move through the entire system in a more efficient manner — saving resources and costs as it goes. Processing more data at the edge is bringing improved operational efficiency, better decision-making, lower costs, and more.
The key benefits of edge computing include:
- Lower latency
- Increased speed
- Ability to poll more OT data at faster rates
- Local HMI
- Local buffering of data
- Data Ops & protocol conversion (MQTT)
- Reduced bandwidth utilization
- Improved security
- Increased data processing, analysis, and analytics
Choosing the right edge hardware
To realize these benefits, you first have to find the right hardware to meet all of our requirements. Edge computing hardware needs to be rugged, compact, have sufficient storage, have rich connectivity options, and have the performance to accomplish your desired workloads. Each of these requirements is critical to consider in advance because edge computers are often deployed in harsh environments where they must operate reliably and optimally with a long shelf life.
OnLogic provides a wide range of edge computing options that meet all these requirements, are cost effective, reliable, and allow for expansion. Now, let’s discuss why industrial hardware at the edge is a necessity.
Key considerations for IoT edge devices
Edge computing hardware must be rugged enough to withstand deployment in volatile environments. These location may expose the computers to frequent impact forces, vibration, dust, debris, and extreme temperatures. Fanless designs eliminate the need for vents or openings, creating a completely closed system that protects sensitive internal components from damage. Fanless designs can also withstand exposure to extremely cold and hot temperatures, ranging from -40 °C to 85 °C. Deploying to harsh and rugged environments would simply not be possible with standard computing offerings.
Edge computers not only need to be deployed to harsh environments, but they also need to be installed in electrical panels. These type of installations require versatile mounting options, like DIN rail. Of course, size matters within these panels, and compact design is a must. Edge computers are deployed in a variety of locations and pack a lot of power into a small space. Furthermore, edge computers need to support a variety of different power input scenarios and power protection features, such as overvoltage protection, reverse polarity protection, and surge protection.
Configuring and connecting edge devices
The operational world is extremely complex, involving hundreds of different device protocols, communication mediums, and legacy device knowledge. We need edge computing solutions that can cover our brownfield installations that have been in place for years, along with new sensors and devices. Industrial edge computers need a variety of I/O and expansion ports to connect to both new and legacy equipment.
OnLogic provides a rich set of options through ModBay, a modular expansion bay to enable additional connectivity and functionality. RS-232 COM ports are important to connect to older generations of PLCs. DIO, or Digital Input/Output, is a simple form of interface used in a wide range of systems. DIO relays digital signals from sensors, transducers and mechanical equipment to other electrical circuits and devices.
In-vehicle applications might require CAN bus, while peripheral-heavy projects might need multiple USB, display, or LAN ports to connect cameras, monitors, sensors, or proprietary devices. Multiple ethernet interfaces allow for spanning across two isolated networks, such as OT and IT, with the added benefit of improving security.
Optimizing Edge networks
Along with I/O expansion, industrial edge computers can come equipped with wired connectivity options as well as wireless and cellular connectivity options. This allows edge computing hardware to be deployed in remote environments where reliable wired and wireless connectivity is not always available. Without edge computing and edge networks, connecting to your OT devices from a centralized solution over slow and unreliable connections is challenging and prone to data loss.
The reality is that most data is located in silos or on islands. That presents real challenges when trying to connect an enterprise and providing broader access to data. We can easily deploy edge computing hardware to remote locations, access and process data locally at faster rates, and efficiently send the data to a central solution (on-premises or cloud) over a range of connectivity options.
How to realize the benefits of edge computing
Edge computing solutions must be able to perform the tasks and workloads that they’re being deployed to perform. It is extremely important to understand the workload requirements today and plan for future workloads, such as AI and ML. That requires selecting the right processor for the job and ensuring you have sufficient storage. OnLogic provides a lineup of edge computers that incorporate the latest processing technologies. These processors bring new artificial intelligence, security, functional safety, and real-time capabilities.
To build IoT solutions, you also need software. OnLogic provides integrated software solutions, eliminating the need to receive hardware and load software. Thus, allowing you to get up and running more quickly and scale your industrial IoT solution. Ignition Edge is one of the integrated software solutions, extending your data collection, visualization, and system management all the way to the edge of your network. Ignition Edge has solutions for edge computing, remote HMIs, and MQTT data transmission, as well as solutions to easily extend large-scale enterprise architectures.
The OnLogic Connect Kit combines a rugged computer with software from Inductive Automation and AWS along with support from the team at Cirrus Link Solutions.
Examples of edge computing
Edge computing plays a big role with machine learning. Analyzing data at the edge provides better reliability, scalability, and speed. It also unlocks new potentials from advanced process control (APC) to machine learning to artificial intelligence.
Consider a semiconductor factory with many tools that put silicon on discs. Finely tuned production equipment has very low tolerances for error. Lost material could mean thousands of dollars in scrap. Many cloud platforms provide the ability to load complex machine learning models, built in the cloud, directly to edge computers. While the model is running, edge computing resources can determine if the project is going off course, or even anticipate if it may, and make adjustments to avoid issues. Compared to traditional computing, the faster response times of edge computing offers significant savings for many applications.
Manufacturing equipment can be extremely expensive, and failures can cost companies hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars. It’s not advantageous for organizations to have backup equipment sitting on a shelf, forcing them to spend capital for unused assets. If equipment breaks, and it takes a day or two to get a replacement, that could be millions of dollars in lost revenue. Do users take that risk? You can use edge devices to collect data and compare it against performance models. This can bring to light patterns that humans can’t see. This can help optimize uptime and avoid costly repairs, replacements or production delays.
Summarizing the benefits of edge computing
As you can see from these examples, digital transformation is possible and edge computing plays a vital role. You can’t get to the promise of analytics, dashboards, and machine learning until you have access to data. Fully embracing the edge and new technology will allow operations to take their applications to the next level while providing more access to users in the organization.
By leveraging edge computing, protocols like MQTT, and software packages like Ignition Edge, you can:
- Decouple devices from applications
- Provide a single source of truth
- Report by exception
- Reduce bandwidth
- Decrease latency
- Provide TLS security
- Establish remote-originated connections (outbound only; no inbound firewall rules)
- Provide stateful awareness
- Allow for auto-discovery of tags
- Provide local data buffering (store & forward)
- Enable plug-and-play functionality
- Easily scale solutions
And it all starts with getting the right industrial edge computer. The teams at OnLogic and Inductive Automation can help.