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Cloud and Edge computing: Unleashing the potential of IoT in manufacturing

Vivek Sharma     February 13, 2020

As billions are pumped into the development of 5G networks, we can expect a new wave of possibilities - all of which are set to transform industry and manufacturing, ushering in a new era of economic growth and hyper-connectivity.

5G has huge implications for how we live and work - it is not just about downloading a movie faster but also how high-speed connectivity will support smart vehicles, devices and factories where tons of data are exchanged in the network every second.

It will also propel the adoption of emerging technologies, especially the Internet of Things (IoT), which is set to catalyse connectivity beyond recognition.

The often-discussed 'Industry 4.0' is actually the digital transformation of industrial markets enabled by Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the resultant connectivity in every step of the manufacturing process.

Also Read: Soon, IoT will define how we live, work and play, claims study

IoT is the future of manufacturing

Of late, the manufacturing landscape has taken a keen interest in IoT because it offers a host of real-time benefits. IoT and 5G together are key for manufacturing enterprises to connect all stages of the planning-to-sales process.

They allow data to flow back and forth through a multi-dimensional ecosystem, enabling suppliers, manufacturers and customers to conduct business and decision-making more dynamically.

IoT-enabled devices collect massive amounts of data, assisting manufacturers in achieving higher product quality, better-informed decision making and greater foresight with predictive maintenance.

Several manufacturers across India are already using IoT to streamline their supply chain since their factories have a huge vendor presence across India and abroad.

Various shipments coming in daily need to be synced into the production schedule and tracked till final delivery. This entire process needs to be arranged with precision so entire factories are being IoT-enabled with smart devices that track the position of each employee and machine.

While the benefits of the technology are vast, a quick summary of what enterprises can hope to achieve through the creation of IoT enabled networks includes:

  • Identification of issues before they occur, for example, potential breakdowns
  • Optimisation of supply and reduction of costs through closer observation of the production network
  • Improved analytics and decision making through relevant, real-time data
  • Enable efficiencies of scale in areas such as inventory, production, logistics, etc.
  • Increased consumer loyalty through improved products
  • Prediction of issues and optimisation of inventory management by closely monitoring materials and products throughout the manufacturing process

Getting the most out of IoT with Cloud and Edge

IoT generates massive amounts of data and cloud computing is key to managing it while gaining business insights. Cloud-based solutions offer effective data storage and data security to manufacturers, as well as analytics capabilities.

Another advantage of cloud computing is better collaboration with developers. They are able to store and access data remotely while managing workloads in response to operational cycle demands.

Incorporating IoT into the cloud can further connect different plants and storage clouds across a variety of locations, and the use of AI in this network can help manufacturers capture new growth opportunities.

Manufacturers are now keener than ever to leverage cloud to support their digital transformation. Intelligent handling of data networks can serve as the steering wheel for this transformation, leading us into an exciting era of data astuteness.

Many cloud service providers today charge via a pay-per-use model, which means users have access to potentially unlimited resources but only pay for what they actually use. This model is set to benefit SMEs and start-ups to avoid overprovisioning their IT infrastructure, resulting in an overall reduction in costs.

Many manufacturing companies have also started implementing BYOD (bring your own device) facilities, which gives employees the flexibility to control and manage work from anywhere in the world.

We are also seeing the emergence of edge computing in addition to cloud deployments, to support mission-critical activities that require minimal delay in processing.

IoT infrastructures are beginning to transition to the edge. We also see the data centre evolving from the 'core-centric' data centre of today to an 'edge-to-core' data centre in the near future.

This will have two key parts with distributed edge IT or where the 'local' work happens; and core IT where the majority of business operation work happens, which is not just limited to the data centre but also encompasses how an IT organisation leverages the private, multi-and hybrid cloud. We believe eventually everything will become software-defined - including both in the edge and in the cloud.

The cloud has to follow the transformation of the data centre, and likewise move availability and breadth of services to reach the edge of the network.

Also Read: AI, IoT, blockchain causing fresh threats to cyber security, says Sandeep Gupta of Protiviti

Customers are looking to shift focus to service-oriented delivery, consumption and operating models. Companies are considering a multi-cloud approach by leveraging multiple cloud environments that offer specialised capabilities to better align with the technical requirements and business-level objectives of particular workloads, applications, or services.

Edge computing is a more economical way to scale up IoT adoption since the edge is not usually one location - and in the case of the manufacturing sector, it is possible to see many small deployments running autonomously.

It would not be too far-fetched to expect that more manufacturing companies will increasingly adopt edge computing because of its ease of use, low latency, and cost savings.

Moving towards an intelligent future

With IoT, manufacturing enterprises will become increasingly data-driven and cloud and edge computing will impart a high degree of 'smartness' to their operating environments.

Smart enterprises will have real-time visibility on the efficiency of factory processes and performance, thereby enabling manufacturers to refine and improve operations with relevant and up-to-date data.

While edge computing has key advantages for the manufacturing sector, the cloud will still hold the promise of managing large data workloads that will accelerate predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

When deployed in a judicious configuration, edge computing and cloud have the ability to create dynamic, cutting-edge solutions for the manufacturing sector.

Companies that are integrating IoT and 5G technologies into their digital strategies will be able to meet the goals of their businesses today and in future and maintain a competitive advantage in today's dynamic business environment.

Also Read: Tech Mahindra sets up Google Cloud centre in Hyderabad to drive digital transformation

(The author is MD - India, Lenovo DCG)

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