The role of edge computing within the factory floor
The benefits of 5G edge and its use cases within the shop floor
Implementing smart processes within the factory floor requires reliable connectivity and equipment with the ability to make real-time decisions. The 5G wireless network is expected to provide reliable wireless communication, and the decentralized computing the edge enables improves real-time decision-making. Applying both cutting-edge technology solutions offer manufacturers the tools to implement transformative strategies within the shop floor.
5G edge within the factory floor
5G’s popularity across the industrial sector is down to its proposed reliability, low latency, and high-bandwidth transfers that the shop floor desperately needs to achieve the smart factory. Notwithstanding its speed, 5G brings a modular build or easy scalability to the table. For instance, expanding IoT deployments to provide new capabilities requires including added devices to existing networks. Relying on wired networks to achieve this is an impractical and expensive venture to accomplish while 5G capabilities can easily be scaled up to support any number of deployed devices.
Unlike 4G, which relies on a centralized mast to support its wireless network, 5G boxes are deployed incrementally in any location to provide wireless support. The decentralized nature of 5G networks introduces the importance of decentralization to improving manufacturing operations. When it comes to decentralization of shop-floor processes, edge computing takes the lead as the pivotal technology billed to transform traditional manual processes into smart, real-time automated operations.
Edge hardware – which includes IoT devices, HMIs, sensors, etc. – captures and analyzes shop-floor data to take specific actions without having to rely on a centralized cloud platform. Across the industrial sector, enterprises deploy edge hardware to support Industrie 4.0 business models such as condition monitoring, remote monitoring, and implementing data-driven plant performance optimization strategies. An individual factory may deploy tens of edge devices to simply collect data, another set of ten devices to support material handling systems, and a final set to track parameters relating to shop-floor safety. Large-scale deployments of edge devices as stated in this example offer decentralization but require a centralized platform to monitor their performances. This is where cloud or edge platforms come into the picture.
Decentralized edge frameworks are sometimes deployed to take specific action on the shop floor as well as transfer data to centralized platforms. For example, condition-monitoring data is the foundation for developing a predictive-maintenance strategy, and this means the data captured by deployed edge hardware needs to be stored. Edge hardware with limited storage resources can’t store big data sets and must utilize a reliable data-transfer network to send information to the centralized platform. As 5G continues to be implemented across the globe, manufacturers are expected to leverage these networks to support edge deployments – forming the basis for 5G edge platforms.
5G edge platforms provide the scalability, speed, and reliability of 5G wireless networks to edge device use cases including the inter-exchange of data between edge devices and centralized platforms. The reliability and scalable resources 5G edge platforms provide can empower manufacturing enterprises to explore advanced Industrie 4.0 use cases such as remote maintenance or to develop new applications to further digital-transformation initiatives.
5G edge platform use cases in manufacturing
Reliability and speedy communications or data transfers are a welcome proposition to the manufacturing industry because they provide support for real-time applications. The symbiotic relationship of 5G edge is a powerful combination capable of supporting the billions of IoT deployments and Industrie 4.0 business models across shop floors.
An example is a manufacturer which intends to implement a remote-monitoring framework to simplify maintenance and the operational task at the height of the pandemic. In this scenario, 5G edge can be deployed to support the manufacturer’s use case in two ways. First, the enterprise can leverage its 5G edge platform alongside a digital-twin platform to remotely monitor operations and to take necessary actions. Operating a digital twin requires real-time inter-exchange of data; the edge hardware facilitates the capture of data from the shop floor and the 5G network enables the real-time transfer of data to and from without lagging. Thus, a project manager can interpret anomalies from received data and take immediate action.
Secondly, the manufacturer can leverage the deployed 5G edge platform to validate, test, and diagnose faults remotely. In this scenario, real-time 4k videos are streamed from the factory floor to augmented-reality devices, allowing expert technicians to scrutinize defective components or equipment. The edge hardware items deployed in this case are industry-standard devices, as the average smart device or laptop is not built to survive the rigors of the manufacturing floor.
Remote maintenance is only achievable through the use of 5G edge platforms because of the technical difficulties associated with transferring 4k videos using traditional networks. Wired networks cannot support the real-time streaming of high-quality videos to remote locations, and 4G is unreliable for use within the shop floor. However, 5G solves both issues as it guarantees low-latency streaming, and its networking capacity can be scaled up to handle data-intensive use cases.
The modularity involved with deploying 5G is its biggest asset to the manufacturing industry. Generally, the recommended deployment strategy for edge hardware is in incremental phases to handle specific use cases. As more edge devices are added, 5G boxes are also included in the deployed 5G edge framework to deal with increasing networking requirements. The scaling up of 5G requirements is more cost effective when compared to the wired-network option and more reliable than 4G.
Automating workflows within the manufacturing industry requires ultra-reliable, low-latency connectivity. Enterprises interested in automating multiple workflows using automated inspection robots, mobile robots, and edge hardware, will rely on 5G networks to achieve the smart factory. The option of developing private 5G edge platforms also exists, solving the security and exclusivity requirements of large-scale manufacturing enterprises.