How Edge and Cloud Computing Combine to Create Industrial Automation Platforms
24 Jun, 2020
The increased edge computing rate is simplifying industrial processes in new ways but the data sets edge devices capture sometimes require larger repositories for more insight into industrial automation processes. This is where a juxtaposition of edge and cloud computing is required to collect, process, and visualize entire facilities and industrial processes. Although edge computing is expected to enable industrial growth, a symbiotic relationship with cloud computing is needed for effective management through industrial automation platforms.
This article will discuss:
How edge computing combines with the cloud to develop industrial automation platforms
What defines an industrial automation platform and its features
The benefits of industrial automation platforms to an interconnected world
Why edge and cloud computing combine
Edge computing provides decentralized, low processing latency which brings computing to data-producing sources. On the other hand, cloud computing provides a centralized, scalable platform for data-processing. To understand the relationship between both computing concepts, the example of an edge device with data capture as its primary duty helps.
In this scenario, the edge device is a radar detection and ranging device. Its duty is to scan a shop floor for obstacles to avoid collision between autonomous items. The device captures different types of data sets as it moves through the shop floor. These data sets could include geographical layouts, pictures of the interior, and shop floor traffic. The device will make use of only shop floor traffic data to ensure obstacles are avoided while discarding other data sets not important to its primary duties.
The radar detection and ranging device discards these other data sets because it has limited storage space which must be used for capturing and processing shop floor traffic data. To ensure that the other data sets, which could be quite useful in planning and visualizing operations, are not discarded, they must be transferred to a platform with infinite computing capacity. Enter cloud computing.
Edge devices with the capacity to transfer data rely on communication networks to transfer data to cloud platforms or other data centers. For industrial automation, controlling processes, or managing production-based industries, an industrial cloud platform provides the best foundation for analyzingedge computing data.
What is an industrial automation platform?
The lights-out factory refers to industrialization without humans being at the center of it. This means automating traditional production processes through the use of technology. Although edge computing plays an important role in the lights-out factory, it is not the only technology used. Other technological concepts include control systems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. These all have important roles to play.
Industrial automation platforms provide a centralized ecosystem for developing applications or algorithms and providing the computing resources needed to manage all these technologies. There are different types of industrial automation platforms that are currently in use, and the combination of edge and cloud computing rely on a few of them. These platforms include:
The industrial cloud – Industrial cloud platforms refer to cloud solutions dedicated to industry and provide support for tools used solely by industrial enterprises. Such systems then provide a custom-built platform dedicated to industrial automation, unlike public or commercial cloud services. Industrial cloud platforms also serve as PaaS and SaaS solutions which help DevOps teams develop custom applications for industrial enterprises.
IoT platforms – IoT platforms are another category of industrial automation platform. They leverage the cloud to provide custom ecosystems for IoT and IIoT devices. It goes without saying that IoT and Industrial IoT devices are edge computing technologies. Thus, IoT platforms come inbuilt with the applications and security needed to manage IoT networks at a larger scale to achieve industrial automation.
Digital twin – A digital twin is a representation of physical assets and processes in digital form. It is an excellent digital transformation tool built for industrial automation as it enables the monitoring of physical processes and entire facilities in real-time. Digital twins recreate industrial facilities and integrate edge devices into the digital environment. The process leverages the cloud for more complex facilities or processes, and specialized tasks such as advanced planning and scheduling can be done through a digital twin which makes it an industrial automation platform.
Note that an industrial cloud platform can also double as an IoT platform. All that is required is to dedicate the industrial cloud platform to managing only IoT or IIoT devices and processing the data they produce when used within shop floors. The digital twin is more of a monitoring, planning, scheduling, and simulation tool which support industrial automation processes.
The benefits of industrial automation platforms
Industrial automation platforms are centralized solutions just like cloud computing but with a focus on supporting production-based industries. So, the benefits already highlighted apply but other additional benefits of industrial automation include:
Enhanced security – With billions of edge endpoints expected to be in service in 2025 and beyond, the cybersecurity challenge industries will face is expected to increase. Industrial automation platforms come with inbuilt threat detection and response tools which provide better security than almost every DIY solution that combines edge and cloud computing. Industrial automation platforms also integrate third-party security platforms which add an extra layer of security.
Industrial automation platforms also provide a means of simplifying the confusion about who addresses cybersecurity challenges for operational technologies. Although experts recommend creating a dedicated security division, inbuilt security features within industrial automation platforms provide excellent security for SMEs which do not have the financial capacity to create new departments.
Reduced recurrent costs – The real-time data capture, processing, and analytics needed to ensure industrial automation is a recurrent cost that can drastically increase the operational expenditure of industrial enterprises. Subscription-based industrial automation platforms provide buffers for these recurrent costs, which means SMEs can integrate Industrie 4.0 business models without destroying available budgets.
Testing before implementation – Industrial automation platforms provide safe ecosystems for assessing the impact of edge computing and its collaboration with cloud computing before implementing a plan. The availability of digital assessment procedures ensures enterprises do not fly blind when combining edge and cloud computing or when integrating an industrial automation business model.
The need to combine edge computing with cloud computing to ensure all data sets are put to use in understanding industrial processes led to the development of industrial automation platforms. In turn, these platforms provide scalable and flexible ecosystems anyone can leverage to pursue an automation strategy. The affordability of industrial automation platforms also represents another paradigm shift which drastically cuts the cost of implementing an Industrie 4.0 strategy, deploying IoT applications, and developing on-premise automation systems to serve particular industrial needs.