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Control, Visibility and IIoT Manufacturing at the Edge (Part 1)

It’s been nearly a century since most manufacturers housed their operations under a single roof, and even then, there were multiple buildings if not multiple sites. The last several decades have seen the advent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud, edge computing and automation along with the use of industrial tablets.

These tools and technologies have allowed modern manufacturing to respond to current global needs for greater efficiency and increased production. This increased integration of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) has been the driving force behind maximum process control and visibility.

Today’s digital transformations are traditionally built around the cloud. But as manufacturers and industrial players across sectors embrace IIoT, edge computing becomes more important to bringing data control closer to where sensors produce it. We can see this in everything from global manufacturers to telecommunications, energy, and end-to-end supply chain visibility.

The further addition of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) algorithms, and analytics makes centralized management of manufacturing possible. This has resulted in streamlined industrial processes, optimized supply chains, and the realization of the “smart” factory. What we can broadly state as visibility and control through IIoT is increasingly being seen in fresh approaches like digital twins.

Digital Twins and IIoT

Industry 4.0 incorporates the digital twin which provides a virtual representation of complex physical devices and machines. Over 75% of organizations are using or planning for use of IIoT to power digital twins, according to Gartner. This virtual twin allows engineering, maintenance, researchers, and-development teams to gather data to simulate physical objects in real-time situations.

This is a crucial aspect of proactive and preventive maintenance, monitoring, and innovation in complex system design, operational improvements, and system longevity. Critical is the incorporation of edge sensors and network gateways for communication of data for analysis. Augmenting this, the best industrial tablets play a crucial role in providing the mobility for operations teams that enable real time data visualization and control while in the field the field.

The rapid growth of communication-intensive mobile applications spurred by these technologies requires industrial tablets capable of meeting environmental needs along with compute and low-latency connectivity. For example, the best industrial tablets will provide more complex multimedia processing and visualization that are imperative with digital twin monitoring and manipulation.

Legacy to Modern Control and Visibility Transitions

Edge computing will take much of the latency burden off the cloud. But control, visibility, and IIoT manufacturing at the edge are still in a state of evolution. Many manufacturing environments are somewhere between the transition to IIoT platforms and current legacy systems that include:

  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems
  • Programmable Logic Controller (PLC),
  • Human-Machine Interface (HMI)
  • Distributed Control System (DCS)

What is easing that transition is the fact these systems are complimentary and easily integrated with IIoT platforms. For example, legacy IoT sensors can gain much of their information from SCADA systems, while HMI is part of the broader scope of SCADA.

Artificial neural networks (ANNs) are also being designed for ML to look for patterns via computer vision based on predetermined rules for specific actions. Computer vision and ML work together to automate information gathering. This visibility for remote or real-time actions once required a human operator to view live video footage from a CCTV. Now IIoT sensors, AI/ML, analytics, and computer vision can perform object recognition analysis and motion detection to maintain operational process integrity.

Most of these complex systems will use either specialized or custom software applications where industrial tablets meet OS system compatibility. This is in addition to a high degree of customization and standard industrial grade options to meet varied compute, functionality, peripherals, and ruggedness parameters. Manufacturers are seeking a single source with the understanding of rugged tablets, IIoT and edge computing services to support strategy and technology development.

In the next installment of this blog post series, we’ll look at how IIoT, analytics and edge computing positions manufacturing (and other sectors) for true control and visibility that leads to growth and innovation. To learn more about how SECO partners with manufacturers to deliver holistic strategies for design and development solutions for IIoT visit our IIoT services solutions page.

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