The main challenges of Edge Computing in industrial environments

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The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the deployment of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies in factories and warehouses for several reasons, including supply chain disruptions, chip shortages and reduced business spending versus economic concerns. However, it is clear that the pandemic is likely to be a growth catalyst in the adoption of IIoT technology, as companies seek to maximize the efficiency of their production lines and facilities while monitoring the health and safety of people. their employees.

IIoT, also sometimes referred to as Industry 4.0, simply has too much potential value not to find its place in most modern factories and warehouses. Gartner predicts that by 2025, 50% of companies will use IIoT platforms to improve their operations. Analyst firm Research and Markets predicts that smart manufacturing technologies will grow from $ 181.3 billion in 2020 to $ 220.4 billion in 2025, a CAGR of 4%.

IIoT connects sensors, equipment, controls, and industrial computing platforms to provide visibility and control over the equipment and processes that warehouses and factories depend on for efficient operation. These sensors and applications generate large volumes of data and must provide real-time analytics for plant visibility and decision making.

This requires a low latency compute architecture, which is impractical exclusively in the cloud. Deploying on-premises edge computing can solve this challenge, but manufacturing companies looking to deploy IIoT technology to the edge should proceed with caution, as these environments present their own unique challenges.

Whether in a factory, warehouse, or micro-distribution center, advanced IT supporting IIoT does not benefit from the precisely controlled conditions of a data center. In fact, this computing typically operates under particularly harsh conditions, and failure to consider the specific power, environmental, and management challenges that exist in these environments can result in reduced network performance that can potentially affect network performance. up to equipment failure and prolonged downtime.

Below are several factors to consider when deploying advanced computing in harsh industrial environments, along with best practices for addressing those challenges.

Power variations: As with any peripheral location, dedicated uninterruptible power supply is essential to prevent utility power interruptions from affecting system availability, but in manufacturing and automated warehouse environments, power conditioning can occur. be even more important. The machines operating in these installations can generate electrical noises that can disrupt the operation of computer equipment. Different types of UPS systems use different approaches to power conditioning, and the type of UPS system selected will therefore determine how efficiently the UPS clears various power disturbances.

Environmental conditions: Most factory environments are unable to maintain temperature and humidity within the range required for reliable operation of IT equipment. Dedicated cooling will be required in most industrial environments, and this requires a heat rejection plan. Specifically, it is best to reject the heat directly into the plant space where it will be exhausted through the normal HVAC system or ducted directly out of the building.

Air quality: Most factory environments also have a higher concentration of dust and airborne particles than a dedicated data center. These contaminants can impact the reliability and life of IT equipment if they are drawn into the equipment by their fans. Protecting IT equipment requires dust-protected or sealed IT racks or enclosures that prevent unfiltered outside air from reaching the equipment. With dedicated cooling built into the enclosure, a clean, temperature and humidity controlled environment is created, regardless of the quality of the outside air.

Physical security: The basic philosophy of edge computing is to locate computing and storage near the people and equipment it supports. In manufacturing, this usually means having computer equipment where it is vulnerable to access by unauthorized personnel. Lockable cabinets can help prevent unauthorized access. Another good practice is to deploy sensors on the door that will trigger alerts when the door is opened.

Visibility of the network infrastructure: Most edge computing sites are located in environments where dedicated technical resources are scarce. Remote monitoring capabilities give centralized IT specialists visibility into equipment performance and environmental conditions, allowing them to ensure that the equipment is operating within the ranges specified by the manufacturer and that the protection systems the power supply are functioning as expected. When sites are equipped with additional sensors, remote monitoring can generate alerts for situations that could put equipment at risk, such as high temperatures, water intrusion, or unauthorized access.

With so many other industries embracing digital transformation to weather the pandemic and other major market shifts, it seems inevitable that more industrial companies will turn to IIoT to better track their people, machines, and workers. process to improve efficiency and productivity. But without the proper protection or procedures, edge deployment in these environments can be difficult to implement and dangerous for an organization’s IT equipment, so it’s best to work with a trusted partner.

For more information, contact a local Vertiv representative or visit Vertiv.com to find the representative closest to you.


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