Five Ways to Prepare for Edge Computing

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Alan Raveling | November 21, 2023

One of the cornerstones of the smart manufacturing era is edge technologies. The “edge” is the location in control processes at or near equipment or machinery, making data processing quicker and with less communication latency. Processing data in the cloud makes it nearly impossible to act upon information when machine events occur every second, which is why the edge can be more applicable in these situations. However, consider these five considerations before moving forward.

Steps to Take For a Successful Edge Project

1. Opportunities and Challenges

Before diving into an edge solution, take some time to define your expected objectives and results from the solution. Find out from potential vendors their success stories from previous work with clients. You also need to complete other activities like understanding your total cost of ownership (TCO) and calculating your savings from the solution. Having realistic expectations can avoid souring your willingness to invest in new technologies in the future.

2. Data availability

Once you know how you’re using edge computing, you must know where the data comes from. For situations when devices like programmable logic controllers (PLCs), sensors, and other equipment are ethernet-based, it’s simple to have these interact with the edge technologies. However, in those where data is in non-ethernet networks, it may take additional integration for edge computing to access the data. Along with knowing the data availability, review your edge technology’s polling speed. Can the equipment tolerate the additional load and frequency of the collected data?

3. Data storage

Now that you know the basics of data, application developers should decide how much and where the data is stored. With large volumes of data, like in machine learning, edge technologies may not be the best fit. The information should be held elsewhere, such as a data center or cloud location. Likewise, large files, like videos or images, fill up storage quicker and can slow networks if you need to archive or send these to alternate locations.

4. Physical Environment

While knowing the details about data availability and storage is essential in your edge solution, so are the challenges of installing the equipment. Here are a few things to take into consideration.

  • Where will it be installed? In a current or new control panel?
  • Is there a standard receptacle free for the power cord, or will the edge device need to operate on 24 V?
  • Is there an accessible network, or do you need new cables or equipment?

A project can be thrown off schedule without reviewing the physical location for the edge solutions.

5. Technical Skills

Like anything else, edge technology needs maintenance. Talk with your vendor about the skills and activities required to maintain and support your edge solution. Knowing this information is critical to ensure a more sustainable future for the edge technology.

Controls engineers, edge computing collaboration

The possibilities with edge technologies can bring excitement and concern to organizations. Without thoroughly investigating and strategizing, your first edge project may turn an organization against this solution. When controls engineers, data analysts, business leadership, and vendors collaborate on the right solution for your organization, it can become a story of success.

As the landscape on the edge rapidly changes, stay informed of the new capabilities and functionalities because what may seem impracticable now may be a commodity in the future. Our best advice to those looking to integrate edge solutions into your facilities is to start small and apply your learnings to more complex challenges.

This article was originally published in Control Engineering.