The advent of edge devices and computing across different manufacturing operations has gained significant traction, creating a new standard for running sprawling plants in various industries.

But as entire industries march to the drum of this technological innovation brought on by Industry 4.0, it becomes more challenging to make real-time central decisions affecting individual stages of the manufacturing process.

And in an age where streamlined analysis and decision-making play a critical role in manufacturing success, local stations at the edge of the process must make independent decisions.

Consequently, edge devices are crucial to manufacturing efficiency and success because they decentralize processes, restricting analysis and business decisions to the appropriate physical locations.

This piece covers edge devices, their role and benefits, and the different manufacturing use cases for efficiency and success.

What is an edge device?

An edge device is a networking device that provides a confluence for internal network systems and external networks. This is particularly important because the two networks comprise different protocols, making them innately incompatible.

However, edge devices connect these two networks to ensure efficient data flow across the boundaries. For instance, a particular machine on the factory floor outputs unique data that can’t be transmitted in its raw form to a uniquely distinctive wide area network (WAN) or internet like the cloud.

Edge devices bridge this gap, allowing interconnectivity between these different networks. But because these devices are of varied kinds and build, they carry out various functions ranging from basic routing and transmission to more advanced data filtering, monitoring, and storage between the networks in question.

And in the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) era, modern edge devices provide businesses with an opportunity to rethink and retool their technical infrastructure, eliciting plenty of plus points from this kind of computing.

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Key benefits of edge devices for manufacturers

In an ideal setup, edge devices provide several benefits, all of which lower overhead expenses. These include:

Diminished latency

As we’d hinted earlier, new age edge devices do away with centralized data management and processing. Instead, they are smart enough to process data close to its generation point, forgoing sending loads of it to the cloud.

Consequently, it doesn’t clog up the bandwidth, allowing more critical data from other operation areas to travel faster through the network. In addition, by reducing the latency required for all systems to operate, edge devices streamline the manufacturing process.

Increased data and network security

When a business relies heavily on cloud architecture for its network and data aggregation requirements, it puts its data at risk of being compromised. After all, the data travels a longer distance over an extended network on its way to the remote data center.

Furthermore, the inherent centralized nature of cloud storage puts a vast cache of sensitive business data at risk. For instance, DDOS attacks can effectively compromise data because it’s all in one location.

Edge devices solve this problem by managing discrete forms of data close to its source. If there are any untoward attempts to access the data, the network is compartmentalized by virtue of its distributed nature.

So, rather than take the entire network offline to safeguard the data, only a few select areas are cordoned off, keeping other areas of the operation ticking along.

Flexible scalability

Manufacturing businesses will almost always scale up as they look to serve their increasingly broad market base efficiently. However, this process and future operations all generate considerably significant troves of data.

And if such businesses are using cloud architecture, they’ll need to build or notably expand their dedicated data center.

On the other hand, edge devices make expansion more feasible and less costly. This is because data management, analysis, and storage can be confined close to the generation point, rendering useless the need for investment into larger, centralized data centers.

Edge device use cases in manufacturing

With several data generation and control points on a factory floor, there are various areas to use edge devices for manufacturers. Some common use cases we encounter include:

Predictive machine maintenance

Manufacturers can use edge devices to monitor their machines in real-time, keeping an eye on their performance. Additionally, more innovative edge devices can analyze data from discrete machines and notify relevant operators or supervisors of any impending failures, prompting early maintenance and repair before the production line shudders to a halt.

Machine, device, and human connectivity

In a sprawling manufacturing facility with numerous machines, it can be time-consuming to check on your assets to ensure that they are in good working condition and make adjustments to meet prevailing requirements.

Edge devices provide detailed data and insights into the real-time functional capacity of your various machines, operators, and IoT devices. Relevant personnel can also track machines and industrial assets remotely, providing expert input to adjust production precisely as required.

Personnel and plant security

Integrating edge devices into your operations can vastly improve factory security and puts personnel in safer environments. Security issues require instant attention; therefore, the localized nature of raw data analysis by edge devices provides near real-time safety solutions.

Additionally, robust edge devices can provide security in manufacturing facility areas where human personnel can’t venture.

Quality control

Manual detection of defective items off the production line relies heavily on perfect human acuity - or lack thereof. Unfortunately, this means that a significant amount of subpar products can easily slip through and find their way into customer-bound stock.

However, AI-enabled edge devices are keener and faster at product inspection. Not only does this increase the end-product quality, but it also frees up personnel for more human input-intensive tasks.

Advantages of Edge Computing with Tulip’s Edge IO

Tulip has designed and built edge devices that natively and seamlessly integrate with our no-code frontline operations platform. Our approach provides three main advantages that help reduce cost and time associated with setup and configuration:

  • Openness - With Tulip, you can connect to just about everything. Collect data from analog and custom machines with sensors and cameras, connect networked machines with popular protocols, and prompt humans for data with intuitive interfaces.

  • Agility and Self-Serve - Tulip supports operational agility and experimentation by allowing engineers closest to operations to add devices and implement changes without coding or expertise. Tulip’s Edge Devices are cost-effective, easy to set up, and can be used for multiple use cases. This supports continuous improvement, scalability and yields unprecedented time to value.

  • Integrated and Connected - With Tulip’s full platform, you can create intuitive, streamlined workflows that automatically collect data and provide real-time guidance that help to error-proof tasks. Tulip can be integrated with other systems with connections to HTTP APIs, SQL databases, and OPC UA servers.

If you’re interested in learning how next-gen edge technologies can help improve the efficiency and productivity of your operations, you can read more about the recent release of Edge IO here.

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Day-in-the-life of a manufacturing facility illustration