IoT and Edge Computing Part One: What it means and why it matters
Mar 26, 2021, by Sean King
Collect, analyze and action data at the source
With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and edge computing markets projected to grow from USD 3.6 billion in 2020 to USD 15.7 billion by 2025, having an IoT strategy in place is becoming key to developing a successful IT roadmap in manufacturing, utilities, and a host of other industries. The ability to implement smart technology into industrial assets is revolutionary for data collection, analysis, and automation.
Now advances in edge computing mean equipment and devices can process data and action operations right at the edge of your systems where IT meets the physical world, without having to wait for a reaction from a remote centralized database system. This article will clear up what these emerging technologies mean for forward-thinking business analysts and tech-savvy operation managers as we plan for 2021 and beyond.
Industrial Internet of Things defined
One of the biggest trends in both consumer and industrial tech is the continued emergence and adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT).
It's useful to think about IoT as networks of physical objects that can sense their internal states or external environment and then autonomously communicate or respond to change as needed.
For example, smart home devices are an increasingly common consumer application of IoT. Internet-enabled home automation devices can help you save money and reduce waste by allowing you to control appliances, lights, and heating from your smartphone, or by sending alerts and making adjustments based on set parameters.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) focuses on applying these principles in industrial settings on an enterprise-scale, connecting everything from machines in a factory to sensors in a laboratory and any other mechanical or electronic equipment that needs monitoring.
If you can connect these internet-enabled devices and sensors to a business process management system you're now able to collect and process more data than ever, analyze all that data in real-time, and ultimately make better data-driven operational decisions. IIoT solutions also empower organizations to transform business processes by automating monitoring and emergency response procedures, which has the potential to unlock tremendous value through efficiency and precision control.
Edge Computing revolution
Gartner defines edge computing as 'part of a distributed computing topology where information processing is located close to the edge, where things and people produce or consume that information.'
But to understand why organizations would want to use edge computing, it may be more useful to focus on the word 'processing.' Edge computing allows organizations to capture, analyze, and action data at or near the source. In other words, the edge is where your digital systems interact with the physical world.
The reason why edge computing has become such a hot topic is because of the explosive growth of IoT. Sometimes edge computing and IoT are presented as if they are synonymous, however that's not the case.
Organizations are deploying more and more IoT devices such as internet-enabled CCTV cameras and sensors monitoring physical assets. These devices can send the data they capture and, in some cases, receive data, generally from a central server.
Edge computing takes this a step further by including processing power at the site of these devices so that the data management, analysis, and decision-making capability happens instantaneously right where IoT devices collect this data at the 'edge' of your network, instead of in an offsite server.
Edge computing utilizes IoT devices for data collection, but not all IoT devices are capable of edge computing. An organization can collect more data and make better, faster use of IoT data when they deploy edge computing. The question for organizations is how can they best make use of the unprecedented volumes of data and new workflow opportunities that IoT generates?
Edge computing helps you overcome challenges associated with latency and inefficiency when transferring data between your connected devices and your data center or cloud infrastructure. As more organizations look to connect their physical assets to their digital systems, forward-thinking organizations can benefit from the speed and accuracy gained by pushing their decision-making out to the edge.
Deploying IoT with an Edge
The extent of an IIoT deployment and where the 'edge' is will depend on your organization and industry as the potential use cases are limited only by your imagination. For most organizations, the architecture will require data collection sensors, internet-enabled controllers and a reliable network connection. After that, how these devices are deployed will change depending on what your organization wants to achieve.
A manufacturing use case with proven ROI is to deploy sensors to monitor machinery and equipment status in real-time. When coupled with controllers that feature processing capability and are connected to your process management system you transcend basic data collection and can deploy an efficient and reliable edge computing solution to replace time-consuming and error-prone human maintenance inspection routines with automated preventative maintenance.
If a piece of equipment falls out of alignment or exceeds pre-set tolerances a controller can automatically stop the production line and trigger a workflow to alert and deploy human technicians. When this process happens at the edge where the sensor readings are happening there is greatly reduced potential for delay or failure due to a network outage or latency.
Utilities also have multiple use cases where edge enabled IoT can lead to significant operational efficiencies. Water and wastewater service providers need to monitor pumping station equipment, respond to water flow volumes, and keep water samples stored within acceptable temperature ranges. Deploying data collection sensors connected to controllers and SCADA systems provides full-time monitoring for preventative maintenance and automated actionable alerts that save time and effort, especially when faced with an emergency or system failure.
There are many other possibilities for any industry as IoT enables edge computing solutions to proliferate. The reality is that to future-proof your systems, most organizations will benefit from deploying connected IoT devices made more powerful when they can process data and initiate corrective or preventative action at the edge.
For more information and assistance with developing your IoT and edge computing strategy, contact Flowfinity for a complimentary consultation. We will discuss more IoT and edge computing best practices in our next blog article.